Editor Spotlight: Lindsay Bottoms

In this Editor Spotlight, Dr. Lindsay Bottoms shares with us why she enjoys her experience as a PLOS ONE Academic Editor and her personal and professional background as a source of inspiration for her work in sport science.

Dr. Lindsay Bottoms is a Reader in Exercise and Health Physiology and the Head of Centre for Research in Psychology and Sport Sciences at the University of Hertfordshire. Lindsay is also the Deputy Director of the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences. Lindsay’s research focuses on two distinct areas, one being the Olympic sport of fencing and improving performance and the other being physical activity for health. Lindsay is also currently the British number 1 women’s epee fencer for veteran category 1 fencing and was an international fencer for GB for several years. She is also a member of the British Fencing Medical Committee.

What excites you about your role as a PLOS ONE Academic Editor?

I find we spend so much time in our academic jobs attending meetings, writing grants, and doing lots of administrative work that I don’t often get time to sit down and read papers. Therefore, I enjoy the fact that being an academic editor it makes me sit down and read papers in my field. I always love learning new knowledge when reading articles. I also believe it is good to give people a good experience (especially early career researchers) when having a paper peer reviewed and being an academic editor, I can try and ensure this happens.

You had a successful career in competitive fencing and continue to be involved in sport. How have these experiences inspired your research?

I have been incredibly fortunate to have had an opportunity to compete internationally in the sport I love. It was only by chance that I got to do it. I used to do fencing occasionally but someone stole my fencing kit when I was doing my PhD. I had to make a decision whether I was going to continue with it and spend lots of money on new kit, or finally give up. I thankfully chose to take the opportunity to work hard at it and soon became a top 10 UK fencer and got the opportunity to travel the world fencing. Being an exercise physiologist, my fencing friends used to often ask for advice on how to prepare for competition and how to improve performance so I began offering them sport science support. It became noticeable that there was very little scientific literature available and I disagreed with some of the practices happening, that I decided to start doing research in the area. Since retiring from senior level fencing 8 years ago, I have been a team manager for the young fencers going to competitions and supporting them as well as being a selector for all levels (cadet, junior and seniors). In addition to being a selector, I am now on the British Fencing Medical Committee and help advise on areas such as creating a heat policy.

Dr. Bottoms’ Fencing Research

One area that I have spent a lot of time exploring is the physiological demands of fencing, although I have focused mainly on epee. There are three different weapons in fencing (epee, foil and sabre) and often people look at fencing as a whole and develop strength and conditioning programs without considering the differences. To me this is a bit like creating a fitness program for a rugby player regardless of whether they play league or union. But until we have the data, it is hard to change opinions. With my work in fencing, I have developed really good collaborative links with Professor Xavier Iglesias at the Insitut Nacional d’Educacio Fisca de Catalunya who also does a lot of fencing research.

In addition to your role as a researcher, you also actively educate the public on exercise science. What motivates you to do so?

I have suffered with Crohn’s disease for 30 years, I developed it when I was 13 years old. At the time I was one of the first children on the Isle of Wight to ever be diagnosed with it, so there was very little advice available. I remember not exercising for almost a year, which was awful as I have always been fanatical about sport. I developed strictures (a narrowing of the bowel) and suffered with many bowel obstructions over the years but somehow I was still able to do my fencing and compete at a high level.

In 2012, I made the decision to have a bowel resection as the biologics weren’t working very well and I kept getting hospitalized with the blockages. I did my national championships the weekend before I had surgery and was planning on qualifying for England in 2014 for the fencing Commonwealth Championships. I had half a meter of small intestine removed and frustratingly, I was hospitalized for 12 days as my gut shut down afterwards. But it did start working again and I was saved from having a stoma. All the literature I received in hospital was about doing gentle exercise when I felt able to. I was planning on competing the following month to start my qualifying season for the Commonwealths. This information I was receiving seemed to contradict how I felt, and it made me start exploring more the role of exercise in inflammatory bowel disease.

My gastroenterologist was a keen sports person and together we started to develop research. I suddenly was driven to explore the efficacy of exercise in IBD and I still am. But obviously it is very hard to find funding to do research, so I realized I couldn’t change the world over night. I have branched out to other health conditions and have looked at exercise for different health conditions. As all researchers know, having patient public involvement is really important – I have engaged in a lot of PPI (Patient and Public Involvement) work and also public engagement to ensure I have got the information back to the right people. I actually enjoy writing lay writing more so than academic writing and have written many The Conversation articles.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by contributors are solely those of individual contributors, and not necessarily those of PLOS.

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Editor Spotlight: Ooi Pei Boon

This month, we talked to Dr. Ooi Pei Boon about her career in young people’s mental health, her advice to early career researchers, and her view on Open Science.

Dr. Ooi Pei Boon obtained her Ph.D. in Guidance and Counseling from Universiti Putra Malaysia. As a practitioner, educator, and researcher, Dr. Ooi believes in bringing research and practice into the classroom and vice versa. Her counseling practice broadly focuses on the relationship between human interactions and the planet, specifically the human-computer interactions leading to social issues and planetary concerns. She works on creating awareness and educating the public on the importance of taking care of their emotional health, as well as the planet.

Using the fundamental counseling principles, she collaborates with interdisciplinary teams to conduct research and counseling services to understand human behaviors and application of positive changes to allow personal growth. On a larger scale, she is passionate about working with vulnerable groups of individuals (e.g., visually impaired, elderly, and lower socioeconomic groups) to improve their overall mental health and well-being. Dr. Ooi serves as one of the 16 core members of the Malaysia Board of Counselors and the panel counselor for the Malaysia Bar Council Commission.

