Author perspectives: Jeff Nekola
April 11, 2022 | 5 min read
By Jeff Nekola
"I would advise fellow authors to embrace their artistic side when creating a research paper!"
Author perspectives is a new series of articles in Authors' Update where we interview and showcase the insights of a number of researchers from around the world. We hope that by reading their varied observations of the publishing process, you will be able to learn from their experiences and perhaps perceive new possibilities or directions for your own publishing endeavours. Please continue to share your comments, suggestions and feedback for Authors' Update, and we hope you enjoy reading Jeff's perspectives below.
1. Could you briefly introduce yourself and your research area?
I’m an Associate Professor in ecology at the Department of Botany and Zoology in the Faculty of Science at Masaryk University in the Czech Republic. My work specializes in documenting the mechanisms that trigger biodiversity. Because of the complexity of evolutionary and ecological systems, my research is integrated across multiple groups of populations of organisms.
2. What inspired your career in research?
I was born and came to love the natural world in Iowa, USA, which has perhaps the least remaining natural habitat of anywhere in the Western Hemisphere: less than one percent of its land surface is covered in anything resembling presettlement plant and animal communities. I discovered in my late-teens that the house I grew up in was built on the last known site in the state for the orchid Caolopogon oklahomensis, and have always felt a bit complicit regarding its extinction – even though the decisions which led to it were made long before I was born or my parents bought the house. I thus became motivated to help protect the remaining species in this and all other landscapes.
3. How would you describe a typical working day?
My days differ and depend on the tasks at hand. Some days I’m collecting samples in the field while others I’m indoors processing and analyzing those samples, identifying specimens, updating databases and doing coding projects. Sometimes I’m writing new manuscripts, responding to reviewers' comments or refining previously submitted works. Besides my own research and publication activities, I teach students at my university, prepare courses and advise peers. In whatever time is left I review manuscripts that I have been asked to comment on and to edit from the three journals that I assist with. I never have problems filling the time and try to mix my activities in such a way to keep my mind fresh.
4. What is your main criterion for choosing where to submit your work?
I choose journals to maximize the potential impact of my work. This takes into consideration not only a journal’s aims and scope, but more importantly the papers they have recently published and who is on the editorial board. If I can identify a person who does similar work to mine and is likely to understand my work, I will choose that journal. Of course, journal ranking is also important, since my performance as well as that of my institution is evaluated in large part based on the Impact Factor of the journals in which our work is published.
5. What is the most rewarding aspect of publishing a paper?
It is gratifying to see the concepts and ideas I developed make their way into the body of knowledge and help guide and advance the field. It is one thing to suspect that something I was playing around with in my PhD research could be useful (application of distance decay in similarity to ecological systems), and quite another twenty years later to see that it has become one of the common ways to describe biodiversity.
6. Do you have any particular advice for other authors – something you wish you’d known first time around?
Writing a successful scientific paper is not just about having a compelling question, good experimental design and convincing results. Even though we are scientists who write about replicable, empirical data, we are still free to write in an attractive and thought-provoking way. I would advise fellow authors to embrace their artistic side when creating a research paper! It’s about engaging your readers by helping them understand why the work is important, through telling a clear story in beautiful language, so that your work is remembered.
7. Name one item/tool/resource that you cannot do without?
I would say internet-accessible, searchable bibliographic databases. In my freshman year I was forced to do paper-only searches in Biological Abstracts, and I felt lucky if I was able to track down a single useful paper within an hour or two. Getting an entry into the relevant literature then was so very much luck driven!
8. What is the most important thing that journals could do to help you as an author?
It seems to me that some journals may be sacrificing quality on the altar of rapid turnaround. I would far rather that it takes some more time to receive back thoughtful and well-reasoned comments on my submitted paper. After all, before submitting, I’ve spent years securing funding, doing the research, making sure the data is correctly entered and properly analyzed, and taking the creative energy to turn it into a compelling story.
9. What would you be doing now if you were not working in research?
I have often thought how fun it would be to be the chef-owner of a fusion pizzeria: Why not have Ethiopian wat on a New York thin crust, Thai curry on a Chicago deep dish or Madras curry with keema meatballs in a stuffed pizza? Of course, anyone of Italian heritage would likely loathe me!