For Future Research Leaders Today

Can introverts survive in scientific research?

By Louise Harkness

Introvert: noun |ˈɪntrəvəːt |a shy, reticent person. Psychology| a person predominantly concerned with their own thoughts and feelings rather than with external things.
— Oxford Dictionary of Current English

Most scientists are introverted, right? You can picture them; those shy, reticent white coat researchers, focussed on their own thoughts; huddling over petri dishes, equations, and laboratory paraphernalia. However, you may be surprised, but the world of scientific research has actually become the realm of the extrovert. Louise Harkness delves into the realm of the scientist brain.

We all grew up with the impression that scientists are the weird, socially awkward guys (or girls) in white lab coats, untamed hair, and thick-rimmed glasses, muttering nonsense over a beaker of bubbling concoction in the dark and dingy basement laboratory. However, the truth is the paradigm of the scientist has been replaced with very confident, strong, and well-spoken individuals who are akin to business executives; or at least these are the ones who tend to succeed in the research world.

I believe the introverted scientist is dying out due to an evolution in the demands of scientific research. Research is primarily funded by grants from agencies and government departments. Assessment of grants is a long and thorough process conducted by a panel of experts who assesses the quality and validity of the proposed research, and also the quality and validity of the researchers who are making the proposal. Other sources of funding are private donors and fundraising (which is common in the medical field); and industrial partnerships (common in the engineering and pharmaceutical fields). These sources of funding require presentation skills and confidence from strong, well-polished salesmen and women who can sell a vision.

“We are this close to curing disease-x and with your money we will revolutionise the treatment of x!”
please insert your chosen disease in the x provided.

As researchers, we all know that the cure for ‘disease-x’ is out there; however, it takes time and there are many avenues of enlightenment and many dead-ends. However, one thing is clear, if you believed every researcher grant application or funding campaign, we would have no disease to speak of, have cell phone batteries that never died and have a fundamental understanding of the universe we live in.

Now, I am not saying that these researchers are making flat out lies. A more appropriate and accurate statement is likely to be:

“We have found clues which indicate the potential of protein y in disease-x. With your help we will be able to understand how y interacts with x. With this knowledge we may be able to develop a molecule that mimics y that can then potentially treat a subdivision of patients with condition x.”
please insert your chosen disease in the x provided and protein in y.

However, it doesn't seem so convincing, and when up against the first statement and sensationalism that regularly occurs in science journalism, funding is always likely to flow the easiest route. Thus, we tend to ‘round-up’ our research findings when it comes to grant writing and take the route that will most likely result in success.

Importantly, with the digital and media age, researchers are expected to have an outwardly facing image and be engaged with the wider global community (indeed, in academia this is a requirement for many promotion committees). Thus, we face the difficulty of making complex scientific findings understandable to the layman and need to ensure they are exciting and punchy. It’s no surprise therefore, that the traditional introverted scientist has to make way for the extrovert business-like research salesperson.

My supervisor always used to say that “there are two types of people: Splitters and Clumpers”. Splitters are perfectionists. With a great attention to detail; they become focused on a task and see it to the end. When explaining their research, Splitters find it difficult to convey complex findings in a simple manner. Clumpers jump in with both feet and are likely tend to take more risks. Clumpers also know how to present their work in a simple yet exciting way, by making broad statements and getting their message across effectively. I am not saying that Splitters are necessarily better scientists, they just have a different approach to tackling a problem.

I am a Splitter. I always have been! I want to be sure of my work, my opinions, and my ideas before I commit anything to the cosmos. This does not go down well in research as we are continuously pushed to present preliminary work to peers, superiors, the wider research community and the public with the aim to convince the audience that we have *almost* found our cure to disease x!

Most importantly, researchers need to be excited about their findings. This involves song-and-dance routine, similar to a sales pitch. It is obvious that this does not come naturally to an introvert, however it is interesting to learn that this is not only due to shyness. Introverts have a short ‘buzz life’. That is to say, that after a reward (i.e. awesome scientific discovery), brief excitement is always followed by caution and careful planning with respect to the next steps. Extroverts, in comparison actively seek reward and move on quickly to the next ‘biggest thing’.

Most researchers generate a niche of which they become an expert and continue to research within that niche field. The niche field grows and expands, but the underlying hypothesis which struck the initial curiosity, remains the same. This means same work is presented over and over again. That’s just the way it is. It is exciting when a new finding comes along, but it is difficult for some to continuously fake that excitement that the audience crave and expect.

This goes for grant writing too. Grants commonly last 1 to 3 years, 5 years if you’re lucky (or very, very good!). This means that researchers need to continuously mould their lifetime of work, in light of preliminary findings, into an exciting and stimulating story which suggests their research is successful and will soon lead to new treatments, new therapies, and well, make money. However, by the time a grant is successful, it is only a few more months before the next grant writing season commences. This means that preliminary findings are continuously required to fuel new applications. Since introverts are known to pay attention to detail, become highly focused on a task and spend more time reflecting on their findings and meaning, the generation of necessary data becomes for such a rapid cycle becomes problematic. In comparison, the extrovert, who is willing to take greater risks, and try a number of ideas simultaneously, may find a nugget of gold that can be used in this years application.

I am not saying that either approach or personality is the right one for a scientist. Many scientific discoveries have been made through a hunch, a blind leap or experimental error: likewise many discoveries have been made through thoughtful contemplation by introverts.


So can an introvert survive in scientific research? I guess we should begin by asking: What’s the best way to conduct scientific research? As an introvert and Splitter, I believe that both personality types are required. Introverts who spend time reflecting on findings and carefully planning the next steps and extroverts (or Clumpers) ready to jump in with both feet and a solid business-like case to secure funding.

