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The Year That It Was – 2017

in ClubSciWri/Newsletter by

Another year has come to an end! On this first day of a new year, new month and a new week, the Newsletter team wish you a fantastic kick-start. We have many reasons to celebrate the year 2018; one being we will soon be one year old, but the biggest joy is each day we are celebrating altruism in the Scientific Community.

The Newsletter team, together with Club SciWri and CSG, worked relentlessly to provide a collaboration platform to STEM professionals who are passionate about Science beyond the laboratory doors.

Being the first year in circulation, we have faced a few organizational hurdles. However, with each success and mistake, we learnt a lot. Through our 40 campaigns in 9 months, the team kept chasing the vision “for the scientist by the scientist.”

We ensured an amalgamation of different aspects of science. Our repository has it all!!! Whether, the articles are essential for career development/job offers, or for the stories which leave us awe inspired by the beauty of science, there is real value in the stuff.



(Topics we shared in the Club SciWri Weekly Briefings, Image courtesy Rituparna Chakrabarti)

As the New Year begins, we decided to have a recap on0 how we grew more vibrant as a team. Among the best additions to our group, the bunch of freelance writers stood out. Aditi (Chiplunkar) Khandekar, Nidhi Subhashini, Sven Truckenbrodt and Tanmoy Samaddar have been the key players in our content research, design and writing. Abhiyan Viplav, Kashyap Krishnasamy, Nisha Peter, Vignesh Narayan Hariharan and I have been the Hawk eyes for the editorial job. We are delighted that midst the organizational restructuring, the successful collaboration and extensive understanding between the writers and the editors assured campaign publication every Thursday, during 2017. Every team needs a backbone, for us Somdatta Karak took up the role gracefully. She assured initial smooth sailing and tethered the team spread across 4 different time zones.


(In the Image: Top row (L-R) Kashyap and Somdatta; Middle row up (L-R) Rituparna, Nidhi, Abhiyan and Tanmoy; Middle row down (L-R) Sven and Aditi; Bottom row (L-R) Nisha and Vignesh)

We are extremely thankful to have our SciArties Vinita Bharat’s Fuzzy Synapse and Ipsa Jain’s IpsaWonders, their contributions added a different charm to our newsletter.

(In the Image: L-R Vinita and Ipsa)

Our Nine Best Shares

Here we recount the most read and liked issues of Club SciWri Weekly Briefings – 2017 from each month.

  1. April: published on 20th April, 2017
  2. May: published on 18th May, 2017
  3. June: published on 1st June, 2017
  4. July: published on 13th July, 2017 (Our Pick!)
  5. August: published on 3rd August, 2017
  6. September: published on 21st September, 2017
  7. October: published on 5th October, 2017
  8. November: published on 16th November, 2017
  9. December: published on 7th December, 2017

The Aftermath

Ours is a young endeavour within Club SciWri. However, we are steadily gaining our readership. This is indeed reflected in our subscription base, as we initially had only 12 subscribers and now we have reached to 530 active subscribers, spread across 3 continents.

The active members of CSG help us achieve our social media readership per campaign in the range of 120 – 2,400. We are thankful to them for keeping the platform alive with their dynamic shares, lively discussions and constant feedback. Secondly, our average campaign ;open rate is 15 %, which is higher than the industrial campaigns (13.09 %). Our 13th July, 2017, campaign witnessed so far the record-breaking 28.02 % open rate.

(The graph depicts the % of open rate, click rate and the industry average open rate of the campaigns published between April- December, 2017, generated using MailChimp)

The core team (Abhiyan, Kashyap, Nisha and I) love to experiment with new content every week and are always taking the lead on how to gain visibility for our contributors. Feel free to leave us your feedback. We hope by the end of 2018, we will reach a subscription base of 2,000 + globally, therefore looking forward to the collaboration with the CSG – University Representatives. Our current readers’ base is mostly concentrated in the USA, France, Germany, the UK and India. Hand-in-hand with Club SciWri we aim to expand our viewership in 2018 beyond these countries.

