By Laura Falkenberg and Scott Hotaling
In this blog post we are publishing a discussion between two of our Fellows to celebrate a changing of the guard – Laura Falkenberg is completing her term, while Scott Hotaling is just getting started. Here they share their perspectives and thoughts on the Raelyn Cole Editorial Fellowship program.
LF: Firstly, Scott welcome to the Fellowship! We had so many amazing candidates submit applications this round – what made you decide to apply?
SH: Thank you! I’m honored to be part of the program. I applied for a few reasons: first, one of the main lessons I’ve learned in my still relatively short academic journey is that whether it’s an e-mail, a grant, or a manuscript, writing well is fundamental to success. The fact that the Fellowship offered opportunities to be around professionals in the publishing space (e.g., Patricia Soranno, Editor-in-Chief of Limnology & Oceanography: Letters), as well as having an explicit focus on developing the Fellow’s writing capacity sold me on the program. Second, it’s such a unique program! I’ve never heard of any society nor journal offering anything in the same vein. Finally, I looked up the two current Fellows, yourself and Kelsey, and decided that would be pretty good company to keep!
SH: Since we’re on opposite ends of the Fellowship experience, what has it been like? Have your experiences as a Fellow translated to your work outside of the Fellowship?
LF: This Fellowship has been an amazing experience; an opportunity I can’t speak highly enough about. One of my favourite things about the program is the scope for the Fellows to take it in any direction we are inspired by. There are some central components that all Fellows familiarise ourselves with – for example, the publishing guidelines with L&O: Letters, and the peer review process. But, there are also opportunities to work on longer-term projects related to our particular areas of interest. For me, that meant I devoted a significant period of my Fellowship to thinking about, and researching, how scientists can better communicate – be that during peer review (the results of that part were published in a L&O Bulletin article), or in scientific writing more generally (that manuscript is currently in review). I definitely feel that considering this issue in such depth has changed the way I approach academic writing.
LF: Given this flexibility of the program, I’m curious – are there any areas of academic peer review and publishing that you’ll be particularly interested to focus on during your time as a Fellow?
SH: I’m so glad you asked! Yes, the potential for taking the Fellowship in our own direction with support from L&O and the editorial staff opens up a lot of possibilities. I’m personally interested in how good of a job we’re doing with regard to the peer review process and, specifically, how equitable it is across genders, country of origin, career stage, etc. As a member of an advantaged group in academia – a man from the United States with English as my first language – I want to do my part to look inward at our systems to illuminate bias that may exist and work to correct it. Charles Fox, Editor-in-Chief of Functional Ecology, was on my doctoral committee and he recently led the publication of an important study in Ecology and Evolution which investigated the outcomes of the peer review process for female and male first authors in ecology and evolution journals (Fox & Paine 2019). They showed that while papers for both groups were equally likely to be sent out for review, papers with female lead-authors received slightly worse peer-review scores on average and were more likely to be rejected. I would like to replicate that study for the L&O family of journals to see if bias exists in the freshwater and marine publishing space. It doesn’t hurt that such an effort would build on the prior efforts of RCEF Fellows like yourself.
SH: So, it’s clear the Fellowship was a good experience for you and you were highly successful during it. Am I correct that you went through a career transition during the Fellowship – going from a Post Doctoral to faculty position? How has the Fellowship experience shaped your mentorship?
LF: Yes, my life went through some upheaval during the Fellowship period. I started as a Post Doctoral Fellow in Norway, and am finishing as an Assistant Professor in Hong Kong (I’ve been here around 9 months). I think there are a number of ways the Fellowship has shaped how I approach mentoring. In general terms, the Fellowship gave me the chance to work with a new group of people – and I think the more people you experience working with, the more strategies you experience that you can apply to your own work. In particular, I realised that you can be an effective mentor for someone even if you’re not in the same place (Pat Soranno was based in the US, while I was in Norway, Australia, and Hong Kong at different points). On a more personal level, I think it has emphasised to me how important it is that I find, and help to provide, a diversity of mentoring voices. That is, as I noted in a recent blog post, throughout my training I had only worked with male academics, and didn’t think it had affected me that much. Getting the opportunity to work with a lot of women during the Fellowship showed me that there were important lessons for me, as a woman in STEM, to take from those different perspectives. Consequently, in the future I will be seeking out more diversity in the people I seek mentorship from (both in terms of gender and also other traits). Importantly, I will also try to be that person for other scientists. I think it is valuable not only for women, but also men, to have diversity in mentors; the more we can see different people in science, the more diverse the ideas and approaches we use will be, and the better work we will be able to produce.
LF: Developing as a mentor was an area I hadn’t necessarily expected to be strengthened by this program going into it – rather I expected the Fellowship to focus on my ability to write and publish. Given that you’ve been able to get a bit more of an idea about what the Fellowship is having seen what Kelsey and I have been doing, which are the skills you would most like to focus on?
SH: To be honest, I mostly want to mirror the path you and Kelsey have taken. I want to target specific editorial projects (e.g., investigating how good of a job the L&O journal family is doing in terms of bias) while also developing my network in the publishing industry. In terms of a specific skill set, I always strive to be a more efficient, effective writer. Through the Fellowship, I would like to work on the transition from developing my own writing to learning how to effectively mentor students, colleagues, and peers in their own writing abilities. And, by that I mean both in terms of the actual act of structuring words on a page but also in the process of writing (e.g., developing a habit, organizing your efforts, etc.). I hope to be transitioning into a more mentorship-focused role in the years to come and the Fellowship is an ideal launching point for improving in that regard.
SH: We’ve covered a lot of ground! Any last thoughts on the Fellowship and where you see it going in the future?
LF: We have spoken about a lot – thanks for such an interesting conversation! Hearing your perspective has made me even more excited to see how the Fellowship progresses over time, and the body of resources that is developed. I feel very proud of the work I was able to do as a Fellow, and I’ve still got some work to publish and seminars to present. Moreover, I’m looking forward to, as the first Fellow to finish a term, working out what the role of past Fellows is in the programe. I wish you all the best for your next two years – the time flies so make the most of them!