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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Thoughts on AI’s Impact on Scholarly Communications? An Interview with ChatGPT

An interview with ChatGPT on issues related to scholarly communication.

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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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Revisiting — Indigenous Knowledge and Research Infrastructure: An Interview with Katharina Ruckstuhl

On Indigenous Peoples’ Day we revisit an interview with Dr. Katharina Ruckstuhl, on how we can ensure that our research infrastructure supports and respects Indigenous knowledge and knowledge management.

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The Peer Review Workbench: An Interview with Bahar Mehmani

Learn about Elsevier’s recently launched Peer Review Workbench – a new tool for researchers conducting meta research – in this interview with Bahar Mehmani

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An interview with PLOS ONE Pediatric Section Editors Ju-Lee Oei and Ivan Florez

In this interview we speak with PLOS ONE Pediatric Section Editors Professor Ju-Lee Oei and Professor Ivan Florez. Here they discusses their important research and work with PLOS ONE. 


Image courtesy of Ju-Lee Oei

Ju-Lee Oei is a Neonatologist at the Royal Hospital for Women, Randwick; Conjoint Professor at UNSW Sydney; and Honorary Associate Professor at the NHMRC Clinical Trials Centre, University of Sydney. Her work focuses on the care of sick newborn infants, especially those with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS)/perinatal substance use and infants requiring neonatal intensive care. A particular interest of hers is the use of oxygen in newborn delivery room resuscitation. She has an extensive collaborative network with researchers, clinicians and policy makers from Australia as well as overseas in more than 20 universities and 10 countries. She is also currently Visiting Professor to the University of Malaya and the North West Children’s Hospital and University of China. She also contributed to state and national guidelines for management of neonatal abstinence syndrome as well as guidelines for the American Breast Feeding Medical Association for maternal drug use.

Image credit

Courtesy of Ivan Florez


Ivan Florez is a Associate Professor at University of Antioquia and Assistant Professor at McMaster University. He is also a pediatrician at Clinica Las Américas AUNA with a Master in Clinical Epidemiology and a Ph.D. in Health Research Methodology. He also acts as the leader of the AGREE Collaboration and Director of Cochane Colombia. His research is focused on Evidence-Based Pediatrics, Knowledge translation, Systematic Reviews, network Meta-analysis, Clinical Practice Guidelines and the use of Evidence in all the levels of the Health Care Systems.


Why did you choose to enter pediatric research?  What do you like most about your field?

JU-LEE OEI: Keeps me from being bored! Serious answer: the most worthwhile thing about research is plugging in gaps in practice and knowledge and generating curiosity that really, is the driver of medical advances.

IVAN FLOREZ: I am a physician, I finished my Pediatric residency in 2006, and around 2008 I decided I wanted to do clinical research in my field. I found that there was a need for me as a Clinician to identify and try to answer urgent questions that I found in my clinical work

You have recently become our new Section Editors for Pediatrics. Why did you decide to join our Editorial Board and what motivates you about your new role?

JU-LEE OEI: A chance to draw attention to what the knowledge needs that will advance and improve child health.

IVAN FLOREZ: I have been the Academic Editor of PLOS ONE since 2018. Interestingly, I decided to be an Academic editor after I published my first paper in PLOS ONE, and after I reviewed several papers as a peer reviewer. I strongly advocate for Open Access, and I think PLOS ONE is one of the pioneers in Open Science. So why not join PLOS ONE and contribute to making better open-access science?

What do you think is the most exciting area in Pediatric research at the moment?

JU-LEE OEI: Personalized medicine – one size does not fit all!

IVAN FLOREZ: I think neonatology is the hottest topic field in pediatrics, followed by infectious diseases (including vaccines, antibiotic treatments, resistance and viral infections). Both are vibrant fields in which a lot of research is going on. COVID19 pandemic helped in increasing awareness about the ID field, and the neonatology field has been a key area for decades and will continue to be so as well. 