Louise Harkness is a molecular biologist, PhD student and an introvert. Her article is a reflection of the lessons learnt from Susan Cain's novel ‘Quiet’. Louise quickly connected with this book and came to realise that some of the personal difficulties faced as a researcher were actually due to the characteristics of an introvert personality in an extrovert society. You can contact Louise via email 

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The value of libraries for researchers

By Michelle Harrison

The librarians were mysterious. It was said they could tell what book you needed just by looking at you, and they could take your voice away with a word.
— Terry Pratchett

For many researchers, the word ‘Library’ conjures up visions of dusty shelves and well-meaning custodians. While you can still find shelves (in most cases), this is where reality departs from myth in your average research library today. As an ECR, you need every bit of help to get your research career underway. Through libraries you can uncover nuggets of hidden content and research know-how to give you an edge.

Gateway to the Invisible

Everyone knows that good research should be unbiased and comprehensive. Yet many are unaware that bias can creep into a project by simply not including the Invisible (or Deep) Web and offline content. You’ve probably heard of the Deep Web but do you know how to get to it? Libraries are ECR’s gateway to this material through databases and ejournals that don’t show up in Google. Librarians can also show you have to track down grey literature, non-standard files and domains that fly under the radar.

Offline (think: hard copy) content is also something libraries excel at. While print material is especially important in the social sciences, even researchers in journal-based disciplines can benefit. One good example is something called ‘Document delivery’. Research libraries are well connected and when you need something that isn’t available online or locally, they can reach out to a worldwide network of libraries to get a copy for you. Often this service is free to researchers within an institution and can save you days of negotiating or even visits to other institutions.

Research launchpad

Just as libraries know how to manage published research, they also have a keen interest in getting new research off the ground. One way is through digital repositories. Making your thesis freely available online is one great way to get started making your name in the research world. Libraries actually offer help with most stages of the research lifecycle - from choosing journals to publish in, to tracking (and increasing) your research impact. You may be aware of the trend towards citations and reuse of data. Because of this, libraries are also interested in what happens to your research data long after a project is done and dusted.

Information coaching – librarians

As with the peer review process, it makes sense to have an information expert cast an eye over your search strategy to make sure you’re on track. Often you will be confident about the ultimate destination of your project but may not be clear about the best way to get there. Librarians coach you through that journey, showing you the best routes, recommending tools and helping you if you get stuck. So how do you get this help? Many academic libraries assign a librarian to your Faculty or research institute and provide individual research appointments.

So next time you start a new project, dust off that library card and see if you can turn it to your advantage.

Michelle Harrison is a Faculty liaison librarian at the University of Sydney and has supported researchers in the Sydney Law and Medical Schools and now supports the Arts and Social Sciences Faculty. She is currently interested in research impact, cross-disciplinary research and research skill development frameworks. You can contact her via email or follow her on Twitter: @mharrison101

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A guide to research metrics and their importance for young researchers.

As an early career researcher you are likely to pay little attention to citations, impact factors, h-index or i-index metrics. Furthermore, if you do, it may be confusing when deciding on what index to choose that best describe you. Do you use h, i-, g-, s-, e-index etc, and actually what do they really mean? Why bother? And how do you go about collecting this information?

While the area of research based metrics is a fiercely debated subject, as an ECR it is important to understand the fundamentals and plan ahead. Journal and publication metrics will ultimately affect your career at some stage, whether it is related to a job application, promotion or grant success and funding. This article gives you a brief introduction to key metrics and how they relate to you.

Your choice of journal and the use of impact factors

One of the most frequently used metrics related to journal 'impact' is the impact factor. At its core, the ISI impact factor is simply the average number of citations per article over a two-year period for any given journal. Thus, for the journal Nature, the 2012 impact factor (reported in 2013) was 38.6. This means that an 'average' article in the journal received 39 citations per year, in 2010 and 2011.

In general, impact factors are used to compare journals in a similar discipline and are not designed to compare individual cited works or researchers. Additionally, impact factor calculations are based on a set of rules outlined by ISI, and require a journal to be listed in its database and ultimately is an ’average’. This last point is important, since the distribution of citations across all articles in a journal are inherently not normally distributed and thus the average is usually skewed to a small number of highly cited articles. While I point out that journal impact factors are for comparing relative impact of journals and not researchers, like all things, when metrics are created they are inevitably used inappropriately. Impact factors are routinely used to compare researchers by employers, grant reviewers and peers. While this is clearly inappropriate, and as a research community we should push for change, as an ECR you need to carefully decide where to publish your valuable research.


So, publish everything in Nature right? Good luck! When considering where you publish your work the first step is to rank a series of journals in your field. This is relatively easy, and if you use ISI journal citation reports you can rank by discipline. The next step is to look at the relevance of your work with respect to each of the journals in the list. One important thing to consider is that you may want to look at other potential disciplines to publish your work. For example, if you work in the area of tissue engineering, does your work fit into a medical field, engineering field or physics discipline? You will find that an impact factor of 2 in one field may be classified as a moderate journal, yet a top journal in another. This aspect is quite important, since at some point you want to be in a position where you can highlight your impact within a discipline.

Another thing to consider is the journal itself and how it relates to your peers. Publishing your work in a high impact journal does not mean that you will receive a high number of citations yourself (remember, impact factor is only a mean of a non-normal distribution right?). Choose a high impact factor journal in the field but also ensure your peers publish in the same journal. This will enhance the likelihood of your work being cited in future and thus influence your personal publishing metrics.

While journals may ‘cheat’ the system to increase there relative impact factor and a number of alternatives are available (including page rank algorithms, half-life etc) as an ECR, the impact factor and 5-year impact factor are still the most important factors to consider when choosing where to submit your research article. This may change in future with the continuing evolution of the publishing paradigm, so spreading your work across journals that rank highly in the majority of metrics is best. Finally, as an ECR, always consider publishing a review or two. Review articles, if comprehensive and specific, will always achieve a high number of citations since they can be used to highlight the 'state of play' by researchers in your own field as well as others.

Your metrics

Impact factor allows comparison of journals within a given discipline so it's use in determining your research and your ’ranking’ is unrealistic. So, you need to identify a number of metrics that define you. At their core, your metrics will be a function of papers published and number of citations.