Can you share with us your career journey in mental health research? What leads you to work on young people’s mental health, especially related to technology use?

I am trained as a counselor, and as a counselor, I believe that everyone can and wants to be better. However, people can be entangled in situations beyond their problem-solving abilities and feel helpless or hopeless.

Dr. Ooi working with the youths on identifying cyberbullying cases

My work with young people started when I was working as a young executive with a clinical psychologist who impacted a lot of my work. I see technology use as a necessity for young people – just like we used to have books or Walkman when we grew up. We ought to help them live wisely with technology and make the best of it with sufficient digital literacy in mind. It also means equipping the young people and their parents with the knowledge of online safety to best support them. Mental health is never an individual’s battle but communities’.

You have held many leadership positions in both academic and non-academic capacities. What is your one piece of advice to someone who is just starting in the field?

Juggling academic and non-academic roles and responsibilities is always challenging but beneficial in the long run. We may sometimes forgo our initial intentions of why we want to be an educator or academic. For someone entrusted with the opportunities, I would say staying focused and being consistent would bring you far. It also means staying resilient when storms hit. It does not mean you must detract from your initial intention, but perhaps you must paddle even harder under the sea.

Your hard work may go unnoticed, but the experience will shape you into who you are and who you want to be one day. I find gratitude is essential in this process – you are as good as, if not better than, your team. Be a team player and be grateful to the people you meet along the way. Pay it forward when you can.     

What does Open Science mean to you and your field?

Open Science, to me, is the way forward. However, obtaining and achieving the main six principles of Open Science will require sustained efforts to create awareness and educate the community about its importance and contributions in the long run.

When resources are limited, we must join efforts to make the best outcomes for the community and humankind. We are in an era where no one is an island, and working on a silo mentality will not bring us far. Together, with transparency and collaboration, we achieve far more. We also need continued dialogue to ensure legal and ethical issues, especially when dealing with data protection challenges with technology adaptions on the rise.

For me, to adopt Open Science at our practice at the moment and in the field of counseling profession would require some refinement work- be it with the digital infrastructure, users’ mindset or at the policy levels. We need to safeguard the interests, especially confidentiality of our clients/patients and ensure that there is a governance code of practice or regulatory frameworks to guide the practitioners, clients, and community. While we welcome collaboration, increase of productivity and data sharing, we do need to work on models that best our industry, and this is an ongoing effort. 

Disclaimer: Views expressed by contributors are solely those of individual contributors, and not necessarily those of PLOS.

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Editor Spotlight: Achraf El Allali

For this month’s Editor Spotlight, we talked to Dr. Achraf El Allali who shared with us his approach to a fair and thorough peer review process, his career path to the field of computational biology, and PLOS ONE‘s role in promoting multidisciplinary research.

Dr. Achraf El Allali is an assistant professor of bioinformatics at the African Genome Center, University Mohammed VI Polytechnic. With over 40 peer-reviewed papers published, his research focuses on the integration of experimental and computational research, specifically in the field of computational genomics and metagenomics. He is dedicated to developing algorithms and tools for omics data analysis, aiming to bridge the gap between biological experiments and computational analysis.

Prior to joining UM6P, he had the privilege of serving as an assistant professor at the Department of Computer Science in King Saud University. This esteemed department is recognized as the number one computer science department in the MENA region, according to US News rankings. During his tenure, he gained valuable experience and further his expertise in the realm of computer science and computational biology.

In his current role, he is entrusted with leading the Bioinformatics Program at the African Genome Center. It is his responsibility to spearhead initiatives that advance research and education in computational biology and bioinformatics within the domains of agriculture, environment, and health. By leveraging his strong background in computational biology and his publication record, he strives to make significant contributions to the field and foster scientific progress in his institution and beyond.

PLOS ONE‘s multidisciplinary approach welcomes contributions from various fields, enabling researchers to publish and communicate their work across disciplinary boundaries.

Achraf El Allali

What constitutes a fair and thorough peer review process? What is your approach to achieving one?

A fair and thorough peer review process is essential for maintaining the quality and integrity of scholarly research. There are several key components that contribute to the peer review process and the editor’s job is to figure out a way to balance between them. As in the real world, it is often hard, if not impossible, to find all these requirements in one person. The best-case scenario is to find an unbiased and independent reviewer that is expert in the subject of the paper and can provide an objective review while respecting confidentiality. This reviewer should also be able to offer clear and constructive feedback to help authors improve their work and do this in a timely manner. Some of these points can be found in the reviewer’s CV, publication record and profile on the editorial system. However, the other key components are hard to measure, which is why a good review process ends with a synthesis from the editor to make sure that the reviews contain all the required elements.

My approach to the review is to focus on my expertise and offer a quality check of the work that is directly in my line of work, while providing background information and alternative perspective when it comes to the aspect of the paper that are not in my direct expertise. I often support authors by offering suggestions for strengthening their research and helping them clarify their arguments.

Your research combines experimental and computational methods to study a wide range of topics in biology. How did you get interested in the field? What excites you about it?

As a computer scientist, I was drawn to problem solving and was constantly looking for even more difficult challenges. I was introduced to the fascinating field of biology during my doctoral studies, where I made a significant transition from computer engineering, which had been my focus throughout my undergraduate and postgraduate studies.

Knowing that my work is helping to solve problems that are critical to health, agriculture, and the environment gives me the strength to continue doing what I do and to strive every day to do it even better.

The turning point occurred when I attended a presentation by my PhD supervisor to current students in the college of computing. This event piqued my interest, as I had been actively seeking a more fulfilling application of my computer and algorithmic knowledge at that time. I found out that we, as humans, have much more to figure out about cell biology and that computational approaches can help biologists complete the big picture. So I knew I had found the right challenge.