What are, in your opinion, the most important challenges for the Pediatric research community?

JU-LEE OEI: Addressing entrenched practices and lack of equipoise for interventions that have no evidence for benefit.

IVAN FLOREZ: I think the pediatric field has always been behind compared to adult clinical research for many reasons, including ethical  concerns. But, I think the gap between the two has been shrinking. In the last decade, clinical research in pediatrics has expanded, and more scholars are interested in this field. Some interesting fields are related such as mental health and also sexual and gender diversity, which had been neglected in the past, but they are gaining the space they deserve, and more and more research in these fields will be coming in the near future.

How important is Open Science for the Pediatric research community? What role can PLOS ONE play to contribute to Pediatric research?

JU-LEE OEI: Extremely  – many authors do not have access to paid journals and PLOS ONE allows free and equitable access to high level science. However, this needs to remain high level since many open access journals continue to publish manuscripts of questionable value.

IVAN FLOREZ: It is essential. We need Open science for all, and to reduce inequities, we need to encourage it. Pediatrics needs it even more than many other fields because most of the burden in pediatrics is in LMIC and by providing open science, we are facilitating access to knowledge without paywalls, and borders. This definitely reduces the gaps in child care across the world. 

Why would you advise authors to publish in PLOS ONE?

JU-LEE OEI: High impact, equitable access, rapid turn around!

IVAN FLOREZ: A very efficient and transparent publication process, with some of the lowest times between submission and publication. We make an effort in finding the best peer reviewers for the submitted paper. 

PLOS ONE is interested in very exciting papers in any pediatric-related field. 


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

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Next Steps for CRediT – An Interview with the Co-Chairs

With CRediT now formalized as a standard, Alice Meadows interviews Liz Allen, Simon Kerridge, and Alison McGonagle O’Connell (cochairs of the working group) about what’s next for the taxonomy

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Indigenous Knowledge and Research Infrastructure: An Interview with Katharina Ruckstuhl

Today’s interview, with Dr. Katharina Ruckstuhl of the University of Otago, looks at why and how we should implement research infrastructure processes that support Indigenous knowledge. 

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 More Than Just Data Citation — An Interview With DataCite 

Learn how DataCite supports more than just data citation in today’s interview with Matt Buys, Helena Cousijn, and Paul Vierkant

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Joint Commitment for Action on Inclusion and Diversity in Publishing: An Interview with Laura Norton and Nicola Nugent of the RSC

Laura Norton and Nicola Nugent of the Royal Society of Chemistry answer Alice Meadows’s questions about the RSC’s Joint Commitment for action on inclusion and diversity in publishing

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Author Interview: Sacha Gómez Moñivas on student learning despite COVID-19 confinement


Using prior academic years as a control group, Sacha Gómez Moñivas and a group of fellow teachers and researchers found that despite the confinement caused by COVID-19, the learning habits of students became more continuous and ultimately led to better scores during assessments. Their study “Influence of COVID-19 confinement on students’ performance in higher education” was one of the highest viewed PLOS publications of 2020 with over 150,000 views. Read our interview with Sacha about his team’s initial response to the surprising results, the importance of providing details to replicate a study and the difficulties in collecting data on student learning.

Would you say this study is outside the scope of your normal research? How did you get involved in this study and why do you believe this research is important?

Our main research line since 2015 is related to new learning methodologies. Within this topic, we study in detail distant learning, among others. When the COVID-19 pandemic forced most of the students stay at home and change their learning strategies, we were completely prepared for this scenario because, by that time, we had already developed different tools and methods of distance learning already applied in our subjects.

We were involved in this study by analyzing and comparing the huge amounts of data obtained in previous years in our pilot experiences applying distant learning with the new data obtained during the COVID-19 pandemic. We were following the same research line as before, but in a new scenario.