The simplest of calculations is your total number of citations and total number of publications. These are unrelated to journal impact factor and are simply reflective of your productivity output and peer citations. Many researchers quote citations that exclude self-citations (i.e. citing your work in a subsequent paper), since it reduces the potential for gaming the system. However, it may be good to include both total and non-self citations, since it reflects the relevance and continuity of your work.

The total number of papers is equally simple to calculate, however, for an ECR it is always good to report total number of works (along with citations) across a specific time frame. As an ECR you will be generally competing for positions and funding against peers at a similar point within their career. The majority of funding agencies, for example, take ’record-to-opportunity’ in to consideration so don't get despondent or even compare yourself to a professor with 200 research articles and 10,000 citations!

Ultimately, publishing takes time as it reflects the pace of your research (which will also vary dependent on discipline) and citations have a lag time with respect to publications and your peers research pace and publications. As an ECR, a good pace to start is by publishing additional review articles which will potentially be highly cited. You are likely to be challenging new avenues of research as an independent researcher and thus you need to conduct due-diligence by reviewing the literature. Don't put that to waste, publish it!

In addition to simply summing the number of publications or citations you can use additional calculations to report your impact. The most common of these is Hirsch's h-index. The h-index was originally developed for evaluating theoretical physicists relative standing with the discipline but is now widely used by most researchers. h-index is calculated by collecting all your papers with associated citation data and then ranking them by number (n) as a function of descending number of citations (c). You can then easily identify your h-index, where n=c. Thus a person with an h index of 5 has 5 papers with at least 5 citations. This removes bias for singularly high-cited papers or total number of publications. As with all metrics, the h-index should be reported with respect to peers of a similar level, as higher values will always be biased to established and senior researchers since citations grow with time. Many additional citation indexes exist which will also reflect the impact of your work, however the h-index is still the lead in the majority of disciplines. Of note, the g-index and i10-index are sometimes reported. The g-index, takes into account the lack of weighting for highly cited articles and is calculated in a similar way to the h-index however it considers the square of the citation number and thus bias towards higher cited articles. Another recent index is Google’s i10-index. The i10-index is simply the number of articles with 10 citations or more. Importantly all these indexes can be calculated within a given timeframe and for a ECR it is worth taking the time to calculate such metrics overall and over the past 2 or 5 years, thus giving the 'reader' a reflective snapshot of your career status. The use of a recent set time frame also allows you to not only show a more realistic productivity value but also levels the playing field with respect to more senior researchers. You never know, you may have a higher 5-year citation rate or i10-index than your more senior colleges.

Tools, calculations and final thoughts

There are many other metrics that describe your research productivity. The metrics discussed here are generally regarded as the most popular, however this article is meant to highlight the importance of thinking about metrics as an ECR and to generate discussion. All these metrics require journal articles being registered within a citation database and do not even begin to consider the impact of other non-cited work. Researchers are continually pushing the boundaries of science but also digital media and outreach. Many researchers have blogs, videos and write commentary and articles for popular magazines or newspapers. This clearly has impact but is not measurable using conventional metrics and is something we should all consider in future.

Finally, how do you go about calculating and representing your metrics? In general all of the metrics discussed here can be calculated manually providing you have access to a citation database. ISI Web of Knowledge and SCOPUS databases have tools that make this easy. More recently, Google Scholar has added citations and can also be used as has a easy to use and free interface that can be used by researchers where individual profiles can be created and published online. Obviously, these database collate and collect information in different ways so your metrics will never be identical across each tool, however providing you indicate your method of calculation, this is not so much of a problem and they are generally similar.


Ultimately, metrics are important for ECRs and if you haven't thought about this yet, you should do now. Finally, the age old 'publish or perish' paradigm is unlikely to change soon. So get to it!

This article was brought to you by ECR2STAR. If you would like to contribute to the community by submitting an article, please contact us via

Don’t be a Lone Ranger: 5 ECR Tips to Success through Collaboration


By Ben Forbes & Paul M Young.

As an ECR researcher you can only achieve so much as a ‘Lone Ranger’. The really big questions and majority of great scientific advancements in the future will require multidisciplinary teams working towards a common goal; this means collaboration. Jonathan Adams commentary in May 2013 issue of Nature (Issue 7481) highlighted the importance of collaboration in an article ‘The Fourth Age of Research’ in which he suggested we have progressed from (1) individual research, to (2) institutional, through (3) national research into an era of (4) global collaboration. While the use of journal publication metrics are not always necessarily a definitive measure of success, in his article, Jonathan gave a compelling narrative of how collaboration could be related to higher impact when research was conducted by collaborative teams working across geographical borders. (If you are interested in the article you can find the link to the original article  here).

By collaborating with other researchers within and outside your field of expertise you can potentially enhance the significance of your research, the impact it has to your peers and ultimately, translation into the non-scientific community. Collaboration can take many forms, including:

  • Institutional (e.g. between organisations at a national and international level to establish centres or hubs of excellence with a defined focus)
  • Experimental (e.g. conducting a common project across multiple laboratories or centres)
  • Technical or Advisory (e.g. providing your scientific expertise to help solve a problem or interpret data)
  • Academic/Industrial (e.g. collaboration between two or more companies, institutes or universities to solve a common research question or problem)
  • Length and size (e.g. may involve hundreds of researchers working together on a hypothesis/disease taking many years or a couple of people working to make an incremental advancement in the field taking weeks to months)

Whichever type of collaboration(s) you choose the positive and negatives must be weighed up before you take the plunge. Ultimately, however, collaboration will give you a fresh perspective on your own specialist area of research, allowing you to expand your knowledge, creativity and establishing the relevance of your research globally.  Here we give 5-tips to successful collaboration. 

1. Have a Purpose and keep it realistic!

Tip 1.jpg

The first tip to a successful collaboration is to know why you are engaging in this venture. Collaboration is neither ‘work for hire’ nor a charity. All parties need to
get something out of the research you are about to undertake. This may take many forms and will depend upon your specific research question or problem. If collaborators have similar skill sets then it may be an ‘increased work force’ to solve a common goal. If you have different skill sets, these may be complimentary in solving a more complex problem. Perhaps you have facilities that another party does not, or visa versa? Ultimately, it is important that you are clear about your goals for the collaboration and plan for realistic outcomes within a practical timeline. After all, you all have a financial responsibility to this project even if no money ever changes hands. Labs cost a lot to run as do the researchers occupying them…. and of course there is your time to consider.