Witnessing the potential of computational biology, I realized that it provided the perfect avenue for combining my passion for computing with the intricacies of the biological world. This pivotal moment inspired me to pursue a PhD dissertation in the field of computational biology. Knowing that my work is helping to solve problems that are critical to health, agriculture, and the environment gives me the strength to continue doing what I do and to strive every day to do it even better.

What role can PLOS ONE play to contribute to multidisciplinary research such as yours?

By providing an open and inclusive platform for scientific communication, PLOS ONE can play a vital role in promoting multidisciplinary research in computational biology. It can facilitate knowledge sharing, data accessibility, methodological advancements, and interdisciplinary collaborations, ultimately contributing to the advancement of computational biology as a field.

Many research challenges in computational biology require expertise from multiple disciplines, such as computer science, statistics, genetics, and bioinformatics. PLOS ONE‘s multidisciplinary approach welcomes contributions from various fields, enabling researchers to publish and communicate their work across disciplinary boundaries. This inclusivity can foster interdisciplinary collaborations and encourage the integration of diverse perspectives to tackle complex problems in computational biology.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by contributors are solely those of individual contributors, and not necessarily those of PLOS.

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Editor Spotlight: Kuo-Cherh Huang

In this Editor Spotlight, Dr. Kuo-Cherh Huang shares recent developments in healthcare research, his view on Open Access and his experience as a PLOS ONE author and Academic Editor.

Kuo-Cherh Huang, Dr.PH, MBA, is a full professor at the School of Health Care Administration, College of Management, Taipei Medical University, Taiwan. He obtained a doctorate of public health (with a major in health services research) from the University of Pittsburgh, USA, and an MBA (focusing on strategic management) from the Iowa State University, USA.

Dr. Huang’s research projects center on utilizing nationwide population-based datasets to analyze healthcare resource utilization, cost, quality, and outcome, mainly focusing on patients with psychiatric disorders, in collaboration with renowned psychiatrists in Taiwan. His latest research project concentrates on the effects of Taiwan’s pay-for-performance program for schizophrenia on healthcare resource utilization and the risk of suicide of patients with schizophrenia. All research projects of Dr. Huang have been supported by grants from Taiwan’s National Science and Technology Council for over 20 years.

In addition to academic research and teaching, Dr. Huang currently serves as Director of the School of Health Care Administration, Director of the International Ph.D. Program in Biotech and Healthcare Management, and Deputy-dean, College of Management, Taipei Medical University, Taiwan.

I feel that the quality-control mechanism in place at PLOS ONE is substantial, and the review comments from referees are mostly remarkable and in a professional fashion, aiming to make those submitted manuscripts become better published papers.

You have a long and productive career in health services and healthcare management research. How has the field evolved since you started your career? What leads you to your current focus on patients with psychiatric disorders?

I happened to have the privilege to collaborate with a creative and talented psychiatrist at one of my university’s affiliated hospitals about a dozen years ago (before that, the focus of my research was on issues relating to strategic management of healthcare organizations and by adopting the survey methodology). My main role during the collaborative process was to perform statistical analyses. Our research team had carried out randomized controlled trials as well as utilized the National Health Insurance Research Database (NHIRD), as the main data source for research projects, either independently or by teaming up with several psychiatrists in Taiwan.

I think both in Taiwan and many other countries, researchers in the health services and healthcare management increasingly use secondary databases, and one facilitating factor is the advancement of technology to make big data more manageable. With that said, the current development of relevant technology has already revealed its pitfalls and challenges in both clinical management and health services research, and the prime example here is the invention of ChatGPT. Take this new study published in JAMA Internal Medicine [1] as an example. The study compared written responses from physicians and those from ChatGPT concerning a couple of healthcare-related questions. The results demonstrated that artificial intelligence assistant-generated responses to patients’ questions were better than those from physicians with regard to quality and empathy. In a nutshell, it is imperative to keep an eye on such evolution.

How has Open Access influenced your field of research?

I would say that the impacts of the development of Open Access (OA) are double-edged. On the positive side, there are probably more opportunities now to boost the readership of OA journals which were beyond the reach of many readers throughout the world in the past. On the other hand, how to maintain the quality of OA journals to avoid becoming confused with predatory journals (which continue to flourish) is a crucial issue.

To augment the numbers of publications for the sake of either being granted tenure or fulfilling the requirements of a doctoral degree, quite a few people (including researchers in Taiwan) have been known to submit their work to controversial OA journals, even predatory journals. Indeed, several top-tier medical schools in Taiwan (including the university I am working at) recently decided to exclude publications from certain controversial mega-journals (including all journals from certain publishers) in their research assessments, clearly indicating so in their promotion policies.

As a PLOS ONE author and Academic Editor, why would you advise authors to publish in PLOS ONE?

Based on my experiences as a PLOS ONE author and Academic Editor, I would attest that PLOS ONE is a reputed mega-journal, especially considering a couple of controversial mega-journals (publishers) in the news recently. Admittedly, sometimes it takes longer than an author would desire to receive review results of the submission due to the fact that it is increasingly challenging to secure keen and capable referees.

Moreover, I feel that staff members at the editorial office of PLOS ONE always provide prompt and professional assistance when a need arises, either from me being an author or an Academic Editor. Finally, I feel that the quality-control mechanism in place at PLOS ONE is substantial, and the review comments from referees are mostly remarkable and in a professional fashion, aiming to make those submitted manuscripts become better published papers.