(Interactive map depicting the top locations where our newsletter is read, generated with MailChimp)

The Newsletter team take immense pride in providing a platform to those who are passionate about science communication with the perk of visibility. If you think you could be one of us in 2018, get connected with us on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or just drop me an email at

Our journey so far wouldn’t have been possible without your support and we look forward to many more chapters in the coming year. If you haven’t yet subscribed to our newsletter, we assure you that 2018 will be more exciting.

Happy New Year!!

Cover Image: Pixabay

Rituparna is the lead editor of the Newsletter team at Club SciWri. She pursued her Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Georg-August University (Göttingen, Germany) and is currently a post-doctoral fellow at the Center for Biostructural Imaging of Neurodegeneration (BIN), Göttingen. Over years, she has gained technical expertise in electron and high-resolution light microscopy, in order to study the nanostructures of specialized chemical synapses in the sensory systems. She likes to have a bird’s eye view of her undertakings and gets excited with analytics. Passionately believes in, correct simplification of science, therefore engages in different scientific communication and public outreach projects. To unwind herself she plays mandolin and eagerly looks for a corner at a coffee house to slide herself in with a good read or company.

The contents of Club SciWri are the copyright of PhD Career Support Group for STEM PhDs (A US Non-Profit 501(c)3, PhDCSG is an initiative of the alumni of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. The primary aim of this group is to build a NETWORK among scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs).

This work by Club SciWri is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

Gabriele Fallopio & The Human Anatomy

in Theory of Creativity by


This series highlights dead ol’ scientists, who went against the grain and started something cool. Most of them faced opposition to their ideas and beliefs, but they made some fundamental discoveries.


Illustrations by Leslee Lazaar










I am a neuroscientist, who is passionate about communicating science using visual art. I use illustrations, graphic design, infographics, collages and photography to condense complex scientific concepts into stylish and attractive visuals.

I have a PhD in Neuroscience from National Brain Research Centre (India) and post-doctoral research experience from Harvard Medical School (Boston, USA).

Apart from contributing content to many science blogs and magazines. I have authored a science book  for young adults called “The Five Senses”

Buy it here –

You can reach me at

In pursuit of a passion in science: Face to Face with Professor Mohan Balasubramanian, PhD

in Face à Face by
Nida Siddiqui (NS)  brings out a journey of a passionate scientist Dr. Mohan Balasubramanian, Pro-Dean at the Warwick Medical School, University of Warwick, UK. In this interview, Mohan talks about important aspects one needs to inculcate to become an effective academic researcher and a mentor.


Mohan during his Singapore days (Courtesy: NUS Singapore)

NS: How did your journey begin? What was the motivation?

MB: My journey did not start with science, I was interested in sports and I did not get the greatest grades in school. I got into Chemistry because that’s one subject I could pursue with my sports qualification. I was a decent chemist and did quite well.  I did not know an iota of biology and my chemistry degree was with physics and Math. This was the period of early days of biotechnology in India.  Masters in Biotechnology I thought will be an interesting next step.  I wrote the entrance exam and I passed it. It was the first batch of Biotechnology program in India that was done through a national level entrance test. That led me to MS Baroda University, which was my gateway to my career in academic research.

