Culture change happens within communities. While virtual programs like the ASAPbio Fellows and Community calls link preprint enthusiasts across continents, nothing beats face-to-face interactions. So, as in-person events picked up earlier this year, we created a new program to support discussions about preprints; the ASAPbio Local Hubs program with three community leaders. Here, two of them share their experiences, successes, and advice for future hubs.
João Victor Cabral Costa, Community Lead for São Paulo
In this past year, I contributed with the organization and delivery of three events here in São Paulo, Brazil. First, a round table held during a Biochemistry Department event at the Institute of Chemistry, University of São Paulo (IQ/USP). It had around 45 attendees, including faculty, postdocs, and graduate and undergraduate students from both the Biochemistry and Fundamental Chemistry departments. It started with a brief presentation on Science Publishing and Open Science, by Prof. Alicia Kowaltowski (IQ/USP), followed by an introduction on Preprint and Preprint Reviews concepts and impacts, delivered by me. We then had a space for discussion, clarifying myths on preprinting and the impact of preprints on future citations. This discussion included a couple of preprint skeptical faculty, who shared their concerns about preprints – but commented that they were more open to the idea of preprinting afterwards.
Secondly, we jointly organized a graduate-level, one-week course on Preprint and Preprint Review, hosted by Prof. Alicia Kowaltowski and Prof. Ariel Silber, from IQ/USP and the Biomedical Sciences Institute (ICB/USP), respectively. This course started with three lectures covering: (i) the processes involved in Science Publishing; (ii) the basis on reviewing manuscripts; and (iii) the basic concepts about preprints and preprint reviews. Then, students selected a preprint from their area of interest and, individually or in pairs, performed a review of the selected preprint. Reviews were curated by the three professors and, after a double-check on the structure (i.e., whether they contained a critical overview of the preprint and constructive comments in a appropriate tone), students proceeded to post their reviews on public preprint review channels (e.g., bioRxiv comment section or PREreview). 30 students attended the course and posted a total of 19 preprint reviews.
Finally, the third event was a departmental seminar on Preprints and Preprint Reviews at the Pharmacology Department, Biomedical Sciences Institute, University of São Paulo (ICB/USP). This introduced the concept and process of preprinting a manuscript, followed by a discussion on the importance of preprints in making science more open and transparent. The sessions also clarified myths surrounding preprints such as scooping and the impact on manuscript citations. Around 25 attendees, including faculty and graduate students attended. There was also a virtual, live-streamed lecture coordinated by Prof. Elisa Kawamoto Iwashe.
These three events had quite different structures (in-person vs. live-streamed, lecture/debate vs. hands-on reviewing experience), but a single common ground: raising awareness of Preprints and Preprint Reviews while opening a space of discussion so people involved had the opportunity to share their own experience, previous beliefs, and concerns about preprinting. I believe that this constant – the feeling of being in an environment open to discussing ideas, doubts, and concerns – was key to transmitting the sense of community that is so important for the preprint and preprint reviews major objectives. Having this environment, including (and, maybe, more importantly) to talk about concerns about these topics seemed like a seed to stir the debate and catalyze the demystification of the preprinting process. Focusing on this point might be one of the greatest pieces of advice I could give for those aiming to become an ASAPbio community lead and spreading the word of preprints and open science.
Thabiso Motaung, Community Lead for Pretoria
As a lead in Pretoria, I have decided to begin my Local Hub with the inspiration drawn from ASAPbio’s mission to raise awareness and encourage dialogue about preprints in our local context. This has been long coming and several key discussions were already held at various Community Call events hosted by ASAPbio. Working together with a group of post graduate students at the University of Pretoria, we organized the first event at the FABI (Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute), which turned out to be a wonderful experience that sparked engaging discussions within this community. At this event, we focused our discussions around preprints, ASAPbio’s missions, and preprint review. These brought together our team members and the FABI community, generating a great deal of participation from that local community and thoughtful questions, many of which reflecting a great need to continue discussions of this nature at the local level. These interactions also reflected the growing interest in preprints and their impact on scientific communication, especially in the context of Africa where the adoption of preprints is still low.
Before the Local Hubs concept materialized, I had already put together a team made up of post graduate students to collect valuable data on preprints in South African universities. We use bioRxiv and medRxiv as model preprint servers as their platform seemed easy to use for our purposes. This is perhaps one of the key strengths of our program in Pretoria, as we have data that we can use for collaboration within our community, including with other local organizations, with shared open science interests that may be keen to drive the open science agenda through the use of preprints. This data provides insights into the local landscape of preprint usage and we have decided to share some of it during our events; it certainly contributes significantly to our discussions and understanding of preprints’ potential to advance scientific knowledge.
Beyond the above, ASAPbio’s emphasis on collaboration was evident in opportunities like partnering with the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf). Exploring partnerships with organizations like ASSAf and aligning our initiatives really do enhance our impact and outreach within the South African research community.
I am therefore positive about the path we are carving as a Local Hub, and I envision the rise of numerous Local Hubs across Africa. These hubs will not only promote the effective, beneficial, and ethical use of preprints on this continent, but will further emphasize collaboration and the exchange of experiences among the hubs themselves. Perhaps, in the future, we might even witness the establishment of Local Hubs Africa, which I eagerly anticipate. Therefore, as for advice to future community leads, I highly recommend fostering collaboration and leveraging both local and international partnerships, keeping in mind the vision I just highlighted. Engaging with institutions and organizations like ASSAf will likely broaden our reach as a Local Hub in Pretoria and it should the same for others that will soon emerge. This will provide diverse perspectives on preprints and scholarly publishing on the continent and ultimately, the world at large. Imagine what we could achieve with more local hubs!
In short, I am so grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the ASAPbio Local Hubs program. Through our collaborative efforts and passion for advancing scientific communication, we have made significant strides in promoting preprints within our community. I look forward to continuing this journey and exploring more avenues for collaboration and knowledge sharing in the future.
Call for applications
With the success of the pilot program, we’re looking for new Community Leads for the 2023-2024 academic year! The deadline for applications is Nov 30.
Applications are open only to current or past ASAPbio fellows or active community members. We have a special interest in promoting conversations about preprints in countries where the practice is not common, in particular across Asia, India, Africa and Latin America.
We will ask community leads to form an advisory board of 3+ influential community members who can help review plans and amplify announcements.
Community Leads are expected to run 2 events in their local communities, one taking place in January or February to help recruit potential ASAPbio fellows, and a second one at a time of their choosing, later in the academic year. Beyond this, ASAPbio will support any additional events that the Community Leads decide to organize.
Community Leads will be expected to join regular zoom calls and provide written updates on their activities throughout the year.
Community Leads are supported with a 1000 USD stipend and reimbursement for reasonable event expenses such as catering and printing. Leads will also be given training in organizing and running a successful preprint-related event.
To apply, please fill out the form here!