Blog post by Sónia Gomes Pereira
As scientists, we spend a great deal of time obsessing about a particular subject, sometimes crossing the thin line of what is recommended or healthy… Yet, publishing an article takes several months or even years of revisions, only to – more often than not – result in little changes to the main findings. Then, why should we wait months/years to share our work?
We shouldn’t! By sharing our work sooner rather than later, we have the opportunity to get feedback from our colleagues (some of whom might end up being reviewers of the journal submission). Moreover, like it or not, as researchers we are evaluated based on the number and quality of our publications. Still, by endorsing a system where papers take months or even years to be published, we risk getting “scooped” and losing some of the novelty and impact of our work. Why should we risk it? Nowadays, most journals accept submission of preprinted manuscripts, and some even offer a direct transfer option. So, we don’t lose anything by preprinting our work, we really only gain from it!
In my country (Portugal), PhD students are required to have a first-author original research article to obtain their degree. However, this is not always easy, as each PhD student and project faces many challenges. In my case, I combined two different laboratories and started my own research line (a freedom that came at a cost), using a model organism that takes months to grow and for which many of the required tools and protocols were missing (ok, maybe that wasn’t the smartest of choices!).
Luckily for me, I was always allowed to share and discuss my unpublished work, collecting important feedback throughout the years. Yet, being in the 5th year of a 4-year PhD program, having solid data and living through a pandemic, I became fed up with “how about the mechanism?” and “this would be interesting to explore further”. I had finally accepted that there will always be many questions remaining, there will always be something more to do and to explore. I was ready to submit my work and to get PhDone!
I approached my supervisors about submitting a preprint to bioRxiv, ideally before submission to a peer-reviewed journal. My idea was to collect feedback about aspects to clarify or improve. Due to several delays, that ended up not happening. I did however submit my preprint simultaneously to bioRxiv and a journal. I had never submitted a manuscript myself, and by doing both submissions at the same time, I can really acknowledge how straightforward the bioRxiv upload is! (Although I did have some problems with the author names – newbie tip: do not forget the “;” at the end of each special character. “Sónia” was temporarily “Soacutenia”, and although I can now laugh about it, at the time I felt like crying!)
Unfortunately, my manuscript ended up being rejected “immediately” (one week later) by the journal’s editor. I thought I would be heartbroken to see my paper getting rejected, but I wasn’t. Partially because the editor was very supportive, but mostly because the work was already available for everyone to see. I also took this opportunity to try the direct transfer of preprints to journals, which I definitely recommend (one just needs to upload a cover letter, add some missing information and submit).
Uploading my preprint to bioRxiv was one of the best decisions I could have made! Although I didn’t get a lot of direct feedback from other scientists, my Twitter exploded. People saw my paper, liked it, re-tweeted it, and I even got new followers. It also took a weight off my shoulders because, although preprints are not yet recognized by most Portuguese institutions as sufficient for finishing a PhD, the DOI is seen as preliminary evidence that the work is “publishable” 😉 This means, I am now writing my PhD thesis and expect to obtain my degree later this year.
Some final notes: preprints are citable! I recently wrote a review article citing 8 preprints; preprints make your work available to potential employers, reviewers and journal editors, helping you land that next position, and speeding up the review process; and finally, preprints are cool! They represent open and impact-factor-free science!
So, the next time you are wondering if you should preprint your work, ask yourself: why not? (I literally can’t come up with an answer for this question).
During my bachelor’s degree, I studied Biology and got my first experience in scientific research. I then did a Master’s degree in Biotechnology. Currently, I am in my last+1 year of PhD, working on how centrioles assemble during plant spermatogenesis. I believe knowledge is only useful if it can be shared. Therefore, I want to contribute to making science more open and accessible, as well as to a more supportive research environment.