ESOF – European parallels, career tips, and a new peer review guide

This blog post was written by James Lush, the Biochemical Society’s Policy Officer

I attended ESOF (the Euroscience Open Forum) on Friday, in the fair city of Dublin. I took a lot away from it (not least that riding a Vespa to Gatwick isn’t a very good idea). As I’m shortly to take the best part of three weeks off for the Olympics, I will have plenty of food for thought, particularly on careers, on which I attended a number of sessions.

ESOF is a huge, biennial behemoth (the next one will be held in Copenhagen) but in a good way – I was very impressed. On Friday, the sessions ran from 8:00 to 18:30, with around ten parallel sessions at a time and no designated breaks (I took the opportunity of a Bob Geldof keynote to duck out and get a sandwich). The UK is perhaps not as engaged in the European science ideal as other countries, but on first reflection, I noted that many of the discussions were similar to those going on in the UK. Here are my scribbles from Máire Geoghegan-Quinn’s keynote speech, the current European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science (excuse the roughness):

  • Politicians should deploy the scientific method whenever possible, need to remind of that
  • Science vital for future – and intellectual inquiry will always explore most profound ideas
  • Higgs – excitement across all ages, groups and countries
  • Challenge-driven research important, but curiosity-driven research leads to great discoveries – silicon chips (Bohr), WWW
  • Challenge-driven research also brings fundamental benefits – e.g. aero wings and fluid dynamics
  • Horizon 2020 – not everyone happy with large settlement, so keep making the case
  • ERA – single market for ideas in Europe – increased competition and cooperation between member states (existing example of CERN). Goes live soon. Another important strand is Open Access. Need everyone to line up behind ERA – will deliver science excellence for Europe. Will rely on political will and trust
  • March of progress will rely on centrality of science and public trust – must communicate well e.g. on synthetic biology (the same day, ‘A synthetic biology roadmap for the UK‘ was published)
  • Thriving intersectoral ecosystem is necessary for solving problems
  • Already examples of successful collaborations and things going on in background – Grand Challenges a good and relatively cheap way of stimulating it
  • DARPA – $1m for driverless car. Led to many partnerships
  • Human Genome Project – for each $ spent, $140 generated
  • Open access will help collaboration. People cannot always be co-located, but could be huge enabling factor – individuals, poorer countries, SMEs – which then pump money back into local community – more tax – more research funding…
  • Should we be aiming to get tangible outputs back from publicly funded research?
  • We must support both forms of research. This is where ideal spin-off situation arises
  • Can’t aim to capitalise on specific things before know what outcomes will be.

Elsewhere, I heard some interesting tips from Dr Silvia Giordani from Trinity College Dublin on careers:

  1. “Change is good… Being crazy is rewarded in the end.”
  2. “Learn as much as you can early, and you can put it together later.”
  3. “Network, network, network!”

Peer review guide launched

The previous day, Sense About Science launched their ‘Peer Review: The nuts and bolts’ guide at the conference. Despite the quickening evolution of the publishing landscape, peer review – as I heard at a recent(ish) meeting of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee – remains the gold standard for determining the soundness of scientific papers, and misconceptions (particularly about open access journals) can be damaging.

The guide was produced by Sense About Science’s Voice of Young Science network, and provides a quick reference how peer-review works and how to do it. Helpfully, it features guidance from both sides of the fence – both editors and scientists at different stages of their careers, as well as other observers such as James Randerson from the Guardian. It is definitely recommended reading, although it acknowledges that formal training in the art of reviewing is variable in amount and availability.

If you were at ESOF too, let me know!

Peer Review: The nuts and bolts (PDF): http://www.senseaboutscience.org/data/files/resources/99/Peer-review_The-nuts-and-bolts.pdf
Further reading (Science Careers blog): Become a Reviewer: Advancing and Contributing in the Scientific Establishment

One thought on “ESOF – European parallels, career tips, and a new peer review guide

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