Over the years researchers become highly specialized in their particular field; during the PhD and postdoc you must become fully engaged with lab work, planning and running experiments, producing publishable results, gaining credit for your work, trying to move on with your career and so we sometimes forget to take a breath and see that things are changing rapidly around us, including the way we do science. The speed of scientific discoveries has exponentially increased over the last decade due to the development of methods, tools and pressure to publish.
As a scientist who was captivated with the enthusiasm of pipetting during my undergraduate studies, I have the tendency to focus on my experiments and read mostly scientific papers. Nonetheless, I realized that there are many issues that exist within global research culture and that a good scientist is always up to date with all (or almost all to be honest) aspects of the research field. This includes awareness of the challenges of the scientific community and trying your best to improve the environment you work in- both locally and globally.
Reading the weekly e-mail I get from eLife, the advertisement of recruiting early-career researchers (ECRs) for the eLife Community Ambassadors programme (18 months) caught my attention. It has ambitious goals, including a learning and community building phase with 6-months of online workshops and webinars offering ECRs a broad-spectrum of training from open science, publishing, and review to researcher wellbeing, science communication and, of course, networking opportunities. The final year of the programme focuses on enabling each Ambassador to work on an initiative project that will improve research culture and communication locally or globally. I decided to apply and to my surprise a few weeks later I got an e-mail that I was accepted in the cohort 2022-2023 of the programme.
The knowledge journey – learning and community building
We began the series of meetings, webinars and workshops, one as interesting as the next, and during each meeting I was trying to absorb as much information as possible. I was impressed to see that the cohort of ambassadors was selected to favor a wide demographic and to support as much as possible participation from countries underrepresented in the scientific landscape. This was evidence of the equity that the organizers of eLife Ambassadors have shown over the entire programme, and I realized then how much of a difference this can make and what being inclusive in science truly means.
I was aware of the distinctive publishing approach of the eLife journal, and I knew about the eLife community and ECAG (Early Career Advisory Group) from their posts along with the latest accepted papers as newsletters, but during the programme I learned more about how big the community is, how much commitment and enthusiasm everyone has towards improving science culture and make it accommodating and inclusive.
The events included workshops about open science, preprint writing and reviewing, databases and curation, science communication and publishing, career development, research assessment, leadership in research, science policy, inclusion, accessibility and kindness in science, and many more. Attending these meetings has extended my knowledge in many aspects, but I do feel like the two most prominent topics for me were: leadership in research and science policy; I believe a rational allocation of resources and thoughtful leadership have the potential to shape the scientific environment and stimulate research productivity in any field or place around the globe.
Overall, I am grateful for being selected as one of the eLife Ambassadors and I am happy that I could participate in such a diverse series of events, which enabled me to grasp additional perspectives of science, other than from the benchside. I am also grateful for the virtual and inclusive accessibility ethos of the programme. It was a unique experience for me to be able, several times, to attend the meetings holding my 1-year-old daughter (my attempts to find someone available to babysit her sometimes failed at the last moment) and try not to distract the attention of the attendees too much, since she always wanted to interact with the people “on the computer”.
What’s next – the advocacy phase
With the support from Dr. Ailis O’Carroll, community manager at eLife, and Dr. Cristian Munteanu, one of my colleagues at the Institute of Biochemistry of the Romanian Academy, this month we have just started a series of events targeting the Romanian community of researchers and students to convey the values and principles of open science and preprints, as well as diversity and inclusion within the frame of the eLife Ambassadors programme. I aim to empower our early career researchers by offering them the knowledge and skills to propagate the concepts of equity in science, improve science culture and promote sustainable leadership in our community. This, we hope, will raise awareness and outline the skills and competencies of future researchers, leaders and policy makers to shape a better scientific culture for everyone.
A take home message for the readers and in particular young researchers, quoting a great woman scientist, is “any skill is acquirable as long as you are willing to put the effort into it”. I found it to be true in my experience as a researcher and now in particular when it comes to driving change alongside the global research community of eLife Ambassadors.