The commonality of being a researcher

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Jessica Jones

A year after the launch of the Cambridge Prisms series, Publisher Jessica Jones reflects on the journals’ shared values of community, collaboration and equity

When we initially discussed the concept of the Cambridge Prisms, and what we hoped they would achieve, we fell into the trap of trying to compare different groups of researchers with diverse expertise and focuses. We talked in depth about the differences between researchers and their motivation for publishing. In retrospect this was a mistake – in all honesty it was completely against the ethos of unification that we were trying to achieve.

In summer 2023 we held a meeting with the Editors-in-Chief of the first six journals launched in the series. They led a discussion on changing our motivation for publishing – from what differentiates groups of researchers to what similarities there are, and ultimately what unites researchers and academic publishers. We discussed the experiences of being a researcher, of working with government, career progression, authorship positions, and why one might want to become a researcher in the first place.

In short, our focus shifted away from the content itself – to the commonality of being a researcher.

A question of perspectives

On the Cambridge Prisms series, the approach is always conducted as a community. We discuss topics, questions, concerns, and successes – and how to attract the most diverse authorship and bring new, impactful content to the journal in question.

We run break-out workshops, online webinars, panel discussions, interviews with industry – any approach we can possibly follow to enhance connections and collaborations with the authors who publish with us. This approach also ensures that the focus remains on delivering a journal that the community wants; it publishes the most relevant content, rather than purely promoting the concept of interdisciplinary research.

On invited articles we work closely with our authors if they need additional advice on how to address different perspectives, debates, or global relevance to their articles. We also prioritise discussions around the co-production of research and inclusion of local communities when topics with a regional or cultural focus are being planned.

We have essentially built a series of journals around a core concept of equity and diversity where content must provide a solution that can be taken into practice – we are proud of the results of our efforts and I think they are a testament to the power of what can be done by taking time to understand our researchers’ priorities, and what unites them as a single community.

Impact and progress

In the space of one year, we have published more than 230 papers, with some 3,000 authors having chosen to submit an article to Cambridge Prisms. At least 85 countries are represented in this authorship – with, on average, 30% having a primary affiliation in a low-middle income country.

Our authors have come to recognise the flexibility we offer them in terms of the content that they can report and discuss. We have been proud to publish some key examples alongside fundamental research including a perspective on female researchers in coastal engineering research, and asking disruptive questions that affect industry, such as “Should we turn sewage modelling on its head?”.

Author experience is a priority for the Cambridge Prisms. The content we publish on their behalf makes a real-world impact through its contribution to the research community. There is a vast amount of content already published across the various topics that the Prisms journals cover, and we must continue to find ways to amplify the voices of our authors over this noise to ensure that papers receive the attention the authors deserve. 

As an example, our podcast in collaboration with the Naked Scientists is a real highlight. Dr Chris Smith of the Naked Scientists is well respected and has a true gift of highlighting the priorities of our authors. Academic papers are generally written impersonally and in a style that strips out individuality; our podcast restores the importance of the researcher behind the words and conveys their passion for their work. It is very humbling and something I am very proud to be a part of.

A perfect match

I am convinced that there could have been no better fit for the Prisms series than Cambridge University Press. Our commitment to prioritise equity, diversity, inclusion and belonging parallels the core concept of Cambridge Prisms, valuing the researcher as an individual as much as the content that they publish. The Press prioritises quality over quantity, and we support our authors through the transition to Open Access like no other publisher can.

Our long-term aim is for the authors of Cambridge Prisms to achieve real-world impact through the output of their research and seeing consequent solutions put into practice. Once we see this impact and contribution to accelerating real-world solutions across different research fields, we will know that Prisms has achieved all that we are hoping for.