A journal editor's advice to authors: Work hard, never stop learning, and have a vision

Prof. Ana Marušić: Chair, Department of Research in Biomedicine and Health, University of Split School of Medicine, Croatia

An introduction to Prof. Ana Marušić: Prof. Ana Marušić is well known in scholarly publishing circles for her work as a researcher, author, journal editor, and science communication professional. I heard Prof. Marušić’s views during the sessions at the 8th International Congress on Peer Review and
Biomedical Publication
 in Chicago last year. The energy and passion with which she spoke about some pressing issues in academia  was inspiring and I felt that her perspectives would be of great interest for Editage Insights readers. In this conversation, Prof. Marušić talks about how she became a journal editor, not unlike many of her peers who may have made the transition in a similar manner. She also talks about the challenges journal editors are faced with as well as some of the current problems in the area of scientific integrity and publication ethics. We conclude the interview with some tips from Prof. Marušić for researchers across the globe. Learn more

More about Prof. Marušić: Prof. Marušić’s list of achievements and affiliations runs long. She holds MD and PhD degrees from the University of Zagreb, Croatia, and teaches research methodology and scientific communication to university students. She is Professor of Anatomy and Chair of the Department of Research in Biomedicine and Health at the University of Split School of Medicine, Croatia. She also holds Honorary Professorship at the University of Edinburgh in the UK; is the Co-editor in Chief of the Journal of Global Health; current President of the European Association of Science Editors (2015–2018); Chair of the Research Committee of the World Association of Medical Editors; Co-Chair of the Cochrane Scientific Committee; founder of and Research Coordinator for the Cochrane Croatia; founder of the Croatian Centre for Global Health at the University of Split School of Medicine; and a Steering Group member of the EQUATOR (Enhancing the QUality And Transparency Of Health Research) Network. Prof. Marušić has authored over 200 peer-reviewed articles and received several awards for her work, such as the Council of Science Editors Award for Meritorious Achievement in 2016.  Her research is focused on the interactions between the immune and bone systems in the human body, and her other interests are science communication, peer review and research integrity. Her work on mandating the registration of clinical trials in public registries has had a positive impact on clinical trial regulations across the globe.

How did you become “a journal editor by chance”?

I suppose I became a journal editor like many of my researcher colleagues—as a researcher I had experience in publishing my work in good journals and was invited to become an editor of small and scholarly journals. My case was specific, too, because I had participated in a creation of a new journal at a time that was certainly not the most peaceful: we started a journal (Croatian Medical Journal) at the beginning of the war in Croatia in 1991. So we had a difficult time establishing a journal in such dire circumstances, but this also turned our difficulties into our strengths because we specialize in publishing research on the social aspects of medicine, particularly on the medical aspects of war and other man-made and natural disasters.

You are the founder and Co-editor in Chief of the Journal of Global Health. What does it take to start a journal? What are some of your top learnings from that experience?

I actually started two journals, under very different circumstances and with different aims. The Croatian Medical Journal aimed to increase the quality of research in a small scientific community and serve as the global community’s window to high quality research in Croatia and as a door for Croatian researchers to join the global research community. We aimed for and achieved a status of an internationally recognized general medical journal, with a respectable impact in its journal category. With the Journal of Global Health, our aim was to provide an objective, academic approach to global health and publish research that could have a high impact on global health. We have achieved this aim and publish important and highly cited papers.

Although my experiences with these two journals were very different with respect to the basic aims, challenges faced, and infrastructures available, the most important thing I learned is that it is important to be a part of the international editorial community. We very often come to journal editing from a research/academic position and think that there is not much to learn about journal editing because we are experienced in publishing our research. Being a journal editor is like moving into a completely new profession and there are many things to learn and keep learning. Becoming a member of professional societies was the most important learning experience for me.

Based on your interactions with fellow editors across the globe, what are the top three challenges journal editors face today?

The first is peer review – deciding on journal policies about it and implementing it in the way that is best for your journal and its community.

The second is the transparency of the publication process, especially regarding to clinical research involving humans, including mandatory registration in public registries as a precondition for manuscript submission.

The third, but not the least important, is ensuring the framework for journal publishing in digital age. It may seem simple, but implementing digital publishing in small scholarly journals is actually very difficult.

As a journal editor, where do you stand on offering peer review training to researchers? Do you think this will help improve review quality and increase the pool available to journal editors?

We started our journal at a beginning of a very atrocious war and tried to help our colleagues, who were also serving as physicians at battlefront, to present the medical aspect of the war. We learned that they had impressive results but lacked the skills to present them in journal articles. We began by helping individual authors, moved to conduct writing workshops for them, and finally introduced a mandatory course for graduate and postgraduate medical students on research methodology and evidence based medicine. These training activities always included peer review, as an integral part of the research process.

This worked best for our journal, but evidence about the effectiveness of peer review training is contradictory and we are not sure what works best.

If you were to highlight the most critical ethics related issues plaguing research today, what would they be?

Many things—all related to the “publish or perish” climate in research, especially in academic community where journal publications are the currency of professional advancement. For journal editors, the most relevant issues are those related to the publication authorship: article similarity, authorship, conflict of interest…They are all important because editors need to develop policies and processes to assure transparency and quality of declarations on these issues.

Can the responsible conduct of research be taught? If yes, who is most suited to teach authors about research integrity? Is it journal editors, institutions, societies?

Yes, and there are already effort to develop suitable training modules and materials, as well as to test them. Within the European research framework, research integrity is integrated into a wider theme of the responsible science for the society—responsible research and innovation (RRI). My research group is involved in one of the projects from this theme—Higher Education Institutions and Responsible Research Innovation (HEIRRI), where we are developing RRI training for all levels of higher education. This is indeed where the RRI education should happen – at the place where research happens.

Do you remember the difficulties/challenges you faced in your early days as a researcher? How did you deal with them? Do you think early-career researchers face the same issues today, too?

Maybe it was easier for us because we did not know much and were not aware of our mistakes. Today, with the transparency that is required from the research process and the availability of structures and processes needed for the responsible conduct of research, early career researchers have to integrate these requirements and expectations into their research. This indeed requires more effort, but it also helps them perform their research better and in a responsible way to the society.

Several of our readers are researchers trying to make a mark in the scholarly publishing world by publishing manuscripts and building a solid career in academia. What words of advice would you have for them?

Never stop learning and enjoying in your research. Hard work and dedication always result in good publications, new collaborations, and well-deserved recognition. Don’t think, “How am I going to publish a paper in a good journal?” Think about new ideas and have a vision. And—get training in research methodology. This will ensure that your research will be of high quality and thus publishable in best journals. The language of your manuscript is the least important for journal editors. Language can be easily corrected, but methodologically rigorous and novel research always finds way into good journals.

Thank you for your time and for this valuable advice, Prof. Marušić!

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