Hello and welcome to my blog! My name is Caroline and I am a PhD student at the University of Sheffield. My research project focuses on Striga - a genus of parasitic plants that devastates harvests by infecting food crops. I am exploring the defence reactions that can make host plants more resistant against Striga. Due to my ongoing battles with anorexia, I haven't made as much progress as I would have liked but I am determined to finish the course.

This blog charts the ups and downs of life in the lab, plus my dreams to become a science communicator and forays into public engagement and science policy....all while trying to keep my mental and physical health intact. Along the way, I'll also be sharing new plant science stories, and profiles of some of the researchers who inspire me on this journey. So whether you have a fascination for plants, are curious about what science research involves, or just wonder what exactly I do all day, read on - I hope you find it entertaining!

Friday 28 November 2014

At the Offices of the JXB - Where it all Happens!

The ultimate aim of any research PhD is to break into the world of scientific publishing, presided over by those great journals of esteem. Whilst we may be familiar with the hours of lab work, note taking, analysing data and writing drafts that go into making a paper, the process where these get accepted into the scientific community are less obvious. So I was glad to accept an invitation to view the headquarters of The Journal of Experimental Botany (JXB), at Bailrigg House on the Univeristy of Lancaster campus.
Just some of the illustrious journals published by the JXB over the years

Although Bailrigg House is styled as an Edwardian country house, the interior offices were airy, mixer and remarkably paperless. Nowadays, the entire process whereby papers arrive, are checked, sent for review and edited, occurs wholly online but this wasn't always the case: I was told about the early days of the journal where everything had to photocopied and sent in triplicate. The must have kept the filing cabinet industry in business!

When a manuscript arrives through the online system BenchPress, it is first checked for any obvious formatting errors before being sent on to the editorial staff. If the paper is totally outside the remit of the Journal, it is classed as 'Rapid Reject';  this occurs for about forty per cent of papers. Otherwise, the paper is passed to two reviewers, chosen for having specific knowledge about the topic. Reviewers are typically post doctoral researchers or principal investigators who voluntarily give their time to assess the work of their colleagues. Getting reviewer comments returned is apparently the most difficult part of the process as researchers can be very busy people with lectures , conferences and their own papers to write. The JXB asks reviewers to return their comments within 12 days but this doesn't always happen!
The VERY FIRST Journal of Experimental Botany!

The editor makes a decision on the manuscript based on the reviewers' comments. The JXB has five categories: Acceptance, Minor Revision, Major Revision, Reject, Resubmit or simply Reject. Out of around 1800 manuscripts submitted last year, approximately 350 were accepted for publication. It is very rare though for a paper to be accepted immediately without any corrections required, about 1%. But I was heartened to hear that when a paper requires major revisions, the majority of these still make it into the journal. It is the 'Reject' category that must be avoided at all costs!

Chatting to the office team, it was easy to see the glamorous aspects of the job: travelling to conferences, having access to the latest cutting-edge research, interacting with scientists from around the globe. But it isn't without its downsides; never ending deadlines, new manuscripts constantly coming in and having to deal with researchers that take criticism harshly...
Given that so few PhD students make it up the Academic Ladder however, I shall certainly be keeping my options open for a career in scientific journalism.

Thank you, JXB, for a fascinating tour!

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