Tag Archives: publications

Answering to reviewers

How to answer to reviewers' points, suggestions, comments, rants etc. is something I consider every time I have to answer to reviewers, points, suggestions, comments, and especially rants. The Italian school, as far as I know, is on the very polite side of the fence. You start by writing:

We thank the Editor, Associate Editor, reviewers for the very interesting points, comments and suggestions (not rants) that will surely improve the new version of the manuscript. We are grateful for the possibility of resubmitting the paper (actually we would have preferred a major revision, but apparently the way of the Tao in the last 5 years is rejecting everything and then with some benevolence allowing a resubmission, which is not a guarantee of future consideration and absolutely not of future publication, since as stated in the bottom of the mail coming from the Editor, just before the signature, only 10 to 20% of the submitted manuscripts are getting published in this very selective journal because even in 2013 there is competition for space) and we answered in detail to each and every question, comment, suggestion, point raised by Editor, Associate Editor and reviewers. Thanks a lot again".

Then, in the actual "Response to Reviewers" you start the answers to reviewers' points (90% of the time), with "We perfectly agree with the reviewers" or "We understand reviewer's concern". Which, by the way, is true most of the time. When it is not true you write it anyway because looking for battles when they allowed you out of benevolence to submit a greatly revised version of the manuscript (because the previous one was totally unacceptable and also the Editor agreed with the reviewers) is not the way forward.

Now, how do I like authors to answer to my points when I am reviewing their papers? Do I care about how they answer (dear reviewer, thanks for your brilliant consideration) or only to what they answer (i.e. content)? Well, I'd say that I am much more interested in what they answer with respect to how they answer if how they answer is acceptable. I am very elastic and so far I never had any concerns. I am much more interested in science than in formalism. So, why am I paying more attention than other scientists (given my experience) on how I answer? Does it make a difference? It should not, but.

What it takes to win an ERC starting research grant

According to the ERC (European Research Council) webpage, ERC Starting and Consolidator Grants (from now on just ERC grants) “aim to support up-and-coming research leaders who are about to establish a proper research team and to start conducting independent research in Europe”. In brief, candidates for ERC grants are researchers of any nationality with 2-7 (Starting) and 7-14 (Consolidator) years of experience since completion of PhD. A project must be submitted. Research must be conducted in a public or private research organization located in one of the EU Member State or Associated Countries. The funding is up to € 1.5 (Starting) to 2 (Consolidator) million, and the duration is up to 5 years. The sole criterion for assigning a ERC grants is excellence, considering both publication record and the proposed project. According to official stats, the overall success rate for ERC grants in 2013 was 9%.

Up to 2011, the most successful institutions (combining starting and consolidator grants) were CNRS (France), University of Cambridge (UK), University of Oxford (UK), Max Planck Society (Germany), EPFL (Lusanne, Switzerland), Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Israel), ETH (Zurich, Switzerland), Imperial College (London, UK), University College London (UK), Weizmann Institute (Israel).

For Marie Curie Fellowships  (data is for year 2012), success rate was 19.19% for Intra-European Fellowships, and 20.09% for International Outgoing Fellowships (I have one of those). So, there is a substantial drop in success rate (as expected) going from MC Fellowships to ERC grants .

There are 3 domains for ERC grants: Life Sciences, Physical Sciences & Engineering, and Social Sciences & Humanities.

The Life Sciences domain is divided in 9 more specific categories:

  • LS1 Molecular & Structural Biology & Biochemistry
  • LS2 Genetics, Genomics, Bioinformatics & System Biology
  • LS3 Cellular and Developmental Biology
  • LS4 Physiology, Pathophysiology & Endocrinology
  • LS5 Neurosciences & Neural Disorders
  • LS6 Immunity & Infection
  • LS7 Diagnostic Tools, Therapies & Public Health
  • LS8 Evolutionary, Population & Environmental Biology
  • LS9 Applied Life Sciences & Non-Medical Biotechnology

I will focus on sub-domain LS8 Evolutionary, Population & Environmental Biology since it is the one closer to my research interests and activities.

For the 2013 round, there were 9 winning researchers of ERC Starting grants (I could not find info for the Consolidator grants, it might be they are not out yet) whose projects fell into the LS8 subdomain, 4 are women and 5 are men. I was able to check CV/publications of all of them.

In particular, I checked where they published their first-author publications (nobody knows the contribution of the third author in a 7-author publication in Science. Did she/he provided some kind of feedback? Contributed to the idea? Helped with analysis, programming, statistics etc.? Provided moral support? Who knows). I just recorded the best journals in which they published as first-authors. "Best journals" was defined just in terms of reputation/historical ranking of the journal, without any formal threshold. I won’t name names (all bullets below are anonymous), but you can google yourself if you are so inclined. Here we go, each bullet point is for a single researcher:

  • Journal of Theoretical Biology,  PNAS (multiple times), Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society  B, Genetics.
  • Trends in Genetics, Molecular Ecology (multiple times), BMC Evolutionary Ecology, Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
  • Science, Functional Ecology, American Naturalist, PNAS, Conservation Biology.
  • Proceedings of the Royal Society B (multiple times), Evolution (multiple times), PNAS, Journal of Evolutionary Biology.
  • PNAS, Nature Geoscience, Science, Geology.
  • PNAS, Science, Molecular Biology and Evolution, Trends in Genetics.
  • Nature, Science, Ecological Applications, American Naturalists, Ecology, Journal of Animal Ecology.
  • Science, PNAS, Ecology Letters, Functional Ecology, Annual Review in Ecology and Systematics, Nature.
  • Science, Trends in Ecology and Evolution, Proceedings of the Royal Society B (multiple times), American Naturalist, Molecular Ecology, Evolution.

So, 8 out 9 winners published in a top multidisciplinary journal (Science, Nature, PNAS), some of them multiple times, some of them also as coauthors (it is possible that the researcher who did not come up with a publication in Science, Nature, PNAS actually published there, but I did not get it). All of them published in top journals either in the "Ecology" or "Evolutionary Biology" category (some of them in both).

All of them are specialized researchers, they work on one (or some very closely related) problem(s) (with exceptional results, see above), but without much diversification (no formal threshold also in this case, I just read the publication titles/research interests).

It seems that publishing in a top multidisciplinary journal is a (almost) necessary (although likely not sufficient, other researcher may have published in top multidisciplinary journals, but did not win) condition to win an ERC grant, isn’t it?

Something to keep in mind in the case you want to apply for an ERC grant (clearly stated also here "[...] including significant publications (as main author) in major international peer-reviewed multidisciplinary scientific journals, or in the leading international peer-reviewed journals of their respective field").