Elephants rarely get cancer: less than 5% of captive elephants die of cancer, compared to 20% of humans. Elephant genomes have at least 20 copies of the tumour suppressor, p53, which may explain their low cancer rates relative to humans, who have only one copy.
What area of science are you working in? I am the chief editor of Nature Reviews Materials – a journal published by Springer Nature. We launched in January 2016 and, as the first journal in the physical sciences within the Nature Reviews family, this was an exciting challenge. As its name suggests, we feature articles covering all topics of materials science — from condensed matter physics to spider silk, and from porous materials to materials for batteries. I have been an editor for the past 13 years and for most of this time I have worked on the editorial team of a primary research journal.
Studying Natural Sciences at Murray Edwards, specialising in Chemistry in the latter years, gave me an excellent broad base that I find very useful even 20 years on.
I also engage with scientists – mostly in academia – and the fact that I spent time doing my own research, during my PhD years at the University of Durham, enables me to have some empathy with the highs and lows of scientific research. What appeals to you about the work that you do? As an editor on a primary research journal, you really feel like you’re at the coal face of research. On a daily basis, you see a range of articles submitted to the journal and in amongst these could be a real gem. This is very exciting, especially because you never know when it’s going to happen. Then, overseeing the peer-review process can be challenging and fascinating.
As an editor, it is your responsibility to select manuscripts for publication – using your own knowledge and with the help of the peer-review process.
By selecting what we publish, we become a venue for scientists to go to if they want to read some of the most impactful research in their areas. I really enjoy being able to improve the written quality of the articles we publish. There is little teaching given to students and young academics on how to write a scientific article and most academics are grateful for the guidance we give them during the editing process. I find this part of the job very satisfying and enjoy helping them communicate their ideas in a clearer way. How does what you do contribute to what we know or what we do? As a Reviews journal, we offer a place for world-leading academics to give their opinions on the fields that they are specialists in. This can pose questions to their community that need to be addressed and on occasions act like a ‘call to action’ for the course of a field to be re-thought. Where do you see the exciting challenges ahead? In science publishing, the challenge is to move with the digital age and ensure that, as the readership moves to a generation more accustomed to social media outlets, that the content is easily reachable in this form. Thinking more widely, the challenges for our community are those associated with funding. For researchers at universities in the UK – particularly Cambridge – the competition is probably higher than it’s ever been and this requires them to acknowledge this and raise their standards. The challenge to the researchers is to choose the right problems to work on, collaborate, and work hard to produce results and to communicate their results to the best of their abilities. Why would you encourage young women today to consider choosing sciences? For me personally, as an editor, I have found a role that enables me to use my science background and work in an environment with engaging colleagues. The role also has an aspect of it which requires you to work by yourself – for example, during the edit of an article and I can work away from the office while I complete these tasks. As a result, I can manage my time to work around my family and I have had 3 children during my time with my current employer. And finally, I have been lucky enough to witness the most prestigious award in science when my father, Fraser Stoddart, won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in October 2016. The trip to Stockholm, meeting Barack Obama at the White House and a subsequent trip to China, have been huge highlights in recent months. During this time, I met many inspiring men and women, who are truly committed to advancing science and enabling breakthroughs to happen and be acknowledged.
The possibilities are endless, if you wish to become a scientist.
Dr Alison Stoddart