2. Selecting and approaching potential partners/collaborators.

Who is the ideal collaborator and how do you approach them? There are two main types of collaborator; those you know and those you are yet to meet. Many collaborations start from an already established relationship (e.g. through social gatherings at international conferences (more on getting the most out of conferences in a later ECR2STAR post)), however, a new collaborator may also provide an excellent means of strategic research focus. 

Tip 2.jpg

Either-way, you will need to have a clear ‘plan of action’ before you approach your potential partner(s). As an ECR you will have read the literature and have a feel of where your research is heading and want to achieve over the next 12 months and further into the future. Come up with a ‘simple’ project proposal and discuss the feasibility with your potential collaborator openly: “Would you be interested in working on a joint project to…..” is a good place to start. The next question (and tip below) will be “what is my commitment, involvement and input” so it is important you have your plan of action ready. 

IMPORTANT NOTE: Bear in mind that some researchers are already stretched thinly through multiple collaborations, so if someone is not responsive it does not necessarily mean they are not-interested in you or your project. If they give you a negative response, leave it at that; there are always other potential collaborators and this person may work with you in the future… so don’t hassle them.

3. Commitment - you don’t get anything for nothing!

Tip 3.jpg

If you talk the talk you have to walk the walk! That is to say, if you are not committed to the collaboration from the start, don’t waste your (or your collaborators) time.  As an ECR, building your reputation is important and the last thing you want is to be branded as unreliable.

So what is commitment? Money, time, resources, patience, sharing? Probably, all the aforementioned. Generally, money does not change hands in what would be ‘informal collaborations’ however when you start to apply for funding to support larger multi-institutional projects you will need to be upfront about how potential income is to be distributed. Either-way, money will always be required to some extent by all parties to support the project (i.e. to operate local resources and pay for laboratory personnel), however, this can generally be absorbed into the operating budget of the respective ‘laboratories’. Another important aspect to collaboration is patience and sharing. Things do not happen overnight. Often a collaborative project is not the sole focus of a researcher, whose time and resources may be limited. Thus, all parties need to have patience and a reasonable time-line for completion of their role. This can be managed through good communication (see tip 4) and sharing of data/information throughout the project.

4. The importance of good communication.

Tip 4.jpg

Effective communication between all parties is one of the most important aspects of successful collaboration. Good communication enables you to monitor the status of research between participants and ensure experimental protocols and project goals are met. Through regular discussions, you can ‘iron out’ any problems (experimental and managerial), redefine goals as the project evolves and monitor timelines.  The world is a small place for researchers. If you have international collaborations, use Skype, GoToMeeting, Email and other Cloud services to meet, share ideas and data. We can’t highlight the importance of good communication too strongly; this will ultimately drive the success of your joint project and successful projects in future.

5. Trust - openness and honesty.

Our last tip for successful collaboration is to be open and honest – this will be highly appreciated by your collaborators. When setting out on your path to discovery, you and your partners need to be candid with regards to commitment and output. Be prepared to share methods and data openly, have a plan for authorship and responsibilities of your intended outputs. Who is going to write the paper(s)? who is going to analyse the data? what will you do if your hypothesis is null? how will you deal with creative tension, e.g. different scientific directions or interpretations? what is your exit strategy? While there are no hard and fast answers to these questions, the Tip is not to shy away from potentially awkward issues, but to approach them openly, honestly and in a timely manner (ideally upfront or before they arise). Successful collaborations are based on mutual respect and a good working relationship.

Fig 5.jpg

Dr Ben Forbes is a Reader in Pharmaceutics at Kings College London and researches in the field of Drug Delivery. Dr Paul M Young is Head of Respiratory Technology at the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research and Associate Professor in the School of Medicine, University of Sydney. This article was based on a talk given by Dr Forbes at the ECR2STAR conference and workshop held in London in December 2013. Ben and Paul have a long history of successful collaboration that you can read about here.

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ERC2STAR’s first conference and workshop, a success!

Workshop speakers

Workshop speakers

December the 10th 2013, saw the launch of the first ECR2STAR conference, held at Senate House, UCL, London. What a great day!  After planning for the past 6 months it was great to see the 60 delegates attending the event. The morning presentations by the seven invited workshop speakers, a mix of industry and academia, were very insightful. The speakers gave ‘hands-on’ advice to ECRs and discussed what they need to know to succeed in the challenging but exciting research environment. The speakers answered many questions that ERCs have never dared ask before. They were honest, direct, and importantly, fun; giving advice and honest feedback. 

In the afternoon, 11 ECRs showcased their research via a series of 6 min + 3 min question rapid-fire talks. From Molecular modelling to biofuels, the talks were well presented and highly engaging. 

ECR showcase speakers

ECR showcase speakers

The organizing committee finished the day with a well-deserved dinner where plans for the next ERC2STAR workshop were discussed. The team aim to summarise the workshop via a series of posts on our website. Watch this space for updates!

For more information regarding ECR2STAR please visit Also, you can find out more about this recent event via our twitter-feed, news@ecr2star, Facebook page, www.facebook/ecr2star and LinkedIn group pages.

ECR2STAR Final Program Avaliable


ECR2STAR's first Workshop will be held on the 9th of December in London. The workshop is for early career researchers working in the health and medical field with a specific focus on drug delivery technologies. The one day workshop will cover talks from leaders in the field as well as a rapid-fire ECR presentation session.

The workshop is now full so no further registrations are possible. However, our team are already working on a series of exciting events for 2014 and will highlight important aspects of the workshop via our regular articles on

The full program can be downloaded here.


Making the Leap: 5 Tips for medical-based ECRs looking to move from academia to the pharmaceutical Industry


By David Cipolla.

