Publish and be heard!

TBA training came to Cambridge this summer. While tourists queued up to peer into the magnificent Great Court of Trinity College, tucked away in a seminar room on the other side of the river, twelve conservation scientists from countries across Africa spent a week on a TBA course learning how they can be successful in publishing their research findings.

This matters, because scientists who publish their work reach a wider audience, sharing new information that increases understanding. For conservation scientists, this can ultimately lead to more informed management decisions to save species. Besides, success in publishing is a sign of quality in research, raising the scientist’s credibility.

In Africa, lack of support to help scientists publish means that a lower proportion of the research being done reaches a global audience, so the need for training is urgent, and the demand is high.

More than 300 aspiring young scientists applied to attend the TBA course in Cambridge, which was funded by the Isaac Newton Trust and hosted by Trinity College.

One of the participants is Nigerian ornithologist Bridget Ogolowa. She wants to spread awareness of her research on the rock firefinch, a small endangered red bird that was thought only to occur on a single rocky plateau in the north of the country. 

When she began to do research, Bridget was fascinated to learn that so little is known about so many species in Nigeria. In particular, she was concerned about species that are prone to extinction far more than others, for example, those with a very limited global range, like the rock firefinch

“If we don’t know about them, it will be difficult to save them. The more we know about them, the more we can do,” she says. Bridget wants to publish her findings so that she can “contribute what I have learnt to science, and the wider scientific community.” However, before the course, Bridget, like so many young African scientists, felt daunted by the process as there is very little support available for them.

Now, she feels different. “I have really learnt a lot, especially on the scientific writing process. There were so many things that I did not understand and I had been frightened of writing.

“With this course I feel more confident – about how to start, how to choose a journal, and how to write. It is like a huge veil is lifted and I can see the light.”

Bridget also knows that publishing her research will help her conservation career. “On a personal level I need to publish to show that I am a credible scientist. Currently, I am a co-lecturer in my country, and this course will help me to get promoted and to achieve more. It means a higher chance of getting grants to do more research. It will also help me to do better research, by responding to feedback from more experienced scientists during the publication process.”

Another participant on the course is Tsyon Gizaw, a lecturer at Hawassa University in Ethiopia, whose broad research interests include large carnivores, birds and butterflies. “I’ve learnt a lot of practical skills from this course: how to choose which journal to approach, how to be more visible to the scientific community and how to work with others collaboratively,” she says.

“One important lesson from this course is that there is not one perfect way; there are always a number of ways to present research findings. I have learnt how to structure my papers and tips on how to be a successfully published scientist. I also learnt about reference management.”

The impact of the TBA course will be increased by a knock-on effect. When Tsyon returns to Ethiopia, she is looking forward to sharing her new skills and knowledge. “Publication is really tough, but I work for an advisory group that trains students and now I will be able to share what I have learnt with them,” she says.

Leading the teaching was Dr Paul Craze, editor of the journal TREE, along with TBA Director Dr Rosie Trevelyan, and TBA course coordinator, Dr Kevin Wallace. The participants also heard from two TBA alumni: Dr Ricardo Rocha who shared is knowledge on forest fragmentation and how to be a good collaborator, and Dr Sarah Luke, who told the participants not to be discouraged when their papers were rejected. Now a successful scientist with numerous papers published in her name, Sarah shared her experiences of being turned down, or asked by journal editors to make multiple revisions of her papers. Ultimately, she said, this feedback is what makes you a better scientist.

The participants had a chance to discover a local conservation site on a trip to Wicken Fen, and to take a tour around Trinity College with Paul Brakefield, Professor of Zoology at Cambridge University, a Fellow of Trinity and a member of the TBA Council.

This is the second year that Trinity College has hosted a TBA training course on publishing and communication skills. The impact of the first course is already evident, with the majority of last year’s participants having already published papers.