Seventeen undergraduate and graduate students and two post-doctoral fellows at Trent University recently published a paper on the peer-review process in the prestigious journal Biological Reviews. Their paper addresses concerns related to the peer-review system in academic research and provides recommendations on how the process could be modified to improve research quality. This is an important topic of investigation because the peer review system, which is the process used to evaluate research findings prior to their publication, has been subject to considerable criticism during recent years.
The paper arose from a collaborative research effort undertaken by students and fellows working with Dr. Dennis Murray, Canada Research Chair in Integrative Wildlife Conservation and Associate Professor at Trent University. Through weekly exercises, discussions and assignments, the team developed a strategy for assigning tasks to members based on their individual interests and expertise. The roles undertaken by the students included conceptual development, background research, writing, editing and graphics design. Throughout the process, smaller groups worked on components that were eventually assembled into a cohesive manuscript.
“The success of this approach and publication of the paper were made possible by a team environment where critical thinking, innovation and collegiality were strongly fostered,” said Dr. Catarina Ferreira, lead author on the paper. “The project represents a very extensive analysis and synthesis that could only have been accomplished through collaboration and division of labour among team members.”
More broadly, the approach used for this project could be successful in gaining an advantage in students’ future careers. Funding agencies place an increasingly high priority on the quality of training given to students working with university researchers. The expectation is that trainees will be exposed to a variety of experiences that extend beyond traditional roles and will better prepare them for the job market. In this case, the development of a publication not only will give team members a competitive advantage in a research environment governed by the ‘publish or perish’ mentality, but it also has nurtured skills in organization, collaboration, and self-leadership.
“This team project was an experiment of sorts and in my opinion it succeeded beautifully,” stated Professor Murray. “I think that these skills are increasingly sought by prospective employers, and this experience will stay with team members for a long time after they leave Trent.”
Posted on Thursday, April 23, 2015.