If you are a postdoctoral scientist or finishing up your PhD you may be interested in pursuing opportunities in the Pharmaceutical Industry.  If so, there are many differences between academia and industry and a number of them are highlighted in this article. 

1. Your Ability to Fit in the Team is Often More Important than Scientific Genius

For many scientists who have recently obtained a PhD, this transition may be challenging.  In many universities, your professor valued you for your ability to take initiative, generate ideas and conduct lots of experiments leading to innovative research publications that extended or expanded your advisor’s research focus. A PhD is not granted for being a good team player, or for helping out other students with their research, but solely based on your own achievements.  This is in stark contrast to most pharmaceutical companies, which, for the most part, value teamwork over pure scientific genius. Disruption of a positive team environment to accommodate a lone ranger usually does not make sense.  The ability to move a product through the various stage of development as rapidly as possible is key.  For a product that may generate billions of dollars in sales per year, each day that a product is delayed in getting approved can mean millions of dollars in lost sales.  So when you are interviewing for a position, the company will be focused on how well you will be able to work with others and your cultural fit within the organization. (If you are a team player, and also an innovative scientist, so much the better).

2. Collaboration is Key


This concept may not be that new for many people in academia, because the best academic researchers will identify like-minded partners to collaborate with in order to expand their research focus and fill in gaps in their group’s expertise.  It is also typical for Postdocs to move from one lab to another and this fosters an exchange of ideas across labs. However, in industry the degree of collaboration goes many steps further.  A project team is formed to focus on each drug in development, and can even be divided into specific indications for that drug. On the project team are professionals from various departments which may include: research, preclinical safety, preclinical efficacy, formulation, analytical, process sciences, manufacturing, quality, medical affairs, regulatory, finance, and marketing, etc.  The glue holding this group together is the experts in project management. As a new scientist entering industry, you are now directly accountable to at least two people, your supervisor in your technical area as well as your project team leader, and your actions will influence and be affected by many more people. How can you achieve the most success in this new environment? It comes down to effective communication and treating your colleagues with respect.

3. Effective Communication is Critical: It starts with project teams.

They exist to facilitate communication across departments.  Project teams keep track of milestones (e.g., when will the clinical batches be released which gate trial start) and the timelines associated with those efforts.  The critical path activities are those that are linked and define the earliest that the milestone can be achieved.  If your deliverable is on the critical path, you will be under the microscope to ensure that your delivery date does not slip, and you will be challenged to bring it in earlier than anticipated. Understanding the risks that may arise, and how you are dependent on the inputs from others (e.g., the formulation group cannot conduct stability studies until they receive drug supplies from manufacturing) cannot be overstated. You should proactively engage the groups that you are dependent upon, and which are dependent upon you.  Recognize that turf battles can arise.  But if you remain humble, treat others with respect, acknowledge and recognize others’ contributions, and deliver on your commitments, you will be recognized as a team player and one who is sought out to work with.

4. Publishing is No Longer a Measure of Your Core Value


In academia, the focus can often appear to be primarily the quantity and quality of your publications.  The measure of your worth can be quantified by the number of papers you have published and the impact factor of the journals you have published in.  This is important not only with respect to landing a position within an academic institution, and how rapidly you move up the ranks in that organization, but is critical to obtaining grants to fund your research.  However, once you begin working in industry, much of your research ideas and the data that you generate will become trade secrets within the organization, and will not be published for years, if at all.  This means that what has been the primary driving force for you for many years, i.e., the ‘be all and end all’, will have to be replaced with a new set of values. That can be a difficult transition for the unprepared. How do you cope with that change? Is there a middle ground?  

5. Focus on Inventions

One way to cope with that change is to focus on creating value for your organization by patenting your innovations as inventions, instead of by publication. Not all pharmaceutical companies are rigidly set against publications.  Some understand the importance for their scientists to be able to share their ideas with their colleagues.  They appreciate that this positive peer recognition will enhance the standing of their scientists, and by association, the esteem of their company. This gives their organization a more inviting culture and a leg-up on hiring the best talent. But before the innovative research can be published, the patent group will want to review the content and determine if it makes sense to keep the information as a trade secret or to file patents. It is important that you understand the patent process and are able to effectively communicate your innovations.  Typically, this is done by drafting a scientific report, like a publication, and sharing it with the patent lawyers.  They will do a survey of the patent literature to check for prior art, and if the innovation is novel and non-obvious, they may file a patent disclosure.  This process can take many years before patents are issued, but once the patent disclosure is published (typically 12-18 months after filing), it should be possible to publish the content as well.

It is hoped that these tips will give you a sense for some of the differences between academia and industry, and provide intellectual fodder for you as you weigh your career options. We have not discussed preparation for the interview itself, as there are many other resources specifically targeting that issue.

About David Cipolla: David has worked in the Pharmaceutical R&D Department at Genentech on a number of programs, the highlight being the approval of Pulmozyme rhDNase to treat cystic fibrosis in 1993.  Following Genentech, David worked at Aradigm Corporation in a number of roles overseeing the formulation and analytical development activities, as well as management of intellectual property.  He has been active in the inhalation field, having served on the Board of Directors of the IPAC-RS consortium, including a two-year term as Chair, and is currently serving on the Board for the International Society of Aerosols in Medicine (ISAM). David is currently completing his PhD in the Faculty of Pharmacy at the University of Sydney. You can contact David here

Read more Early Career hints, tips and news at and don't forget to like us at If you wish to get involved or are interested in contributing to ECR2TAR please contact us at


7 tips for dealing with reviewer comments

7 secrets.jpg

By Stephen Gilliver

1. Use the reviewer comments even if your paper is rejected

Your paper getting sent out for review is a cause for celebration. Not only because it might get accepted for publication, but also because if it is rejected you should at least get some feedback from the reviewers. (If the reviewers’ comments are not included in the rejection letter from the journal editor you should request them.) Check through the reviewer comments carefully for things you can do to improve your paper before you send it to the next journal. I once had a paper rejected by one journal, improved it with the help of the reviewer comments, submitted it to a journal with a higher impact factor, and got it accepted there. Result!