I found genetics and molecular biology very interesting and started interacting with Late Professor Bharat Chattoo, an excellent scientist who had just come back from Switzerland. He was a plant geneticist by training and was busy setting up his lab at Baroda. I did my master’s thesis with him and I found science as a natural extension of chemistry, molecular biology, biochemistry very intriguing.  It was during that time that I got intrigued by genetics and did the first cloning in Baroda. It was very exciting since it was the new era of modern life sciences, especially in India. People were doing microbiology but not molecular Biology. I also made a library from rice. Baroda had a reputation those days of being an intellectually stimulating environment because the microbiology department and the biotechnology program were tightly knit together and classical genetics, phage genetics were taught at a very high level of sophistication and the department inculcated the habit of reading current literature so we would know for e.g., self-splicing RNA (which was my favorite topic by the way). We had a great resource at Baroda. You get to read all the current discoveries almost immediately after they got published. We did not have the equipment and setup but there was enough intellectual framework and by being around Prof. Chattoo and working in his lab it was clear to me this is what I want to do because there were thousands of open questions and the technology was relatively new at that time. So, it was really exciting to go from a chemistry background into molecular biology and all thanks to one person, whose approach to science was so special that 6 to 7 of my classmates  are professors in top places in the world, Vishi Iyer, Head of Life science at UT Austin, Pradeep Kachroo in University of Kentucky, Naweed Naqvi at TLL, Karuna Sampath at University of Warwick, would agree that it was Late Chattoo that got them into science. To me Prof. Chattoo was an institution in himself.

NS: How did you move to Canada next?

MB: I wanted to work on plant biology because in Prof. Chattoo’s lab I worked with plants so I wanted to continue working on plants. I did apply to a few other universities but the University of Saskatchewan gave me a scholarship and that was a huge factor so I went there. At that time, there was a study that got published in Nature (1988) on the discovery of chaperonins (these prevent proteins from misfolding). Chaperonin was the hottest topic in biology during that time and I found Sean M Hemmingsmen to be the best person with whom I can pursue my Ph.D. I approached him and he readily agreed to take me as his Ph.D. student. I was working on two different projects, one on Chlamydomonas and the other on a tobacco plant. I generated a cDNA library here since Baroda had taught me that very early on. Sean had to go to Oxford for a sabbatical to the lab of Paul Nurse. Once Sean returned from his sabbatical he told me that Paul Nurse had done a genetic screen for cell cycle mutants and he gave me some of Paul’s papers and he said Paul is also willing to give all these mutants – “do you want to work on this?” Sean’s lab was primarily a plant biology lab with no expertise in yeast. But he was persistent, “This is a very exciting problem and I would love to get involved, do you want to do it?” I said, “yes, sure.” I read up on all of Paul’s work and those that were coming out from the labs of Leland Hartwell and Marc Kirschner. The topic was really exciting and cutting edge but it was incredibly competitive. I was alone in this lab in Saskatchewan and I decided to work on cell cycle but not on mitosis or S phase which the big labs were pursuing vigorously, but cytokinesis. I cloned three of the cytokinesis genes while I was in Sean’s Lab, tropomyosin, myosin light chain, profilin.We had mutants for these, raised antibodies for two of these, localized one protein which is when I graduated. It is going to be 30 years and I am still fascinated. Visually it is a beautiful problem.  You can see the cell divide, you can see it contracting and the problem keeps us busy even now. That’s how I got into this field of research.


NS: Tell us about your postdoc at Vanderbilt, how did you decide this was the right place

 MB: It was very straightforward, I finished my Ph.D. in 1992. I wanted to go to a place where I could take all these genes and continue working on them. Kathy Gould had just set up her lab at Vanderbilt University, she did a postdoc with Paul Nurse. I heard she was hiring and I approached her and told her that I wanted to work on cytokinesis. So, I continued working on the genes I took from Sean’s lab. My colleague Dan Mc Collum and I got very excited with cytokinesis and decided that some of the key proteins in cytokinesis had not been discovered in the Nurse’s screen. So, I carried out another large genetic screen and we got hundreds of mutants defective in cytokinesis and we identified close to twenty different genes and the main motivation was to identify Type 2 Myosin heavy chain. That screen led us to everything – ring positioning, ring assembly, ring contraction. We had a blueprint on how cytokinesis happened. Kathy is a very generous person. When I left her lab she let me take the mutants I isolated. Looking back I realize how incredibly lucky I was to have been associated with very generous mentors during the initial years. Prof. Chattoo taught me the intricacies of molecular biology, Sean allowed me to take my work with me to Kathy’s lab and Kathy allowed me to take what I generated to set up my own lab in Singapore.


NS: After your postdoc – Did you have a dilemma: Academia or industry?

