Science by the Sea 2019

23 September 2019:

By Patrick Capon and Kathryn Palasis

The current academic landscape demands ‘Publish or Perish’, but how do you make sure your publication stands out from the rest? Luckily for us, CNBP has identified this issue and developed a residential masterclass with a dual purpose of giving young researchers the opportunity to workshop a range of different manuscripts while growing team culture.

Twenty-seven CNBP students and ECRs from across Australia met in Adelaide for three days in September to attend the 2nd annual CNBP Publications Masterclass. Our expert advisors were CNBP CI Prof. Andrew Greentree (RMIT University) and Prof. Anita Mahadevan-Jansen (Vanderbilt University) who is visiting the CNBP on sabbatical.

Kathryn Palasis (KP) and Patrick Capon (PC), both PhD students at University of Adelaide, sat down after to have a chat about the masterclass.

CNBP 2019 Publications Masterclass attendees.

PC: So what made you want to attend the Masterclass this year Kathryn?

KP: I had a great time last year and learnt a lot, but this time I wanted to get some personal feedback about my own writing. Also it’s always fun catching up with everyone from the other nodes and hanging out together!

What about you?

PC: I went last year and was keen to see how my writing had improved in 12 months. I was also really looking forward to learning about writing cover letters and review responses. Every opportunity to get better at communicating science is a good one!

What did you enjoy about the first day?

KP: I loved the exercise where we wrote a Nature-style abstract for another student’s work. It was definitely challenging, but in some ways the words flew easier than writing about my own research!

How did you feel about reviewing CNBP Director Prof Mark Hutchinson’s latest paper?

PC: It was a good way to normalise the peer review process. And it’s nice to know that even the Top Dog can take feedback onboard to improve his writing!

KP: Agreed! We had a bit of homework to do that night, especially you guys in #TeamAnita

PC: Yeah but at least we could do it over a glass of wine after dinner!

KP: Very true. We did establish a bit of friendly competition with #TeamAndy vs #TeamAnita.

Dinners were held under the rotunda and were a great chance to debrief after the day’s work.

How did your group find day 2?

PC: I think we all enjoyed how Anita gave everyone a chance to chair the discussion of someone else’s manuscript, but she would always chime in with her expertise when applicable. I picked up a couple of top tips, like hand-drawing your figures in early drafts to help plan experiments and also to keep sentences short to help improve readability.

KP: You also sent me a few photos from the beach! It looked like fun.

PC: Yep, after we finished for the day we had a debrief on the beach and then spent time unwinding over random rock stacking competitions.

You mentioned that #TeamAndy got a little lost and almost missed the sunset entirely…?

KP: Oops! It wasn’t even far from the caravan park so I’m not sure how that happened! We did still get a cute group selfie though.

#TeamAndy eventually made it to the beach!

PC: We had a good discussion on writing cover letters on day 3. I found an old cover letter from a paper I was involved in and had a crack at rewriting it using Anita’s advice. I think it’s a lot better now and would have been accepted at the first submission attempt!

What did you guys get up to?

KP: We spent some time going over how to respond to reviewer’s comments which was really useful. Andy showed us a response he had written about the comments on a previous paper.It’s fair to say he strongly disagreed with the reviewer! Personally I loved it but I’m not sure a PhD student like myself could get away with that level of sass!

PC: That’s awesome.

#TeamAnita after a successful debrief.

What was your overall takeaway from the Masterclass?

KP: Probably just to make sure the paper has a clear vision throughout and to stick to it. Also we reiterated the idea that writing anything down on the page, even if it’s not perfect, is always the best place to start. I’ve got lots of ideas now that I’m keen to put into practise when it eventually comes time to write my next manuscript.

PC: Agreed. I think it’s safe to say everyone should watch out for some high impact CNBP publications in the next 6-12 months!

Some unexpected team building occurred on the beach with ‘CNBP pillars’ being constructed.

On behalf of everyone who attended, we would like to say a huge thank you to Andy and Anita for giving up their time to run this workshop, and for giving us individualised feedback plus plenty of general tips and tricks to improve our writing. We would also like to thank Kathy for organising the event and thank Mel and Kathleen for helping as well.

Everyone had a great time and we can’t wait to do it all again next year!

Patrick Capon and Kathryn Palasis, authors of the story