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.
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.