 MB: Ever since I saw Prof. Chattoo and the life of pure excitement he led in science, I did not think of anything else but a career in experimental research. Mentoring was another aspect that I loved. In Vanderbilt, I was taking care of undergraduate students in Kathy’s Lab and graduate students from the neighboring labs would also come to me for advice occasionally. People would tell me that I would make a great mentor. Even to this date that is the thing I enjoy the most. Now I have to do administration and so on but to spend time with your younger colleagues and go through the process of discovery is still the most exciting thing for me.


NS: Tell us about your transition to Institute for Molecular and Agrobiology, Singapore. What were the challenges during initial years of opening the lab? Have the dynamics of those challenges changed or they are the same?

MB: While I was in Kathy’s lab, I received a phone call from Nam-Hai Chua, who was setting up a new institute in Singapore. He was looking for a fission yeast person and offered me a position. The present generation applies to thirty-forty places, interviews seven-eight, lines up starter packages, but in my case I accepted the Singapore offer immediately. It was one of the best things I did since it was core funded and I did not have to write grants. I did not write grants for 16 years in Singapore and I could work on practically anything I wanted to work. That was an offer you would not want to refuse. Most of the time what happens is, for a starting PI it takes a couple of years to get a grant, you don’t have sufficient manpower to work on your ideas and you are slogging to get your first grant. So, for me walking into an institute and being able to recruit three people was a real luxury. Nobody told me what to do. When you write a grant, you fit the idea to a certain framework, addressing a disease or cultural problem but I could just work and not justify anything to anybody. The only expectation was to do something interesting and publish papers and create new knowledge. It was the easiest path that came in front of me, there was no struggle. I was given the money and asked for the equipment needed and there were technicians who would set up the equipment before I arrived. I also recruited a student before I moved there and he ended up on a paper I published before I even saw him. It worked out great.


NS: What were the factors you considered for your next move to UK? When did you know it was time to move?

MB: The 16 years I spent in Singapore was fantastic. During that time we went from a lab that did only genetics and molecular biology to a lab which did genetics, molecular biology, synthetic biology, reconstitution experiments, and biophysics. We could add new dimensions to work with progression in time. 16 years is a long time and you live only once so if you want to do something different you have to make a choice at some point and we took a big risk coming here to Warwick because coming from a core funded institute to a granting system is a challenge. But my feeling was, if I don’t make it in a granting system then my success in Singapore was a fluke. If I do make it in the granting system then maybe I am competitive enough. It was a bit of a challenge that I threw at myself and I think it’s good once in a while, although I would hate to have not succeeded in which case I would be thinking every day why I left my core funded job. But fortunately, it all worked out well.

UK has a very rich tradition of fission yeast research and it is an English speaking country. I chose the University of Warwick because of their core strength in Cell Biology. In particular, I was looking forward to having colleagues like Robert A Cross and Nicholas J Carter who were (and still does) doing a branch of Biophysics which I wanted to incorporate into our research. There were fantastic cell biologists like Andrew McAinsh, Masanori Mishima, Jonathan Millar, Anne Straube and a number of people whom I ranked very highly as scientists and thought that would be an excellent environment to work. I think Rob was the key and his presence made me choose to come to Warwick as opposed to a few other places which also offered me positions.


NS: What do you look for in students when you decide to mentor them? 

