Tell us about your career before publishing
After graduating from a masters’ program in pharmaceutical biotechnology at the University of Piemonte Orientale, Italy, I moved to Germany and enrolled in the University of Tuebingen and Max-Planck institute joint PhD program for cellular and molecular neuroscience. My PhD work focused on neuroregeneration and repair of the spinal cord. After that I did my good share of “postdocing.” including two years at the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases in Bonn working on Huntington’s disease, later I moved to the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm where I learned a bunch of new exciting things. I worked on neurodevelopmental and glia biology, endogenous stem cells, heterogeneity of cell populations, neuroregeneration, and single-cell genomics.
What do you think your research experience brings to your publishing career?
Without my solid and broad research training, I simply wouldn’t be able to do my current job. My research training allows me to understand new research findings I read about or hear from researchers and, most importantly, during my research training, I acquired the critical thinking and problem solving skills I use every day as an editor.
What’s your perception of academic research right now, in your capacity as an editor?
We find ourselves in the middle of a global pandemic that has forced us to stop what we were doing and rethink how we work (the fastest adaptation being turning numerous scientific meetings and conferences into virtual events). Adapting is much tougher when it comes to research work. Sooner or later, people need to get to the bench or specialized facilities. As an editor, I have been having conversations with our authors who are trying to deal with revision plans during the COVID-19 pandemic. I am amazed by their eagerness to find suitable alternatives in order not to compromise the quality of their research. So my perception of academic research is that it is blessed by the presence of incredibly energetic and committed scientists who push their fields of research forward. I would like to see less of the scientists who take advantage of the energetic and committed ones.
What do you miss most about your academic research/pre-publishing career?
I thought I was going to miss the academic freedom and the collegial environment, but as an editor I have a lot of freedom and I work closely with my team. A publishing career is very dynamic and stimulating. Sometimes I miss revising hypotheses based on data I collected. As a researcher, you get to decide what a study is about. As an editor and through the peer review process, I can help shape it, but I don’t lay the foundation of the study.
What advice would you give to someone starting out in their research career?
I don’t think I am sufficiently wise to give advice and I don’t think there is a simple answer to this question. Each research career is a different journey in one way or another. Two things helped:
(1) picking research questions I really cared about (which gave me the motivation to learn a lot and push through when things got tough) and letting go of projects I didn’t find stimulating (accepting also that somebody may be upset with me for this) and,
(2) investing a lot of my time in people I worked well with.
What didn’t work for me was assuming that every lab head was somewhat mentoring. Some are amazing mentors, others are not. Looking back this seems obvious, but it hasn’t always been for me.
My advice is to let go of supervisors who are not mentoring and supportive and hold on the ones who are. This is easier said than done, I know.
However, in my opinion, working on projects you are excited about with people you can trust helps navigating research when projects get complicated or seem stalled. And it will help you grow as a scientist no matter what career path you will choose after your research training. Basically, it’s the foundation for a win-win situation all round.
Elisa is an Associate Editor at Nature Communications based in London