Five common writing mistakes new scientists make

The Contemplative Mammoth

As a professor, journal editor, reviewer, and mentor, I review a lot of writing. I come from a long tradition of mentors who focused on writing — during my PhD, I often heard stories of my grand advisor returning his students’ work covered in red line edits, and then I experienced the same when I turned in my first drafts. My own students now know that this is something they can expect from me: close reading and detailed feedback. It’s how I grew as a writer, myself! I still remember comments from individual reviewers about bad habits in my manuscripts (thanks, Reviewer #3!), and I hear myself passing on my advisor’s comments (in his voice, even!) as I edit my students’ work.

As I’ve found myself doing more and more editing lately, I’ve started noticing patterns — common issues that tend to disproportionately show up in student and early career…

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Why I published in PLoS ONE. And why I probably won’t again for awhile.

Early Career Ecologists

By Andrew Tredennick

One morning as I was working on revisions for a paper I had submitted to PLoS ONE, this popped up on my Twitter feed,

and I immediately felt defeated. Had I chosen poorly when deciding to submit to PLoS ONE? Or, are those people that view PLoS ONE as “career suicide” just old-school professors who, for some weird reason, think papers don’t get reviewed at PLoS ONE? And, does that even matter, since I’ll need those same old-school professors to want to hire me in a couple years? Needless to say, my motivation for finishing the revisions waned.

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Article discussion: What do Phytochromes do in roots?

Plant Roots and Light

A couple of days ago Magdalena Julkowska (https://twitter.com/mmjulkowska) asked in a tweet what my opinion is about a recent article

So Magda, this one is especially for you 🙂

She asked this, because she knows that this topic is of great interest to me. So what is it?
The article “Root‐expressed phytochromes B1 and B2, but not PhyA and Cry2, regulate shoot growth in nature”, by Oh et al., from the Ian Baldwin lab, was recently published in Plant Cell and Environment. It tries to address the question what the role is of the phytochrome light receptors in plant roots, which obviously grow in an environment of relative darkness.

This is a topic which we ourselves have discussed as well, although as a sideline from the main part, in two recent articles:…

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The price of a GRFP, part 1

Natalie Telis

I had some downtime a while back (literally; the cluster I work on was down) and so I cracked open some analysis I’ve been doing on the side for a while. I like to switch off analyses and work on some side projects to keep me working, but not burnt out, and so I picked up a dataset I’ve been working on for a little while: the NSF GRFP awardees. 

A dear colleague letter

About 2 years ago, the NSF made a policy change announcement, summarized here (capitalization & other emphasis mine):

NSF will limit graduate students to only one application to the GRFP, submitted either in the first year OR in the second year of graduate school. … GRFP continues to identify and to inspire the diverse scientists and engineers of the future, and especially encourages women, members of underrepresented minority groups, persons with disabilities, and veterans to apply….

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A 3-click solution to improving the work/life balance of others

The Lab and Field

I think it’s safe to say a good number of us struggle with the large amountconsiderable volume overwhelming flood of email.


And many of us have implemented solutions, and there’s been lots of discussion about how to stem the tide that washes over us almost daily (see this post & the comments over on Dynamic Ecology). But ultimately, the problem starts with each of us as individuals, and the volume of email we send, and when we send it. For those of us who have staff, students, or other trainees, the latter can often send a not-so-subtle message.

With near-constant connectivity comes an expectation of immediate responses. Many of us have email on our phones, or spend most of our working day sitting at a computer with our email client/web page open, where it bings and chimes with each incoming message. Two years ago, I started tracking the…

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PLOS One publishes near-copy of retracted JBC paper, sans coauthor Carlo Croce

For Better Science

On July 29th 2016, Journal of Biological Chemistry (JBC) retracted a cardiology paper from 2009 for data manipulations. Only some days later, on August 20th 2016, the corresponding authors Sathyamangla Naga Prasad andSadashiva Karnik (both from the same Department of Molecular Cardiology at Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, US, submit that same paper, under same title, with only some changes, to PLOS One. All authors remained the same, only two mysteriously fell off the paper: George Calin and his former mentor Carlo Croce. The latter is a notorious cancer researcher from Ohio State University, PubPeer star accused of misconduct and author on 7 retracted papers (according to the new Retraction Watch database). Croce even made it into New York Times, which he now sues, together with his critic David Sanders. (some more details here).

It makes sense why Prasad and Karlin decided to…

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Peer review ghost-writing, or do professors understand plagiarism?

For Better Science

Every academic will probably agree that plagiarism is wrong. It is absolutely not OK to pass someone’s else’s intellectual work as one’s own. Plagiarised research papers get retracted regularly, on several occasions plagiarism in dissertation led to withdrawal of doctorate, most notably among several German politicians. There is however one aspect of academic life where plagiarism is so normal that the parties involved  do not even consider it to be plagiarism, neither the plagiarist, nor the victim of plagiarism. It is the academic peer review, the process where research colleagues are invited by journal editors to submit their expert opinion on the scientific quality of the manuscript under editorial consideration. and it is not the incompetent youth plagiarising there, but professors, principal investigators (PIs), research institute directors and clinic heads. Our academic elite plagiarises daily, without anyone even raising an eyebrow. 

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Why My Science is Awesome – A summer project #MyAwesomeScience


At the beginning of summer, I was already thinking about next school year and how to make the science I teach more real, more personable, more relateable (I know, not the highest quality word choice) for my students. Through the last two years, I have been able to incorporate a variety of scientists through Skype or similar video conferences which have always been fantastic. These talks allow the students to interact with an #actuallivingscientist so they can see who is doing the science, ask questions and listen to some fascinating science talks. The only issue I have is that I will not ask anyone to do four talks a day as I know the scientists still have work to do and I do not want them to feel put upon or as if they are a babysitter for my class. I want these talks to be helpful, informative and enjoyable…

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