 MB: I really don’t know except that it works out well in the end. I have trained about 20 students, 16 have graduated, 4-5 of them are already group leaders some of them are associate professors with tenure doing very well. I have had about 20 postdocs of which 7 are PIs, 2 are professors, 1 is a Wellcome senior investigator at Crick. To come back to your question I don’t know, there is a feel I get when I talk to people. You can tell that they care about research. I don’t like people who come and talk about what they expect from their research. Like I want to get a job there, I want 2 Nature papers. I think research is about enjoying the process not waiting for the results. You can tell from talking to some people that they enjoy the process and If you do the process properly you will get something. I don’t have any formula but I have been incredibly lucky that more than a quarter people I have trained are successful group leaders all over the world and many others are doing successful postdocs. It’s not working 6-7 days a week, it’s how much you care about the experiment, how you prepare for the experiment and by being your worst critique. For example, there is a Malaysian student in my lab. She did an internship with me during her undergraduate degree. I asked what’s going on, she said “I see certain things but I did not want to tell you till I repeated this and I did not to want to mislead you”. I thought these are the people I want in my lab because they have high standards, they want to repeat things and it’s important in science to repeat things. For an undergraduate who hasn’t been in a research environment, to come to that mental framework is a feat in itself– To me that’s the kind of people I want in my lab, not someone who tells me that I want to finish my Ph.D. in three years with Nature papers without actually talking about the science. In science, many times it’s the feel that matters. It’s hard to precisely tell what you are looking for but it’s how much you care about science that matters.


NS: With the paucity of funds and slowing academic job growth, what do you think Postdocs should do in terms of career advancement? 

MB: There is a big shift in how science is being done, nowadays it’s a lot of collaborative science. When I started my Ph.D., it was very common to pick any of the top journals and find papers that have only 2 authors. There is a first author and the senior author. There were even papers that had one author. This was all possible those days. But if you look at papers now there are too many authors. The problem with that is it takes thirty human years to finish a project and there is a team of people and four joint first authors and a senior author. There aren’t going to be enough jobs. The way science has evolved requires large teams to accomplish the jobs and many of them may not make it because to accommodate that many successful postdocs you need to quadruple the intake. It is only natural since people have to earn a living and have a good quality life. Other options, like an industry job, is becoming more and more common.

There is a problem and what I would like to see is that some of these core-funded institutes to have staff scientists posts and these are for the very best postdocs – a chance to be independent and not with the expectation of running huge groups. People might love to do their own research -have just one technician. The way universities work these days that kind of a post doesn’t exist anymore. That’s one thing that I would like to see. The other is that – it’s nice for big labs to have continuity and there maybe people who do not want to run a lab but would be very valuable for a senior professor who doesn’t have that much time on a day to day basis. These are other options that people can think about. But it is a real problem.


NS: How should postdocs prepare for academic job transitions in the current scenario?

 MB: One should be excited about their science and that will be the best way of finding good jobs. You should have curiosity, enjoy the process and read a lot. If these three elements are there, success will come on its own.


NS: What are the major criteria one looks at when they hire a new faculty? 

 MB: I should declare that I am a signatory of DORA (The San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment). I don’t look at metrics. I read the CV and look at the papers to see what the person has done. If it’s interesting and if they are attacking an important problem, using interesting approaches then that’s the kind of person I would like to recruit. As somebody who heads the Warwick quantitative biomedicine program, funded by the Wellcome trust, We have recruited 2 independent fellows and we will be recruiting more assistant professors very soon and we will use these criteria – good common sense, judgment of science. We won’t fall for metrics because then, only people who work in a few areas which are heavily populated get recruited, and you would not be recruiting people from areas that are not heavily populated and most likely that’s where your major insights are going to come from. You have to look at new exciting opportunities that are very early in development. We will look for people who want to make a difference in science, who have research problems that they are excited about and they think about all the time. We are looking for people who want to solve challenging problems by overturning conventional wisdom, asking big questions and for those who have a passion for science communication to teach the next generation of young students.  As an assistant professor, you should do a good job of putting enthusiasm in undergraduates. We want people who have the enthusiasm of talking about science, about their own research and scientific methods as valuable tools, something they cherish every day. That’s the kind of people we want.


NS: What will be your suggestions for the new investigators as they venture out to start their labs?

MB: Be curious. If you want to answer a problem, think quantitative, don’t be qualitative or descriptive. Medicine and Biology are increasingly becoming quantitative sciences. The way surgeries are done now are nothing compared to how they were done 20 years ago. Present day biology will incorporate quantitative data analytics, physical, engineering, chemical sciences to solve its major problems. That’s the way you can create an edge for yourself. Science is a business for smart people. You are trying to understand nature by doing clever experiments and there are thousands of clever people out there so everyone needs to have some edge. If you employ one or two of these other approaches together with your traditional strengths, I think you are likely to succeed in answering those questions.