[1] Ayers JW, Poliak A, Dredze M, et al. Comparing Physician and Artificial Intelligence Chatbot Responses to Patient Questions Posted to a Public Social Media Forum. JAMA Intern Med. Published online April 28, 2023. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2023.1838

Disclaimer: Views expressed by contributors are solely those of individual contributors, and not necessarily those of PLOS.

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Editor Spotlight: Mabel Aoun

This month, Editor Spotlight features Dr. Mabel Aoun who shares with us her editorial process, her experience as a nephrologist and a public health researcher, and her thoughts on the importance of open science in her field.

Dr. Mabel Aoun is an Assistant Professor at the faculty of medicine of Saint-Joseph University of Beirut and currently practicing medicine at the chronic kidney disease institution at AUB Santé, Lorient. She has been involved in supervising medical students’ theses and research projects. She is the author of more than 30 peer-reviewed publications, first author of 25 papers, a reviewer for several international journals, kidney disease and hypertension guidelines and member of PLOS ONE and BMC Nephrology Editorial Board.

She is curious about kidney disease epidemiology, complications and outcomes, social and environmental causes of kidney disease, chronic kidney disease of unknown etiology, quality of life of chronic kidney disease patients, drugs and kidneys, acid-base disturbances, polycystic kidney disease, non-communicable diseases especially hypertension, primary healthcare, health systems, continuous quality improvement, kidney health advocacy and policies.

What do you enjoy most about being an Editorial Board member at PLOS ONE? What are some of the challenges?

Before being an Editorial Board member at PLOS ONE, I have been an author and a reviewer for several years. I find these three roles very complementary as they strengthen each other and enhance together the knowledge sharing experience. I challenge myself as an academic editor to be as fair and rigorous as possible with my first assessment of the manuscript, my choice of reviewers, my evaluation of reviewers’ responses until my final decision. I try to remind myself of some common editorial flaws that I was exposed to as an author, flaws that could have resulted from a shallow assessment of the manuscript, lack of knowledge of specific topics or blind trust of reviewers’ judgment.

I would like to acknowledge all experts who have hundreds of publications and decades of experience and humbly accept to review a paper. These people make my day and provide us with very precise and insightful comments.

So first, I try to read the whole manuscript twice, once before sending it to review and another time before the final decision. It is a time-consuming process but I enjoy very much how a couple of good reviewers with a brief editorial synthesis would improve a manuscript of acceptable quality and sound methods to make it clearer to the readers. Second, I do not handle manuscripts that are outside my area of expertise, whereas I make an effort-even if I am overwhelmed- to accept handling a paper that is closely related to my field. Here, I would like to acknowledge all experts who have hundreds of publications and decades of experience and humbly accept to review a paper. These people make my day and provide us with very precise and insightful comments. The science will not progress if renowned experts do not provide time to evaluating new papers.

But being an academic editor comes with challenges as well. It is frustrating when we knock on all experts’ doors and cannot secure a reviewer for months to evaluate a certain manuscript. It is also hard when we detect some flaws in the methodology that prevent us from accepting a paper but at the same time, we are aware of the big efforts put by researchers to conduct and write their work. I wish I could be sometimes less sensitive to the endeavor of researchers worldwide for it is always with sadness that I press the reject button.

As a nephrologist and a researcher, you practice medicine and study both clinical and public health aspects of kidney diseases. How do you think these experiences complement each other?

I have been a nephrologist since 2004 and a public health professional since 2012. I also got my Master of Public Health in 2020. I love nephrology but public health with its different fields of epidemiology, biostatistics and health management broadened my horizon, and enhanced my management and research skills. As a nephrologist, I act on patients and diseases, it is rewarding and challenging at the same time. But as a public health professional, I target the preventive aspects in nephrology, I appreciate the important role of primary healthcare, I enjoy screening campaigns during World Kidney Day and I look more at the benefits of educating communities about kidney health and not only treating individuals. With my background in nephrology, the path of public health made me see the environmental, socio-economic and political sides of kidney diseases; it pulled me out of my small kidney disease room and exposed my brain to the extremely fascinating aspects of global health.

Why is open science important to your field?

I know very few people who pay to get an article. An open access journal ensures that new knowledge reaches, in a faster way, researchers, clinicians, decision makers and even communities. A research paper has no impact if it is not disseminated, read and used. Open science makes it easy for physicians and researchers to get access to new data. My papers published in PLOS ONE or another open access journal are the most read and most cited. However, I would like to emphasize that not all open access journals have a robust and sound peer-review process. What I love about PLOS ONE is the well-organized system and the dedicated journal staff who are always ready to assist academic editors and to provide them with tools and advice to make optimal decisions. I also like the fact that PLOS ONE focuses on the methodology of research papers and not the novelty. This gives opportunities to good researchers from all countries to share their own experiences and make them easy to access.

Open science makes it easy for physicians and researchers to get access to new data. My papers published in PLOS ONE or another open access journal are the most read and most cited.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by contributors are solely those of individual contributors, and not necessarily those of PLOS.

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Editor Spotlight: Afsheen Raza

This month, Dr. Raza shares with us her experience with PLOS ONE as both an author and an editor, immunology as the key to understanding cancer biology, and how her international experience has enriched her work.

Dr. Afsheen Raza is currently working as an Associate Professor of Molecular Biology at the College of Health Sciences, Abu Dhabi University, UAE. She received her PhD degree in Molecular Biology, from The Aga Khan University followed by a post doctorate course in Cancer Biology and Therapeutics from Harvard Medical School, USA. She has been involved extensively in teaching and training as well as conducting cutting-edge molecular biology/immunology research and cancer clinical trials.

Her main research area focuses on investigating predictive/prognostic biomarkers related to tumor-host immune interactions to therapeutic strategies, developing immune-monitoring tools to evaluate novel immune-modulators in cancer antigen specific immune cells especially in lung, gastric and head and neck cancers.

