Insights into researcher training needs

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Publication is a key part of both a researcher’s career development and the way the impact of a research institution is measured. Unfortunately, researchers aren’t always aware of how to give their research the best chance of being accepted by their chosen journal, or the issues that might lead to delays in the publication process. However, as Springer Nature’s new white paper ‘Research, Publication and Beyond’ shows, many of the most common pitfalls could easily be avoided with the right tools or training. The white paper explores training needs throughout the research lifecycle, and how institutions can help researchers meet their goals. 

The importance of publishing to a researcher’s career development is widely recognised. Independent research undertaken for Springer Nature on researcher priorities in professional development found that 93% considered ‘Scientific writing and publishing’ an extremely or very important skill (n=1,332, March-April 2021). 

What causes a scientific article to be delayed or rejected?

Articles can have multiple reasons for taking longer to be accepted by journals, as displayed by an analysis of the quality control emails and statements from editorial board members of the open access multidisciplinary journal Scientific Reports (Jan-Jun 2020). Each manuscript potentially had multiple rejection classifications, with ‘Not scientifically sound’ was the most commonly stated problem at the editorial review stage and the pre-review stage (a subset of the editorial review stage).

However, a significant proportion of the other problems could be easily dealt with. For example, one of the most common reasons contributing to a paper being rejected at the quality control stage of the submission process was simply that it was ‘Out of scope’ of the journal. This accounted for 30% of the problems identified at that stage of the peer-review process. ‘Language, presentation and structure’ also accounted for 12% of the reasons articles were not accepted at the editorial review stage, and 19% of reasons at the pre-review stage.

How can researchers speed up the process?

Quality peer review will always take time as editors work to ensure that research falls within the scope of the journal, is factual, and is clearly presented. Researchers can help ensure the process is as quick as possible from training and tools to help them plan and write their papers, and help identify and match the needs of their chosen journal. 

If an article is ‘Out of scope’, the researcher is not only likely to require time to reformat the article for the more appropriate journal it is to be submitted to, but may also need to tailor the content to the new journal’s domain. 

When can researchers benefit from training opportunities?

The surveys outlined above highlighted that researchers recognize the need for continued development and training, no matter what stage in their career they are at. However, institutions still need to recognise some of the differences between researchers, and tailor support appropriately. 

For example, it was found that senior researchers were more likely to view ‘Leadership’ as a skill to be developed and were less likely to consider ‘Data management and analytics’ as needing to be required to develop their career. Conversely, mid-career researchers were more likely to consider ‘Writing grant proposals/renewals’ as important. 

What support do researchers expect from their institutions?

While researchers feel encouraged to engage with personal and career development, there can be a disconnect between what is received and what is expected. The same survey which found that 93% considered ‘Scientific writing and publishing’ an extremely or very important skill also found that 79% felt that they would benefit from training in it (n=1,332, March-April 2021). While a survey of researcher professional development needs (n=427, August 2021) found that 82% wanted their institution to provide them with more professional development opportunities.

The responses show us that there is a need for institutions to review the support that they are providing to their researchers, and to determine the extent to which it is meeting their needs in today’s fast changing environment. Once the right support is in place to help researchers succeed, however, a knock-on effect can be expected on an institution’s key performance indicators.

You can read more about researcher’s training needs, and the support that they require, in the free white paper ‘Research, Publication and Beyond: the support researchers are asking for’.