NS: Any final thoughts for students pursuing PhD

MB: Read a lot, be curious, enjoy the process and communicate your science both in writing and orally. Those are the most important things at all levels. You could be sitting right next to somebody in a train and you should be able to explain your science in a simple language which he or she can appreciate.  Success is a very strange word, without these qualities it’s very difficult to answer the questions and if you are able to do that, to me that is a success.


About Mohan Balasubramanian:






Mohan Balasubramanian graduated in chemistry from Madras University in India and pursued a post-graduate program in microbiology and Biotechnology in Baroda, India. He carried out his Doctoral research at the University of Saskatchewan, Canada, where he initiated his study of cell division in fission yeast. Following post-doctoral research at Vanderbilt University, USA, where he furthered his study of cell division, he joined the Institute of Molecular Agrobiology Singapore in 1997 and the Temasek Life Sciences Laboratory Singapore in 2002. He moved to The University of Warwick, UK in 2014.

Edited by Ananda Ghosh

About Nida Siddiqui:







Nida is currently pursuing final year Ph.D. at the Centre for Mechanochemical Cell Biology, University of Warwick, UK. She completed B.E., Biotechnology from Sir MVIT, Bangalore, India. Following which she worked as a Junior Research Fellow in MRDG, IISc, Bangalore for a period of 2 years.


Featured Image: Pixabay

This work by ClubSciWri is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Transitioning to an Editorial job @Nature Medicine: Face-to-Face with Javier Carmona

in Face à Face by

I met Javier in a recently concluded Keystone meeting in Big Sky, MT. The meeting organizers had created an app for the participants to interact online. I found Javier on the app’s database as a participant from Nature Medicine and I reached out to him. He was kind enough to find time and discuss the nuances of a career transition into science editing. He agreed for a Face-to-Face interview with me and appreciated our efforts in helping the postdoctoral community identify their calling from the multitude of careers in science.  Javier (JC) started his studies at the University of Navarra and received a degree in Biology from the Autonomous University of Madrid. In 2013, he obtained his Ph.D. after working in Manel Esteller’s Cancer Epigenetics and Biology Program in Barcelona. Javier continued his research as a postdoctoral fellow in the group of José Baselga at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, where he studied the mechanisms of resistance to therapy in patients with breast cancer. In 2016 he joined Nature Medicine as an Assistant Editor. Despite having a background in biomedicine, he has a myriad of scientific interests, and occasionally writes about different topics on the blog Mapping Ignorance . Javier is also an editor at Science Seeker where he selects top posts in the fields of medicine and general biology. You can follow him on Twitter @FJCarmonas.- Abhinav Dey (AD)

AD:    Please tell us about your academic research background?

JC: I studied biology at University of Navarra and I specialized in cell & molecular biology. As an undergraduate I did some rotations in different labs, and towards the end I started collaborating regularly in a laboratory at the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre, in Madrid (Spain) where I eventually completed my PhD. In my grad school, I worked on cancer epigenetics with a focus on identifying DNA methylation biomarkers for cancer diagnosis. I also got involved in many collaborations and got exposed to several different research areas –definitely an enriching experience!  After completing my PhD I started a postdoc at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC), in New York (USA), which lasted two and a half years. My postdoctoral research focused on breast cancer biology and tyrosine-kinase receptor signaling in relation to therapy resistance.

AD:    What motivated you to transition from laboratory science into scientific editor?

JC: As I considered my long-term career, I wanted to explore alternative paths to academic research that would, however, allow me to stay in touch with science. After considering different options, I realized that the world of scientific editing was the perfect one. This was because it’s a great opportunity to keep learning about the latest scientific advances on many different areas of research, which was exactly what I was looking for.