Her research career spans over a period of 10 years with 45 high impact research papers and 4 book chapters. She has been involved in editorial work in various journals including Academic Editor for PLOS ONE journal, Section Editor for Frontiers in Immunology and Topic Editor for Intech Open book on Immune checkpoint inhibitors etc.

I have a deep connection with PLOS ONE. My first PhD thesis paper was published in this prestigious journal and I still remember the pride I felt in publishing my research findings in a journal of high repute.

What drew you to join PLOS ONE Editorial Board and what advice would you give to the authors who want to submit to the journal?

I have a deep connection with PLOS ONE. My first PhD thesis paper was published in this prestigious journal and I still remember the pride I felt in publishing my research findings in a journal of high repute. The journal has upheld its integrity over the years with publishing high impact data and review articles. While looking for a way to extend my scientific contribution as an editor, I came across the opportunity to work as an academic editor for the journal. After joining as an academic editor, I got heavily involved in performing my editorial duties including reviewing the quality of the papers submitted, finding relevant reviewers, assessing reviewer comments and deciding on the manuscript publication. The rewarding part of it is to see a high impact publication making its way into the scientific community via PLOS ONE.

My main advice to the authors who want to submit to the journal is always provide high quality figures, tables with extensive literature search to support your findings. A robust paper, even if its associated with a simple objective, will impact the readers and the journal editors to consider it for publication.

Your research seeks to understand tumor-related immune responses. How has the field of immunology expanded our understanding of cancer biology? What are some of the emerging trends you see recently in your field?

Currently, the field of immunology is the main focus of understanding cancer dynamics. Immunology is the key as using your own immune response to combat cancer is the natural way. Large scale clinical trials, prospective and retrospective data have provided better understanding of the therapeutic advances related to immunology and cancer biology. The patient’s immune response provides a window for scientists and researchers to peak into the role of various immune cells in suppressing or activating cancer cells for patient benefit or poor outcome. These immune players are huge in number and mostly work synchronously. Therefore, finding one major immune population may not give a full understanding and focusing on a nexus of immune cells that work in conspiration with each other (and sometimes with cancer cells) is an essential ingredient to understand cancer biology.

There are a large number of emerging trends in immunology related therapeutics, including CAR T cells, novel immune checkpoint inhibitors and small molecules that have transformed cancer therapeutics and increased survival rates for cancer patients. In addition to these, non-invasive biomarkers related to liquid biopsy such as circulating tumor cells, immune mediators and metabolic markers are a cornerstone of cancer biology research and are considered extremely important as longitudinal monitoring of cancer patients plays a critical role in understanding treatment dynamics and therapeutic targeting.

You have research and training experience from institutions around the world. How has the international experience influenced your work?

My research and training experience from various countries have provided me an opportunity to understand the challenges and limitations of the research community. It has helped me adapt to the challenges and perform my work in the most impactful manner utilizing the resources available. Working with various international groups has aligned my research work towards my passion which is to find non-invasive biomarkers for cancer patients to help their journey towards a better outcome via targeted and precision medicine.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by contributors are solely those of individual contributors, and not necessarily those of PLOS.

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Editor Spotlight: Haroldo V. Ribeiro

For this month’s Editor Spotlight, we talked to Dr. Ribeiro about his editorial experience, his interdisciplinary research on complex systems, and his experience with sharing data and code.

Dr. Ribeiro is an Assistant Professor of Physics at the State University of Maringá in Brazil and co-head of the research group ComplexLab. His research focuses on data analysis of complex systems and aims to address a broad spectrum of problems related to the emergence of patterns in social, economic, biological, and physical systems through the lens of physics, data science, and statistics.

Examples of recent problems investigated by Dr. Ribeiro include understanding how properties of cities change with their size, quantifying the history of art paintings using entropy and other physics-inspired approaches, identifying patterns in criminal networks, investigating the association between research productivity and scientific impact, and the developments of ordinal methods for time series and image analysis.

What motivates you to contribute as Academic Editor at PLOS ONE?

In September 2018, I was invited to join the Editorial Board of PLOS ONE as an Academic Editor. I remember feeling very excited about the invitation; in fact, I replied accepting the position in less than ten minutes. At that time, I had already published about ten articles with PLOS (my first article was published in 2011) and had served as a reviewer on dozens of other occasions (my first invitation was in 2012). I was also at the beginning of my career as an Assistant Professor of Physics at the State University of Maringá, which is still my current position.

I was (and still am) motivated by the opportunity to work with researchers from various disciplines and to help advance and disseminate scientific knowledge in different areas.

As a result of my familiarity with PLOS and its mission to provide an open-access platform for publishing and making scientific research accessible to a wider community, as well as with most of the processes involved in the scientific enterprise, I considered becoming an Academic Editor to be a natural next step. I was (and still am) motivated by the opportunity to work with researchers from various disciplines and to help advance and disseminate scientific knowledge in different areas. What I was not fully aware of at the time, was that being an editor would also allow me to further develop my skills in scientific communication, critical analysis, and decision-making. As an editor at PLOS, I am continuously exposed to a wide range of scientific research, and I find it incredibly rewarding to learn about new areas and to assist researchers in effectively communicating their findings to a broader audience. This exposure also enables me to identify emerging trends and problems of interest, as well as to see connections between seemingly disparate research areas.

Of course, not everything is perfect, and I must acknowledge the ever-increasing demand for editing and reviewing papers, as well as the challenges in securing good and timely reviewers. In my opinion, something is brewing in the scientific community, and as a researcher on complex systems, I believe that we are approaching a boiling point in scientific publishing. I hope that PLOS will continue its mission of promoting collaboration, transparency, and open science in this possible new era.