This research is important because it is related to the Susta​inable Development Goal 4 of UNESCO. More specifically, this research helps us understand the impact of COVID-19 in education and students’ capability to change their learning strategies. It is also important because COVID-19 pandemic has many specific factors that can interact with the previously detected relevant characteristics of distant learning. For example, does student motivation behave in the same way in the pandemic as in a traditional distance learning setting?

I want to send an optimistic message in this case. We have demonstrated that, even in this very difficult situation, students and teachers were able to adapt their strategies in the learning process successfully

Read Sacha’s article

Did you find the results to be generally surprising, or were they relatively in line with your expectations?

Some results were in line with our expectations since, ultimately, distant learning is distant learning. For example, the limited access to technology by the students is a problem that was well-known before. Of course, it also appeared in the COVID-19 confinement. The problems that appear when preparing assessment tools are indeed also present in the pandemic.

There are, however, other elements that appeared and were a huge surprise. For example, the improvement in students’ performance was unbelievable. We spent a lot of time trying to justify it with arguments related to fraudulent behaviors, such as cheating or copying in different forms. For that reason, we discarded many subjects where we considered that we could not fully exclude the possibility of cheating. After that, we still had three subjects where we could be sure that only confinement was related to the increase in students’ performance.

Your Results state that “the new learning methodology is the main reason for the change in students’ performance during the confinement.” How important is it for leadership bodies at institutions and schools to provide teachers with resources to properly implement new teaching practices adapted for less face-to-face interactions?

It is crucial. The first step for a good teaching practice is having a good communication between teachers and students. If that fails, everything fails. In distant learning, teachers should have good multimedia resources and connectivity, at least. If not, it does not matter the amount of material developed by the teacher or how good the teacher is when explaining a lesson. I have seen a lot of very good attempts of developing new and very well-organized online courses that failed at the very beginning due to not having the adequate resources.

I note that you opted to publish a preprint when you initially submitted this paper for review, and that you published your peer review history alongside your PLOS ONE publication. What led you to these decisions and how important is scientific transparency to you?

We believe that scientific advances must follow FATE principles: fairness, accountability, transparency and ethics. Transparency is, actually, a key factor in the scientific method itself. If a scientific result must be replicable, it should include all details about experimental procedures, materials, etc. Obviously, transparency is a must. In the case of scientific publications, the whole peer review history is very important for two reasons. First, it demonstrates that the article followed a rigorous peer review process. Second, it gives valuable information about the questions raised by the reviewers and how they were answered by the authors, which could lead in additional criticism by the readers, which can be also valuable.

Do you think your study could be easily reproduced in other parts of the world by other researchers interested in using your methodologies, or were there specific pre-existing conditions that allowed for this study to take place? How helpful would it be to have data from classrooms in other parts of the world?

The bigger problem is getting data. There are many factors that must be considered. Because of potential cheating by the students when working at home, we had to discard 80% of our data to be sure that this did not influencing in the study. This is the first and maybe more important problem, but there are others. For example, researchers must also take into account the differences between countries in the sense that different countries faced the pandemic with varying levels of confinement. This is important because conclusions should be related to those conditions.

At the very beginning, when we did our study, not many groups had the opportunity to collect and analyze reliable data. Now, there are more and more very interesting studies from many different countries. Soon we will have enough data to get conclusions about the success of different strategies, which will be very helpful for planning distant learning at all levels in the future.

If the general public were to take one lesson from your study, what should that be?

I want to send an optimistic message in this case. We have demonstrated that, even in this very difficult situation, students and teachers were able to adapt their strategies in the learning process successfully. We are going through some very difficult times, but we have been able to adapt and we must have the courage and energy to continue fighting until we overcome this pandemic.

Thank you to Sacha and his research team for their important work and taking the time to answer these questions. Their work was founded by CRUE, CSIC and Banco Santander.

Citation

Gonzalez T, de la Rubia MA, Hincz KP, Comas-Lopez M, Subirats L, Fort S, et al. (2020) Influence of COVID-19 confinement on students’ performance in higher education. PLoS ONE 15(10): e0239490. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0239490

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