Remote PIPS placements with Catriona Walker

Catriona Walker is a third year PhD student at the University of Leeds with Tom Bennett. Her research focuses on the roles of phytohormones in the control of carpic dominance and the end of flowering. Carpic dominance is the process whereby developing seeds exhibit dominance over newer seeds, with results varying from mild (a decrease in fruit size) to severe (total inhibition of fruit development). This process acts as a significant limit on yield, as it occurs in situations even where resources are not limiting. Similarly, the end of flowering signifies the final point at which seed and fruits can develop and as such is also a large limiting factor to yield.

She carried out her PIPs placement remotely, during the first lockdown of 2020, with the plant science journal, New Phytologist.

What did you do on your placement?
I undertook my placement remotely with New Phytologist.  The New Phytologist Foundation is an independent, not-for-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of plant science. It owns and produces the international journals New Phytologist and Plants, People, Planet.  The head office is based in Lancaster, however due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it was agreed that I was able to complete my work from home.
My placement had three key elements;
1.To produce a report on the current publishing trends in plant science journals.
2.To examine and produce blog posts.
3.To produce a report and suggestions on the online webinars and conferences currently available within plant sciences.
Current publishing trends

This project involved examining the publishing trends over the last five years within the top 15 plant science journals (ranked by Impact Factor). I carried out a large amount of research into the number and type of articles published and produced graphs to display these. Where trends appeared to be changing, I carried out analysis to identify the likely causes (e.g. inclusion of a new article type to the journal, increase in the number of reviews published). I ultimately compiled a report highlighting the key trends for each journal, along with additional information including open access options and upcoming special issues.

Blog posts
I spent some time researching how to establish and write blogs, before attempting to write my own blog focusing on webinars and online conferences, and how these are changing due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Following my placement, I have agreed with my lab that setting up a lab blog would be an excellent way of allowing us to practice writing, and enables us to increase our engagement with the plant science community. My first blog post for our lab highlights my top 10 tips for starting a PhD during a global pandemic –
Webinars and online conferences
This was my favourite part of my PIPS experience. As part of my placement, I attended a range of webinars (Plantae Presents, GARNet Presents, BES – Ecology Live) and three virtual conferences (Plant Biology 20, Botany 2020 and ESA 2020). I would never usually have the time to attend such a range of events, or watch so many talks outside of my area of focus, so this was a particularly enjoyable experience. In addition to producing a report focused on the conference and webinar setup, I also had the opportunity to provide suggestions as to how New Phytologist might provide the best online experience for the plant community, especially for early career researchers.
What made you choose this particular placement?
Seeing a talk at the December 2019 BBSRC White Rose symposium highlighted to me that a placement in publishing was an option, which I hadn’t previously considered. I am very confident that I want a career in academia, so I had been struggling with identifying how I would find a placement that would suit me. I decided that publishing is an area I will (hopefully) frequently engage with in an academic career, and understanding the process would be a huge benefit. Prior to starting my placement I didn’t really understand the process, despite having several publications; without being a corresponding author, it is difficult to gain any insight into how a paper goes from submission to publication.
With the challenges of Covid-19 how did you go about finding your PIPS?

The process of finding and planning my PIPS was almost concerningly easy – I was very worried for a while that I’d missed something important. I spoke to my supervisor and pointed out that I wanted to do my PIPS in publishing; I also pointed out that I didn’t really want to travel to London, if I could avoid it. We discussed which journals might be suitable, and he ultimately emailed a contact at New Phytologist. She forwarded the email onto Sarah Lennon who managed me during my placement, and we arranged a Skype call to discuss what a placement might involve, and if we thought I would be a good fit. After that, it was a case of agreeing a project and filling in the relevant paperwork.

Unfortunately, after we had agreed what I would be doing, the Covid-19 pandemic became an issue. I discussed with my DTP coordinator, my supervisor and my PIPS contact, and we all agreed that the nature of my placement meant it would be suitable for me to carry out from home. This did result in a delay of a few weeks from when I was meant to start my placement, however wasn’t an issue in the long term.
What have you gained from your PIPS?
Previously, I had no understanding of how any of the publishing process worked, so it was excellent to be able to use a non-live version of the website so I could practice submitting a paper. I was then taken through the whole process from the journal’s side of things; how decisions to reject without review are made, assigning editors and reviewers, though to acceptance. Understanding the whole process has had some interesting outcomes for me.
Firstly, I no longer have concerns about submitting work in the future, as I have a better understanding of the whole process. Secondly, I have so much more appreciation for how long the whole process is, and how many people are involved. I previously would worry about the amount of time a paper had been with a journal without hearing back from them; I know in future I won’t be worrying about that! Finally (and most surprisingly), I have much more appreciation for the work I have already published. I was already thrilled at having any publications, however realizing just how many stages there are when a manuscript can be rejected has really made me appreciate how much of an achievement each of my papers are.
Any advice for others thinking about their PIPS placements?
Honestly, I really, really didn’t want to do my PIPS originally. I worked in industry before doing my PhD, so I was very confident I didn’t want to go back into that sort of work, and I have a clear career plan that I’m working towards. I went so far as to ask my supervisor if I could get away with not doing my PIPS at all (spoiler: the response was a very annoyed “It’s a requirement of your funding. You’re doing your PIPS.”). Having now actually completed my placement, I’m so glad and grateful for the opportunity.

I would advise just finding something that you think will benefit you. If, like me, you are certain that you want an academic career, work out what areas might help you progress, or what skills might help you develop as a scientist. If you’re looking for an industrial career, find whatever you think will interest you – it’s not often you get the opportunity to try out a totally different career option.

I would also suggest thinking about your PIPS early. I carried mine out between my second and third years, so I now have two full years in which to complete my PhD, and I know they won’t be interrupted by a placement. I didn’t realise before that I was worrying about this, but as soon as I started my placement, I felt so relieved to know that I was on top of things and wasn’t going to have to panic about it last minute.