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How The Company of Biologists supports early-career researchers

8 March 2021

Early-career researchers (ECRs) are our future leaders in biology and it is vital that we support them in the first stages of their academic careers. Navigating the intricacies and demand of early academic life is no mean feat, with triumphs and tribulations scattered throughout.

ECRs are often in unfamiliar territory as they work hard to publish papers, grow their connections and engage in informal scientific activities to continuously promote themselves and their work with their peers. The Company of Biologists and its five journals actively champion ECRs, and offer a number of practical ways to meet the unique needs and challenges they face.

Facilitating scientific interactions

We believe in the power of international collaboration, which is why we offer grants to help ECRs travel to other labs and attend scientific meetings. Our Travelling Fellowships award recipients up to £2,500 to make a collaborative visit to another lab, while DMM Conference Travel Grants help ECRs attend scientific meetings, conferences, workshops and training courses that relate to the scope of the journal. In response to the ongoing pandemic, we have expanded these grants to support applications to virtual events.

The power of community

The ongoing pandemic has proved the value of virtual communities, which have been a lifeline for scientists facing travel restrictions. We are proud that our three dedicated community sites provide scientists with a place to interact, learn, and discuss science informally.

“One of the best things about the preLights community is the opportunity to talk to talented scientists who care about improving the process of scientific publication and communication.”

The Node and FocalPlane serve developmental biologists and microscopists with discussion threads, jobs, events listing, resources and beautiful images. Anyone in the field can register to post for free and join the discussion. ECRs often run successful blog series and we always welcome new contributors.

preLights is our preprint highlighting service. Over 200 ECRs are now preLighters, regularly highlighting the latest preprints in their field of research and they are often asked to speak at preprint events. For many of our preLighters, the platform is a productive way to build confidence with scientific writing, gain feedback from peers and take part in a movement that is shaping scientific publishing. “One of the best things about the preLights community is the opportunity to talk to talented scientists who care about improving the process of scientific publication and communication,” said preLighter Debbie Ho. “If you are interested in these areas, I’d encourage you to get involved.”

Each site has its own community manager to oversee the day-to-day running and long-term development, but it’s the contributions from the community that make them a true success and valuable resource.

Increasing the exposure of research

One of the many benefits of our Read & Publish initiative is the access to publishing it provides ECRs. “We were delighted to be able to publish our article Open Access free of charge in Journal of Experimental Biology and we feel very privileged to have this opportunity,” said Dr Elizabeth Clutton from the University of Portsmouth. “As early-career researchers completing research that was not funded using a massive grant, we had no funds available to cover publication fees. This is a factor that can limit many researchers, so being able to publish Open Access for free was a lifeline for me and my co-authors.”

We were one of the first not-for-profit journal publishers to launch a Read & Publish initiative, which offer researchers at participating institutions unlimited read access to Development, Journal of Cell Science and Journal of Experimental Biology, as well as free and uncapped Open Access publishing in the three journals.

“…being able to publish Open Access for free was a lifeline for me and my co-authors.”

The Company of Biologists has been committed to Open Access since 2004 because we believe that immediate and free availability of high-quality research helps us to achieve our mission of advancing excellence in the biological and biomedical sciences worldwide. On average, we see that usage of articles published Open Access is around double that of articles published under a subscription model. We are delighted to help ECRs advance their work and careers by facilitating Open Access publishing.

There are now over 200 institutions in 15 countries participating in our Read & Publish initiative. View the full list participating institutions and find more feedback from researchers.

Boost visibility

“I would like to praise Biology Open for featuring ‘First Person’ interviews in their journal,” said Roberta Azzarelli, a first author with Biology Open. “This is a great way to foster early-career scientists.” Interviews with first authors aren’t exclusive to Biology Open, with all five of our journals publishing interviews to highlight the people behind the papers.

In her interview, Roberta also touched on another initiative that helps ECRs boost their visibility. “The Company of Biologists created the Node Network, a useful database where everyone can register their profile and expertise,” she said. The Network, which currently has 899 members from 44 countries, acts as a directory to contact ECRs, and scientists at all stages of their career, for talks, reviews and collaborations. Contributors to the Node, FocalPlane and preLights can also customise their profile to include their photo, and link to their social and professional links, increasing visibility and spotlight their research.

“I would like to praise Biology Open for featuring ‘First Person’ interviews in their journal. This is a great way to foster early-career scientists.”

Last year, Biology Open announced the next phase in expanding its support for the ECR community – Future Leader Reviews. Aimed exclusively at ECRs with less than ten years active research experience post-PhD, the new Review articles are an opportunity for those in the first phases of their scientific career to establish themselves in their field.

Funded Workshop places

Our Workshop programmes are carefully developed to champion the novel techniques and innovations that will underpin important scientific advances. They are known to provide a stimulating, and equal, environment for leading experts and ECRs to exchange interdisciplinary ideas. There are usually 30 participants at each Workshop, including 10 places that we fund for ECRs to join. Everyone attending speaks for the same amount of time and ECRs gain one-to-one access to the leaders of their field.

We know how valuable our Workshops are for scientific discussion. With the ongoing pandemic, events for 2021 remain uncertain but we hope to return to in-person sessions in 2022. Watch the video below to hear from ECRs about their Workshop experience.


Visit our journal websites

Development Journal of Cell Science The Journal of Experimental Biology Disease Models & Mechanisms Biology Open

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