What makes a great researcher: tools and skills

SpotOn 2017 is just around the corner, taking place at the Crick Institute on the 18th November. To celebrate this year’s theme: ‘What makes a great researcher: tools and skills’ we asked Springer Nature staff what tools or skills they’ve found most valuable in their careers.

Louisa Flintoft, Executive Editor, BMC Flagship journals & Chief Editor, Genome Biology, Biological Sciences

A skill that I’ve found crucial, both in my research days and now as an editor, is the ability to get on well with other people. For example, when I was doing my PhD, I worked in a small and not very well funded lab, and so I relied a lot on people from other groups to show me techniques and let me use their equipment. It really helped that I was sociable in my department, I am not the world’s most extroverted person; but I made the effort to get to know a lot of people. Because people knew me they were much more likely to help out. I would try to be a good colleague in return, helping out where I could, for example by turning off an electrophoresis gel for someone at a certain time, so that they could get a proper lunch break.

As an editor, it’s essential to have a good scientific network, built up through discussions at conferences and lab visits. This is the only way to keep in touch with what’s important in the research community and to be in tune with controversies and challenges. I also work with a large number of colleagues within BMC and Springer Nature. I’ve found it very important to get to know people from different journals and departments, to understand the bigger picture of how publishing works, and to know who to ask for help if it’s needed. And again, I try to help in return where I can, for example, by giving talks on how editorial works to other teams.

Angela Eggleston, Senior Editor Biological Sciences, Nature Research

When I told my post-doc adviser I was leaving for Nature Cell Biology back in 1999, it got back to me that he had immediately walked down to the other half of the lab to bemoan the fact that I was leaving because I had such “good hands”. I think this summarizes many of the attributes I had in the lab: attention to detail in performing experiments and writing (to the chagrin of the lab members who had to pass their papers by me before they were submitted — and received back paper versions covered in red pen — yes, I know this dates me!); doggedness in making sure results were reproducible; and deep knowledge of the field so that I knew what experiments to do when.

This extends to my editorial career as well: knowing how to mine the literature to understand where the advances are needed; deciding whether the data used fully support the model before sending a manuscript out for review; and being pleased when I see kindred souls who have well organized, clean data.

Aoife Buckley, Journal Development Editor, BMC

Communication is particularly relevant in an academic setting where the objective is to share/communicate research with others. We live in a globalized world where research is often collaborative and being able to effectively communicate with colleagues, whether close to home or further afield, is hugely important.

Jillian Adie, Senior Publishing Manager, Nature Research

Whilst working in academia, I found resilience was the most important skill to have to hand. In my experience I was dealing with other academics with big egos who often had little time for me. In academia, things go wrong or don’t work ALL the time so resilience to keep going is definitely needed.

Moving from academia and into publishing meant I was doing a completely different role. Being open minded and flexible about what I could achieve was important here.

Anne Korn, Communications Manager, BMC

From the perspective of both my current role as Communications manager for BMC, as well as during my previous work as a News Manager, science writer, freelance journalist and during my time at university, one of the absolute key skills has been the ability to prioritize and manage substantial workloads, conflicting demands and various different tasks.

I think that this is a skill that researchers need because academia is a highly competitive environment and people are very often pressured for time. Good organization skills and the ability to keep a level head under pressure are key.

The same is true when research press offices get really busy. On any given day, you could be dealing with queries from editors, authors and journalists at the same time, while also trying to read, understand and assess manuscripts, write press releases and pitches, distribute material to the media and making sure that you build and maintain the relationships necessary to get the research you are promoting read. Again, this is something that communications and research have in common; we’re all trying to get the research seen, read, cited, and understood.

One of the top skills I most appreciate in a researcher is the ability to communicate scientific findings well. If researchers are able to explain their findings concisely and in a way that is easy to understand – and ideally also engages people – then that not only makes our jobs easier, it also helps to advance discovery by ensuring  that society is informed about the key developments and challenges in research that affect everyone.

Faye Nourollahi, Assistant Editor, BMC

The most important tool I have used in my career in biomedical research and publishing is the ability to communicate outside of language barriers. Being able to translate science and research in clear and novel ways, such as pictures, diagrams, charts, or videos, allows everyone understand and contribute to what you are doing, why you are doing it, and what you hope to accomplish.


We’d love to hear what tools or skills you’ve found most useful in your career. You can leave a comment below or tweet us @BioMedCentral. If you’re interested in attending SpotOn you can find out more here along with details on how to register.

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