2. Be polite – but not over-polite

It is important to address the reviewers in a polite manner, even if you totally disagree with their comments. However, you should not be over-polite. I once edited a point-by-point response to a set of reviewer comments in which the author prefaced and ended each individual response with an expression of gratitude. Something like this: 

Thank you very much for your excellent comment. [Response to specific comment] Thank you very much again.

This excessive politeness might give the impression that the author is trying to charm the reviewer, to get the paper accepted by being polite rather than by addressing what the reviewers consider to be its flaws.

3. Don’t feel obliged to accept everything the reviewer says 

Responding to reviewer comments is a balance between pleasing the reviewer and having the paper you want. If you accept all of the reviewer comments and recommended changes you may increase your chances of publication, but the paper will be how the reviewers want it and not necessarily how you would like it to be. If you strongly disagree with something a reviewer says you should say so, explaining courteously and with good reasoning why (flat rejection of a comment will not be well received). As a peer reviewer I always respected authors who argued cogently for their point of view. And remember, accepting all of the reviewers’ comments/changes does not guarantee that your paper will be accepted. I am writing from experience here.

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4. What to do when two reviewers ask for opposite things

Okay, so you get the reviewer comments back from the editor and Reviewer 1 feels that the Introduction lacks detail. Reviewer 2 on the other hand thinks it is too long. What to do? In such instances it is best to ask the editor for advice. After all, it is he/she who has the final say as to whether or not your paper is accepted. You can then refer to the advice you received from the editor when writing your responses to the conflicting reviewer comments. (Note: If the editor bothers to read through the reviewer comments carefully they may flag the problem in the decision letter.) 

5. Make sure you address everything

Sometimes reviewers will raise several different points in a single comment. In such instances it is easy to miss something important (or that the reviewer considers important). Before you submit your responses to the reviewer comments make sure you have addressed E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G! Nothing annoyed me more as a peer reviewer than authors not responding to my comments. In such cases I would merely repeat the same comment during the next round of review, maybe with an expression of my dissatisfaction.


6. Dealing with comments you don’t understand

Sometimes peer reviewers will make comments that you don’t understand; on other occasions it may be unclear whether they are just commenting on something or want you to make changes. When this happens I would advocate a policy of openness. Explain to the reviewer that you don’t understand what they mean, or what they are asking you to do. At the same time, it is worth writing responses based on what you suspect the reviewer may be getting at:

I am afraid that I am unclear as to the point you are making. If you are saying that the sample was too small, I would respond that [...]. If instead you feel that the outcome measure was flawed, I would argue that […].

7. Engage the editor as an adjudicator

You and a reviewer are unable to agree on a particular point. The reviewer repeatedly requests a specific change and you reiterate your opposition to it. After several rounds of review, agreement is no nearer. In such circumstances it is advisable to raise the issue directly with the editor. Present your argument to them as convincingly as you can and let them decide what should be done. There is no guarantee that you will get the outcome you hope for, but at least you will no longer be bashing your head against a brick wall.

And that wraps up the 7 tips for dealing with reviewer comments. Read more Early Career hints, tips and news at and don't forget to like us at If you wish to get involved or are interested in contributing to ECR2TAR please contact us at

About Stephen Gilliver: Stephen is the Science Editor at the Center for Primary Health Care Research, Malmö, Sweden and the Co-Editor of Medical Writing (the journal of the European Medical Writers Association). He previously served as a peer reviewer for several dermatology journals. You can contact Stephen here  

5 Tips for preparing scientific manuscripts in MS Word


Make your life easier when preparing manuscripts for publication. These 5 tips will streamline your manuscript preparation process and allow easier editing and document collaboration between authors.


1. Using styles and document maps

Using Styles in MS Word

What is the point of styles? Who cares about that style ribbon and toolbox/taskpane anyway? 
Surprisingly, styles in Word can be your best friend when preparing a manuscript for publication. Styles are not there to make your document pretty but act as a means of ‘sectioning’ and navigating your document. If you use Styles, Section headings will be visible in the Document Map meaning that you can navigate to any part of the document with a single click. For instance, imagine you are discussing data or a Figure in one section of the document (say in the Discussion section) and need to quickly check your Figure, Table or text in the Results section. You can jump to the relevant section by clicking the relevant Heading in the Document Map, check and jump back.

Styles also control the way the normal text and caption text is displayed. This is useful since you can create a uniform style for a particular journal following set guidelines (i.e. no justification, double spaced, Times New Roman, Font 12 etc.). You can change a particular Style in the Styles toolbox or by right clicking a particular style and reassigning it to highlighted text in the document. You can also change which Styles are displayed in the quick select ribbon via the toolbox/taskpane.

2. Figures, Tables, Captions and Field codes

Captions & Figures in MS Word

Some journals require figures and tables to be inserted in-line with the text. Others require them to be at the end of the document. You may also need to insert equations or other items in the text that are referred to regularly. If this is the case then captions can help. Captions are effectively imbedded field codes that act as links in a document. When you insert a Figure into your document, you can tag it with a Caption (i.e. Figure 1, Table 1).

You do this by selecting ‘insert Caption’ and choosing Figure, Table or Equation. This then inserts the next sequential Caption (i.e. Figure 1) into the text. Now, whenever you wish to refer to that Figure in the text you can do so by selecting cross-reference from the ‘insert’ menu. This will insert the Figure and number with a link. So by clicking on ‘Figure 1’ in the text will take you directly to Figure 1. Neat eh? That’s not all, Captions are dynamic so if you insert a new ‘Figure 1’ in front of the old one, it will renumber the subsequent Figure numbers and update the links in the text to reflect the change. 