Image credit: pone.0040689

You’ve tackled an impressive array of seemingly completely unrelated topics in your research on complex systems, such as sports statistics, collective behavior in fish, and human networks. What is it that makes this field so versatile? What are the current limits that this field faces?

My background is in physics, but unlike most of my classmates from my early years of undergraduate school or some students I now encounter in physics courses I teach, I was never passionate about particles, string theory, or astronomy. Instead, I was much more fascinated by the simple idea of why some patterns emerge in nature, and I was lucky enough to start an undergraduate research project on this theme during the second year of my undergraduate course. This was in 2006, and I have been working with complex systems ever since. And as you mentioned, the topics covered by most researchers on complex systems vary a lot, which produces the false idea of unrelatedness, but when you look carefully, you will always see this search for patterns, commonalities, principles, and universalities.

As a physicist (and I am probably biased here), I always thought this identification of patterns in complex systems was very much aligned with the overall goals of most traditional research in Physics, but the strong reductionism of physics-like approaches in opposition to the complex systems’ mantra that “the whole is more than the sum of its parts” initially hampered this idea to become what we may say is now the dominant view in the research community.

I remember that publishing on topics such as sports or music in journals of the physics community required much more effort in connecting findings (sometimes in unnatural ways) with more traditional results and theories of physics. Without being too demagogic, I believe that the more open view of PLOS has somehow contributed to changing this status, and I must confess that some of the first papers I published in PLOS ONE initially got rejected by more traditional physics journals. Fortunately, today even the most traditional journals of physics have dedicated sections to complex systems research, and especially after the 2021 Nobel Prize in Physics, I do believe research on complex systems is sedimented as an official part of Physics.

(The) versatility (of the field) also makes research on complex systems naturally interdisciplinary, which requires researchers always to be open to studying new topics and collaborating with people from different backgrounds.

Moving back to your question, this versatility in approaching the most diverse topics is tightly related to the generality of concepts and methods used to tackle complex systems. To stay with a simple but crucial example, I would cite the basic idea surrounding the concept of networks, that is, a set of vertices and a set of edges among them. This is so general that you can use it to describe human and animal interactions, but also in more abstract ways, such as describing patterns in scientific careers, where vertices could represent researchers and connections among them indicate some similarity measure related to some aspect of scientific careers.

This versatility also makes research on complex systems naturally interdisciplinary, which requires researchers always to be open to studying new topics and collaborating with people from different backgrounds – which sometimes can be challenging due to differences in research culture. In addition, one of the biggest challenges I believe the field faces is the need to merge theoretical approaches (which are often based on simple models) with the advances in empirical analysis (which are becoming more and more detailed and complex) driven by the increasing availability of large-scale data at an impressive degree of detail. Another critical challenge, I would say, has to do with making society and decision-makers aware that research on complex systems is a fundamental part of the solutions to our most immediate problems, such as disease spreading, climate change, financial crises, and human conflicts.

Can you tell us your experience with data or code sharing? How has it impacted your research?

I believe that everyone considers data and code sharing to be essential aspects for the reproducibility and transparency of research. We now see many scientific journals, including PLOS ONE, require or at least incentivize authors to share data and code alongside their research articles. Sometimes, I believe there are some short-time benefits in not adhering to these practices, such as when one does expensive and time-demanding experiments and is just beginning to dig into the research question, but overall and beyond the transparency issue, I consider data and code sharing help researchers by facilitating and driving the creation of new collaborations and partnerships.

Recently, together with a Ph.D. student, we had a very positive experience with the release of a Python module implementing a set of techniques related to ordinal methods for time series and image analysis (ordpy). We have been working as well as contributing to the development of these methods for a long time, and as a result, we accumulated computational implementations of these techniques that remained restricted to our group until we were able to organize, document, and make them available. We initially thought no one would use it, but to our surprise, it has been downloaded hundreds of times per month ever since. Additionally, we have received feedback and suggestions from other researchers, and in the end, it is pretty gratifying to see others directly building upon code that was previously only available to our lab.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by contributors are solely those of individual contributors, and not necessarily those of PLOS.

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Editor Spotlight: Branislav Šiler

In this post, Dr. Branislav Šiler gives advice to new Editorial Board members, explains the importance of genetic diversity in plant populations, and discusses what open science means to him. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

PLOS ONE Academic Editor Branislav Šiler

Dr. Branislav Šiler is a Principal Research Fellow of the Institute for Biological Research “S. Stanković”, which is the National Institute of the Republic of Serbia and a member of the University of Belgrade. Dr. Šiler is professionally devoted to the world of plants and personally to his family of five. Throughout his career, he constantly strives to focus his research on population genetics, but his interests include the basic plant physiology, phytochemistry as well as evolutionary biology. He studies the process of how particular secondary metabolite profiles result in a higher chance of survival for some genotypes and investigates the genetic events as sources for plants’ genetic variations, namely polyploidization and interspecific hybridization. Dr. Šiler is passionate about his fieldwork and spends most of the time in a laboratory.

As an Academic Editor with a long tenure on PLOS ONE Editorial Board, what advice would you give to new Editorial Board members?

My general advice: give it a try!

If you feel you have gathered enough knowledge in a scientific field and wish to share it with the world, getting involved as an Editorial Board member at one of the most famous multidisciplinary journals is a good way to help authors increase the presentation quality of their works. Finding reviewers and making decisions based on their sometimes opposed opinions might be difficult at first but after several months, you will find yourself extremely skillful in these processes though may still face challenges once in a while.