AD:   How did you train yourself into science editing? What resources during your Ph.D. or postdoc tenure served useful towards achieving your goals?

JC: Being trained in different areas of research and getting involved in different projects provided me with a broad view of scientific research and allowed me to create relationships with researchers in other fields. Also, being able to identify the main message when hearing a talk or reading a paper and detecting strengths and weaknesses –while participating in lab meetings and journal clubs-, are important skills that became very useful when I transitioned career paths. Lastly, towards the end of my postdoc I started to collaborate as a free-lance writer for different science blogs where I wrote about scientific advances; this helped me to develop my science communication skills.

AD: Can you share 5 most important skills that you highlighted in your CV/interview during the job application process?

JC: I think having a broad view of scientific research; a critical view and analytical capacity; showing ability to interact with people from different backgrounds; and being enthusiastic and open-minded about learning new concepts and ideas, are important skills in this type of job.

AD: As an editor at Nature Medicine, what does a normal day at work look like?

JC: Most of the time is devoted to reading scientific manuscripts that are submitted for consideration to the journal. As the editor responsible for cancer biology, I handle most of the manuscripts in this area; however, we also have editorial meetings every week in which we discuss those manuscripts we consider of highest interest, so I get to hear about manuscripts from other research areas, including neurobiology, cardiovascular research, infectious disease, etc. In addition to evaluating manuscripts, we also attend scientific meetings on many different topics. These are great opportunities to interact with researchers as well as to hear the most recent scientific discoveries.

AD: How do you achieve work-life balance?

JC: I think it’s important to maintain an equilibrium between work and life-out-of-work, and so I try to make time to practice sports as often as I can –either running around central park or leaving the city to do some hiking or skiing. Also, in a city like New York the cultural offer is huge, so we try to enjoy as much as possible the concerts and exhibitions going on at all times. And of course, traveling, either for a weekend or for longer times when possible, it’s a great way to disconnect and enjoy the time off.


We thank Javier for sharing his experience with us and we wish him success in his upcoming endeavors.

Javier Carmona was interviewed by Abhinav Dey. Abhinav is a postdoctoral fellow at Emory University and a Young Investigator Awardee from Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation for Childhood Cancer. He is also the co-founder of PhD Career Support Group (CSG) for STEM PhDs and ClubSciWri

This work by ClubSciWri is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.



Featured image source: Pixabay

Reading scientific literature – for dummies

in That Makes Sense by

If you are interested in the latest science breakthroughs, there is some good news for you. Be it to know more about a disease your mother has, to write a newspaper article about the latest scientific discovery, or to look for the latest research on a topic of undergraduate study; scientific literature is increasingly becoming available at your fingertips!
Recently, there has been a significant push in support of open access publishing in the scientific field. This “unrestricted online access to peer-reviewed scientific research”, as Wikipedia defines it, is supposed to create a revolution in scientific communication. The main argument in its favour is that research done with tax-payer’s money should be available to the public for free, and the internet has greatly made open access possible.
However, an important question that this movement has ignored, is this – how would the general public be able to understand, make sense of, and utilize this information in the right way? Scientific literature is often detailed and boring, with scientific jargon scattered all over, that only scientists from a specific field are able to understand. It’s a running joke between researchers that reading a scientific paper is the best cure for insomnia! So, how would a lay person be able to understand this information even if its made available to him?
If it helps, a paper on amygdala anatomy is as difficult to understand for me as it is for you, even though I am at the end of my PhD in life sciences – simply because I am in a completely different field. However, with some basic knowledge of science, you can actually manage to understand the scientific discoveries in a particular field if you have some time and patience.
In this post, I have given some pointers to simplify navigating through the ocean of scientific literature with very little or no knowledge of the field.

Don’t let the jargon scare you!

Sample this –

Scientists are notorious for using the most complex-sounding tongue-twisters in their papers. But don’t let it deter you. It would help to have a medical dictionary or Wikipedia handy, to look up terms you don’t understand. The best papers are the ones where each term is introduced and explained properly. Also, try to understand that commonly used words have a slightly different meaning in scientific literature.