3. Reference software, field codes and CWYW

Using reference software with MS Word

One of the most powerful tools for writing manuscripts is third-party referencing software. There are many packages available online (this deserves a separate post in itself), however the majority allow you to organise papers, proceedings, books and other material that you can then automatically reference in your text. Common packages include Endnote™, Reference Manager™ and Papers™. Many of the packages offer ‘cite while you write’ (CWYW) meaning that you can insert references in the text using the packages’ Word plug-in and a bibliography will be created at the end of the document. The greatest thing about these packages is that you can easily define and change the output style.

One tip, when you are about to submit to a Journal create a separate ‘clean’ version of the document and select all (CMD A (Mac) or CTRL A (PC) and remove all field codes by pressing CMD+SHIFT+FN+F9 (Mac) or Ctrl+Shift+F9 (PC). This will remove all hidden field codes in the document and avoid build problems when your document is converted by the Journal. Do not do this to your main copy though as you will not be able to go back!

4. Track changes author comments and traceability

Using Track Changes in MS Word

Working on a manuscript is often a group effort. There may be multiple authors or your manuscript may need to undergo review by your line-manager etc. The easiest way to manage this is via Word’s built in track changes function. By using the track changes feature you can edit and modify a document, while keeping a history of previous changes. You can also add comments, which is useful if you or your colleagues want to highlight or query something. Track changes are a very powerful function as multiple people can work on a document and contribute to different aspects. Another important aspect of manuscript preparation is the location and traceability of your document(s). With Cloud Storage there are multiple ways you can share and work on documents. Microsoft has Skydrive™ for example, allowing multiple authors to work on a document simultaneously. Other options include Dropbox™ where you can save and share whole folders of information relating to your manuscript and view/recover historical snapshots of your folder.

5. Finishing up and setting up a template to make your life easier in future

Lastly, it takes a while to set up a streamlined workflow for manuscript and document preparation. So ensure you don’t have to start afresh! When you have everything the way you like it, save your formatting (styles etc.) as a new template. That way, when you are ready to write a new manuscript you can start from your established template.

And that about wraps up the top 5 tips for helping prepare scientific manuscripts in MS Word. Read more Early Career hints, tips and news at and don't forget to like us at If you wish to get involved or are interested in contributing to ECR2TAR please contact us at 

Graphing software for science (OSX focus)

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High quality graphical figures of your data should always be a priority when you are preparing a manuscript or presentation. If your audience doesn't understand your data because it is poorly presented, they are unlikely to grasp the 'significance' (pardon the pun) of your research.

It is important to choose a suitable graph format and represent your data in the clearest way possible. There are countless ways of representing data sets and the nature of your graph, and choice of graphing software, will be dependent on your field of research. Depending on your data, you may wish to produce a scatter plot, bar graph, piechart or multivariable 3-dimensional plot. The type of graphical software that you settle on will be dependent on the output that you wish to generate.

Below are a few OSX scientific graphical packages with some comments and links (hover over the image to find out more). If you use an alternative Mac based graphing program, please feel free to add to the list (with any insights) in the comments section below. 

Microsoft office is still considered the mainstay office program and thus many people have access to Excel for graphing purposes. While excel is excellent for handling simple data sets, conducting routine calculations and plotting data during a research project it has a lack of graph types, formatting and output options. Generally, researchers use this alongside a scientific graphing program.

Microsoft office is still considered the mainstay office program and thus many people have access to Excel for graphing purposes. While excel is excellent for handling simple data sets, conducting routine calculations and plotting data during a research project it has a lack of graph types, formatting and output options. Generally, researchers use this alongside a scientific graphing program.

Powerful 2D plotting software. Interface allows  a high degree of graph customisation and formatting with realtime updating. The software includes curve fitting and regression functions. Clean graphical output in multiple format types.

Powerful 2D plotting software. Interface allows  a high degree of graph customisation and formatting with realtime updating. The software includes curve fitting and regression functions. Clean graphical output in multiple format types.

Big brother of DataGraph. 2D and 3D plotting environment with '80 data types to handle data with around 2,000 computational actions and seven different drawing environments to handle graphs'.

Big brother of DataGraph. 2D and 3D plotting environment with '80 data types to handle data with around 2,000 computational actions and seven different drawing environments to handle graphs'.

2D and 3D graphing software. Easy to use interface with Panatone colour matching and various output options. Images can be exported in a number of formats.

2D and 3D graphing software. Easy to use interface with Panatone colour matching and various output options. Images can be exported in a number of formats.

When choosing a package it is important to consider a few things. These include (1) usability and (2) output formats. 

For usability, a key area to consider is the user interface and specific functions that you need from the software package. Output formats are another important aspect of your software choice. The majority of scientific journals have very specific outlines on how graphical images are submitted. Subsequently, you need to check the formats that your software can output.


  • Do you require your plots to be updated in real-time?
  • Are you happy using a command line interface?
  • Do you require advanced data analysis features or programable functions?
  • Do you want your graphs embedded within a data sheet or on a separate page?
  • Do you need pixel or vector based output formats?
  • Do you require video format output?
  • Do you require fine control over image size and pixel resolution?  

Considered by many in the biomedical field to be the 'gold standard' graphing program. Originally designed for experimental biologists, Prism can produce a number of 2D graphs and has a statistical analysis and regression functions built in. Prism graphs have a distinct look and can be exported in a number of formats suitable for publication.

Considered by many in the biomedical field to be the 'gold standard' graphing program. Originally designed for experimental biologists, Prism can produce a number of 2D graphs and has a statistical analysis and regression functions built in. Prism graphs have a distinct look and can be exported in a number of formats suitable for publication.

Produces 2D and 3D plots. Targeting science and engineering disciplines with a number of signal processing, curve fitting and peak analysis options. Particularly useful for analysis and presentation of 3D volumetric data (i.e from MRI or CT data). Additional C and C++ programming interface, data acquisition and third party plugins.

Produces 2D and 3D plots. Targeting science and engineering disciplines with a number of signal processing, curve fitting and peak analysis options. Particularly useful for analysis and presentation of 3D volumetric data (i.e from MRI or CT data). Additional C and C++ programming interface, data acquisition and third party plugins.