My second major advice is to always be respectful of authors and reviewers and dedicate to them the amount of time and professional input that they deserve. This means maintaining good communication with the authors and reviewers, providing a proper explanation for your editorial decisions, and sending the authors additional recommendations not mentioned in the reviewers’ reports, for example, to further increase the clarity and the flow of the text or the figure presentation. Overall, you should be professionally satisfied with the published article as you would have authored it.

Your research focuses on genetic makeup of plant populations, especially among Centaurium species. Why is understanding genetic variations important and what interests you to study Centaurium species?

I always try to emphasize that Mother Nature has no plan to sustain species’ survival other than potentiating their genetic variability. Genetic variations, often undetected in a phenotype (observable characteristics), represent an information pool where a plant draws from when encountering environmental challenges such as the loss of habitat or various forms of stress. Diminishing genetic variations in a plant population is reducing its potential to cope with a changing environment, which finally leads to its extinction in the affected area. Preserving a high volume of genetic variations in a population secures the availability of a few genotypes with a combination of genes that can give rise to desirable characteristics for the survival of the population.

Several species from the genus Centaurium represent good model systems to study the consequences of habitat fragmentation on the populations’ genetic background since they form rather small populations with virtually no gene flow among them. As a result, one would expect a high level of homozygosity over time, but it is interesting to study how the populations find their ways to survive by stepping into interspecific hybridization (crossing between species of the same genus) and polyploidization (multiplication of a complete chromosome sets), thus increasing not only the genome size but also the genetic variants found in it. This type of studies provides valuable data for the estimation of species’ vulnerability, and the knowledge gained can be applied to other plant species that practice this kind of “refreshment” of their gene pools.

What does open science mean to you?

With the outburst of the “publish or perish” pressure in the scientific community and the public debate that it may have decreased the quality of scientific works, the open science movement offers anyone to access, reproduce the research if necessary, and publicly discuss the results presented in an article. Moreover, review reports and editorial decisions are recommended to be transparent and can be criticized, all of which undoubtedly increase the scientific rigor and ultimately improve the quality of scientific research and presentation.

Two additional open science principles that are the most influential to my research are open-source software and involvement of non-experts in communicating science. Open source offers a broad population of experts to use, modify, and distribute the source code, which is incredibly important for processing and modelling scientific data. Regarding science communication, I believe that open access to science results alone cannot increase the public awareness of their significance. More efforts are needed to make science understandable to the general audience and encouraging ideas such as citizen science and public science to get people involved can lead to a better understanding and an increased use value of science products among the public.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by contributors are solely those of individual contributors, and not necessarily those of PLOS.

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Editor Spotlight: Dr. Andrea Zerboni

In this installment of Editor Spotlight, we talked to Dr. Andrea Zerboni to learn more about his research and his views on PLOS policy on Inclusivity in Global Research. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

PLOS ONE Academic Editor Andrea Zerboni

Dr. Andrea Zerboni is an Associate Professor of Geomorphology and Geoarchaeology at the Dipartimento di Scienze della Terra “A. Desio” of the University of Milano (Italy). As a geoarchaeologist and geomorphologist, Dr. Zerboni has carried out research projects around the world, including continental and Mediterranean Europe, the Sahara Desert, East Africa, the Levant, the Arabian Peninsula, and Antarctica. His research aimed at reconstructing the effects of past climate changes on surface processes and the complexity and nonlinearity of the late Quaternary climate-environment-human nexus. He was involved in research programmes investigating a variety of cultural contexts spanning from the Palaeolithic to modern ethnographic case studies.

The research interest of Dr. Zerboni lies at the intersection of different disciplines – Earth Sciences and Archaeology – which requires a broad perspective on environmental and climatic issues relevant to human history. The research led him to explore the mutual influence of environmental factors and human agency with different tools, trying to decipher the early and sometimes unsuspected examples of early human overprint on nature preserved in the geological and archaeological record. Dr. Zerboni is interested in defining the concept of Anthropocene as part of the geological timeline, when human agency started leaving permanent changes on Earth’s processes, and inferring the lessons we can learn for the future in terms of resilience and sustainable use of natural resources.

As a prolific researcher and Academic Editor, how do you manage your time effectively?

There is never enough time. In addition to my research and editorial activities, I also teach at my university, provide support to my students and collaborators (who actually do most of the research activities), and work on my administrative duties. It can be quite difficult to find a balance for all activities. My fieldwork also requires me to spend weeks in the field, occasionally in quite remote places. Some of my colleagues set aside specific days for selected duties, such as an entire day per week for editorial activities but it can be quite difficult for me to follow the same schedule. I prefer to dedicate early mornings and some weekends to research and editorial activities. This allows me to spend the calmest hours of the day on tasks that need focus. Evaluating a manuscript and selecting proper reviewers is as much time- and energy-consuming as writing a paper because Academic Editors have responsibilities towards the authors and the readership of the journal. Today, most of the time I devote to the editorial process is in searching reviewers. The role of reviewers is crucial in the peer review process, but in the last few years, it has become more and more difficult – and sometimes frustrating – to find qualified scholars willing to review others’ manuscripts.

Your research sits at the interface of several different topics. What was your background, and how did you navigate all the interdisciplinary knowledge you had to acquire along the way?