Where to look for an article?
For biomedical articles you can search on Pubmed, the repository of the NIH. A search for “alzheimer’s” gives all articles with the word anywhere in the paper. For more specific searches, you can use “alzheimer’s [Title/Abstract]”. You can also use other parameters for searching, like Author and date of publication and Boolean operators like AND, OR, NOT. Google scholar also gives good results.

If the article you are searching for is not available for free, try your nearest University library. Most Universities have access to paid journals. There are some online torrents, sites and even a Facebook page where academicians share papers that they have access to.

Start with reviews
Reviews combine the results from several articles to give a good overview of the field. If you are new to the field or want information in layman terms, reviews are generally a good starting point. Even as a researcher, reviews are the best place to start before we dive into the huge pool of literature on a topic. The downside is that you might not learn about fresh research that got published in the last few months. If a review seems too difficult, start with a textbook entry. There are many free books available on NCBI Books.

How to read a journal article
A research paper has several sections, generally arranged in a particular order – Abstract, Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion and Conclusion. However, if you want to find information quickly without delving into all the details, you can follow this order:

Read the Abstract first and the Conclusion – this will give you a quick idea about what the paper is all about, and the highlights of the research presented.

Then read the Introduction and Discussion – This will give you an idea of previous research in the field. The ‘Introduction’ introduces the topic, and cites related literature. The ‘discussion’ explains the implications of the research carried out by the authors, and how it relates to the currently available knowledge.

And finally the Results section, which details the experiments performed and the exact outcome of all experiments. If you must read this section, start with analyzing each figure and table, and read their captions. Try to draw your own conclusions, and mark the irregularities in the data. Be critical of what is represented in the figures and what is claimed in the text, and if they indeed match!

Keep in mind the basic rules of statistics when analyzing data:

  • What information is represented on the X and Y-axes on graphs? Then think about what the data really indicates.
  • What is the sample size used for the study? In most cases, the bigger the sample size, the more reliable the results.
  • Is there any apparent bias in the sample? For example, did they consider only Caucasians for the study. In that case, is it still relevant for Asians?
  • Are there multiple experiments pointing to the same conclusion?

The Methods section is best left to a trained researcher in the field, and is generally not required to be understood to know the implications of the research.

Understand the general consensus in the field
If you are trying to find out if product x causes cancer, try to read several articles on the topic. This will give you an idea of what the best researchers in the field think about the topic. This way, you can also learn about different perspectives – one researcher might claim it causes cancer, while another might show it causes cancer only under certain conditions. Also, make sure that the articles are not from the same laboratory. For Biomedical literature, you can check the last author(s), who is generally the Principal Investigator (or Professor), and their University affiliations. If the articles published by different authors at different universities have similar conclusions, it shows that the research is reproducible and there is a consensus.

Impact factor is not the best indicator of quality
This is a mistake that I made until I was a Masters student! The impact factor of a journal indicates how well-cited the articles from this journal are. However, the most highly rated journals are like newspapers looking for the most sensational news. Although, most research published here is of good quality, it is best not to take it as the absolute truth. Instead, try to look for how well-cited and well-researched the article itself is. When you read an article in Pubmed, you can see how many times this article has been cited by others.

Take it with a pinch of salt
Scientific research is complicated and difficult, because one is charting new territories. As my adviser says, researchers are like the blind men trying to figure out an elephant. Each has their own version of the “truth” and all of them could be correct, or wrong! Hence, be careful about jumping to strong conclusions. High impact, well cited articles could be proven wrong or insufficient at a later point.

First published on LinkedIn on Jan 27, 2015



About the author: Czuee has a PhD from University of Lausanne, Switzerland and Masters from IIT Bombay. She has previously worked at IISc-Monsanto collaboration and as a patent analyst at Evalueserve. Apart from her research on proteins involved in brain signalling and diabetes, she is interested in scientific communication, entrepreneurship and runs a webcomic (

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