2D scientific graphing software. Many plot types and output options. Fine control over presentation and extensive curve fitting functions. Formulas are available in the data sheet and standard templates can be constructed.

2D scientific graphing software. Many plot types and output options. Fine control over presentation and extensive curve fitting functions. Formulas are available in the data sheet and standard templates can be constructed.

Cross platform graphing software based on Java for plotting X-Y graphs. Non-linear curve fitting and multiple output options.

Cross platform graphing software based on Java for plotting X-Y graphs. Non-linear curve fitting and multiple output options.

Ultimately, you may need to settle on more than one package. Many labs use multiple programs depending upon their project requirements. For Apple Mac users, there are a multitude of scientific graphing programs available with a wide range of features and pricing ranges. For ECRs in academia, many packages offer academic discounts and free trials! Finally, remember, that the cost of these packages will always be less than the cost of 'your time' and the cost of 'your research'!

D plotting software with multiple output options. User interface is a little complex but quite powerful.

D plotting software with multiple output options. User interface is a little complex but quite powerful.


Other programs to consider:

  • Numbers (Apple) Shiny bar charts and 3-D plots but limited for many scientific applications
  • Grapher (Free) (Apple Inc) Many don't realise that this is already on your mac! Useful for plotting 2D and 3D equations.
  • SciDAVis (Free) 2D & 3D plots with a 'shallow learning curve'. You will need to compile the binary to use this.
  • MATLAB -  'a high-level language and interactive environment for numerical computation, visualisation, and programming
  • This article was brought to you by ECR2STAR. If you would like to contribute to the community by submitting an article, please contact us via

    Free Workshop for ECRs in London this December: Biomedical and drug delivery focus.


    The ECR2STAR team is pleased to announce our first workshop for early career researchers in London this December. If you are a PhD student or early career researcher (ECR) postdoctoral scientist working in the area of drug delivery and biomedical science this workshop is for you!

    •  Learn how to get the most out of your research career
    •  Listen and interact with leaders in both academia and industry
    • Present your data to other ECRs and stand the chance to win £200

    The conference will be held on the 9th December at Senate House in London (UK) and is brought to you by: University College London, The University of Sydney and The Woolcock Institute of Medical Research.  

    Most importantly, this workshop is free!

    You can register online at


    Spending time researching overseas during your PhD

    by Jesslynn Ooi 


    If your supervisors have recommend you spend time in a overseas lab during your PhD, this isn't an indication that they want to get rid of you but that they want you to broaden your horizons and research skills. Time spent in an overseas laboratory can be very rewarding both culturally and scientifically.

    If you have been lucky enough to be offered this opportunity, congratulations, this blog post is for you! If you haven't, this article will also point you in the direction of resources for overseas visits.

    (1) Find a suitable lab and convince your supervisor

    First things first! If you are considering conducting part of your PhD research in an overseas lab, speak to your supervisor. Generally, supervisors are very supportive of such initiatives but will always be concerned about the bottom line, money! You've already conducted your literature review and you know what work is out there and thus, you should know where the best research in your field is being conducted (apart from in your own lab of course!). Discuss with your supervisor how spending time in chosen lab will 'value add' to your degree and how you might fund such a period of research. If your supervisor is supportive, he may already know or want to work with the lab you have suggested. If this is the case, you then need to pester him into contacting the potential host and agree on a co-supervisory plan for the project.

    (2) Plan ahead to ensure you get the most out of your visit!

    As an early career researcher, an overseas “sabbatical” is a rewarding and mentally stimulating experience, and brings with it a set of its own unique benefits. Research overseas will give you the unique opportunity to meet world class researchers as well as a chance to share your research, discuss new projects and learn from and collaborate with your overseas colleagues.  As I refrain from delving into a 15 minute polemic about the benefits of research overseas (you’re already convinced), the question is how can I make the most of my time overseas? Here are some points to consider if you have not already:

    • Project Goals – Have an idea of what you want to achieve from your sabbatical over the complete stay, and ideally at monthly intervals.  Your goals may vary depending on where you are in your PhD.  You may want to take on a risk by trying a new idea or new technique, but have a contingency if the unexpected occurs!
    • Time is not a flexible commodity! - time will pass by quickly, whether it be a one month or 1 year research stint.  Typically all research calls for careful planning but in this instance planning is crucial.  Allow time to familiarise yourself with people and equipment.
    • Keep your supervisors at home updated - Keep your supervisors back at base updated regularly on your progress. If you run into trouble (scientific progress or otherwise) they can help! Distance is not an excuse. Use Skype, Facebook or just call in!
    • Research Awareness - Find out what kind of research is happening around you – especially from within your designated research group.  This kind of awareness could seed collaboration and future job opportunities!

    (3) Fully experience your new environment

    A visit overseas is not just an opportunity to conduct great research but also twill give you exposure to new social networks and cultures.

    • Be Socially Proactive – One of the first things I did was jump on a UCL cruise at the time when I knew nobody.  Least to say I’m very glad I went as I got to know students and staff more quickly! Spending time in an overseas lab can be stressful but also culturally and socially rewarding.
    • Local Conferences – are potential places to present your work.  Keep an eye out for them as you will save on travelling expenses when applying from your host university/company.

    A visit to an overseas lab can seem a daunting experience at first. However, you will never forget your visit, the colleagues and networks you build and the skills you gain.

    Jesslynn Ooi is a PhD student in the final year of her PhD at the University of Sydney. She has been the successful recipient of both a European FP7 overseas collaboration award and a postgraduate Endeavour fellowship. Jesslynn's research is in the ares of physical chemistry, colloidal and surface science.


    Welcome To ECR2STAR

    Early career researcher to research star (ECR2STAR) is a website dedicated to supporting ECR researchers. We are obsessed with scientific discovery and advancement and believe ECRs should be encouraged to become the next leaders, what ever field they work in.

    The ECR2STAR website is a platform for news, hints and tips, events and opportunities. We encourage people to contribute to ECR2STAR, whether it is a blog-post or details of a workshop, job opportunity or event. If you are interested in contributing please contact us at