My main research topic is Geoarchaeology, which is at the interface between the Earth Sciences and the Humanities. The research focuses on solving scientific questions in archaeology and anthropology using the approaches, methods, and tools from the Earth Sciences. The research explores the formation and preservation of archaeological sites, the formation and evolution of archaeological landscapes, and the relationship between climate changes, their effects on environments and ecosystems and human behavior. My university background was in geology and natural sciences. During my scientific journey, I had the opportunity to collaborate with many colleagues with skills in a variety of archaeology-related disciplines, such as geoarchaeology, bioarchaeology, anthropology, archaeometry. This opened my mind and expanded my perspective. I strongly believe that an interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary approach is essential for researchers to investigate environmental and cultural processes, which are complicated and generally interconnected. Today, many scientists are hyper-specialized, but we must keep in mind that scientific research is like a puzzle and each specialist is working on their own piece, but all pieces are part of the same picture.

In 2021, PLOS introduced a new policy on Inclusivity in global research. How are these types of policies important in your field, and have you seen any changes on how researchers approach collaborations or field sites?

During the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, all laboratory and field-based research activities were interrupted. A group of colleagues (geologists, archaeologists, anthropologists) was frustrated because their fieldwork had been interrupted and started thinking about how the pandemic would remodel the way field-based sciences are taught. In a short comment, we explained that the pandemic was an opportunity to accelerate a process already in progress: the decolonization of science, the reduction of the so-called parachute science, and the creation of an open repository of data. In the past decades, researchers from the Global North were used to working in countries of the Global South without sharing their results with the local researchers, thus hampering the possibility of developing local research centers or promoting the career of local people. This also happened in my research area, but in the last few years, I noticed two positive trends: 1) there is a growing interest of geologists and archaeologists, especially from the younger generations living in countries of the Global South to work in their own countries to promote their scientific developments and 2) research teams from the Global North increased collaborations, training activities, and sharing data. I think that the Inclusivity policy of PLOS is going in the same direction: the promotion of collaborations between countries and training for researchers to support a global development of science. Moreover, in my specific field, we work on archaeological sites and need to take into consideration issues related to the sampling and export of materials that are part of the cultural heritage of the countries that belong to the local people. The request of transparency reported in the Inclusivity policy of PLOS is an effective tool to ascertain the high standards for research ethics. And of course, the Open Access policy of PLOS is a further contribution to the promotion of a global open science.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by contributors are solely those of individual contributors, and not necessarily those of PLOS.

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Editor Spotlight: Dr. Jennifer Campbell

EveryONE is excited to launch the Editor Spotlight series to highlight the contribution and work of our Editorial Board members. In this inaugural post, we interviewed Dr. Jennifer Campbell to understand her experience with the PLOS ONE editorial board, her approach to the peer review process and her research on promoting health equity.

Dr. Campbell is an Assistant Professor of Medicine at the Medical College of Wisconsin in the Division of General Internal Medicine. Dr. Campbell completed her Master’s in Public Health from the California State University in Long Beach and her PhD in Public Health with an emphasis on Community and Behavioral Health Promotion from the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. Dr. Campbell is a Health Services researcher whose area of research is largely focused on behavioral medicine and implementation science as it relates to chronic disease management.

Dr. Campbell’s area of interest is in identifying the barriers to care that occur across levels of influence for marginalized populations (ethnic minorities, low socioeconomic status, impoverished) with diabetes. Her research is focused on intervention development for type 2 diabetes from a holistic standpoint, accounting for multi-level influences. With an ongoing emphasis to integrate health services and public health accounting for multi-level influences, her recent work is focused on leveraging the principles of behavioral economics, specifically the use of conditional and unconditional cash transfers, to address structural barriers to promote health at the individual level for adults with type 2 diabetes living within distressed urban environments.

Why did you decide to join our Editorial Board and what do you enjoy most about being an Editorial Board member at PLOS ONE?

From the time my academic career began as a student, I have had the opportunity to have very strong mentorship in my career, which remains a very strong pillar for me today. This mentorship instilled, and continues to emphasize, a very strong sense of learning, feedback, and collaboration across the spectrum of science. When the opportunity came to join the Editorial Board at PLOS ONE I saw this as the natural progression to continue to learn, collaborate, and contribute as a member of the scientific community.

What I love most about serving in this role is the exposure to diverse knowledge and perspectives being generated across countries and disciplines. Since joining the Editorial Board, I have had the opportunity to see the breadth and scope of our scientific community and to join in conversations with academic scholars and scientists across the world that I would have never had the platform to meet prior to this.

You provide thorough comments to the authors in your decision letters. What is your process?

My approach to providing comments and feedback also stems from my own experiences where mentors, colleagues, and editors from my own submission experiences provide very meaningful feedback that genuinely improves my approach to communicating scientific knowledge. As scientists, we are a part of a larger community, and I see us as having a collective responsibility to research integrity, scientific communication, and producers of evidence. When I review manuscripts and function in my Editorial Board role, I see each manuscript as an opportunity to contribute knowledge and advance the field. With this in mind, I believe each author who has put in the work of generating knowledge is owed the diligence and time to ensure that their manuscript achieves its purpose.  

Your research focuses on identifying barriers to care for vulnerable populations and promoting health equity in diabetes care. What draws you to this field?

My career in research began at the Center for Health Disparities Research at the Medical University of South Carolina where I was first introduced to the concept of health inequity and the impact of social determinants of health on chronic disease. In this position I worked daily with researchers and faculty who spoke often of the moral obligation we have to be a voice for the voiceless, to bring hope to the despondent, and to serve as conduits to channel resources to the underserved. In working as part of a multidisciplinary team, the pursuit for health equity was carried out daily through reading the literature, writing protocols, interviewing patients, and the delivery of interventions to ultimately provide evidence to make informed decisions for improving the health of marginalized populations. It was through this position that I began to see myself as a part of a collective unit to work toward equity and justice through the use of scientific evidence and have strived to hold to this mission in each role I take.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by contributors are solely those of individual contributors, and not necessarily those of PLOS.

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