Interview with Scientist

Welcome to the eLife Interview with scientist series. As an eLife ambassador, Dr. Chinmaya Sadangi has started a new initiative. The purpose of the interview series is to gather the thought from scientists about the current situation in science and what can we do to improve situations like publication and reproducibility.


We were very fortunate to talk to Dr. Dheeraj Roy who is currently working at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), about publications, pre-prints, and alternative career paths for scientists. He has been awarded with the title of the 30 top thinkers under 30.

Dr. Roy is a McGovern Fellow at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, as well as the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research. His research is focused on dissecting the role of thalamocortical neural circuits in health and disease using mouse models. Dr. Roy received his PhD from MIT, was born and raised in Dubai (UAE), and is of Indian descent.

Thank you Dr. Roy for talking to us. Let’s start the conversation by telling us something about yourself.

I am a McGovern Fellow at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, specifically part of the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research. I am currently working on dissecting the role of individual thalamocortical circuits in health and disease using mouse models. For my PhD training, I worked in the lab of Prof. Susumu Tonegawa at MIT, where I studied neural circuits that support learning and memory.

What’s your area of research?
I am currently working on dissecting the role of individual thalamocortical circuits in health and disease using mouse models.

What do you think about the current publication trend?
I believe that given the significant increase in researchers in each neuroscience field, it has become harder to publish findings in top-tier journals. Importantly, we are all aware that top-tier journal publications indeed help a researcher’s long-term career. A major downside of this current trend is that students and post-doctoral researchers require, in most cases, over 4-5 years in order to have any chance of publishing their scientific discoveries, which in turn delays their career progress.

Is publish or perish a valid statement for young scientists?
Not at all. The publication process, in addition to novel scientific findings, requires a significant amount of luck both in terms of the reviewers that we receive as well as the timing of other related research publications by other groups. Therefore, while all young scientists should aim for the top, we should keep in mind that the primary goal is not a top journal but rather a fantastic scientific discovery that will enhance our understanding of a specific research field.

What do you think of preprint servers? Do you think they are useful?
I believe it will be interesting to see how preprint servers impact our research community in the long-term. Of course, at the moment it does seem like it is catching on and so several researchers are open to reporting their research online prior to journal acceptance/publication. This is a great sign overall!

Do you think science is communicated well to non-scientists? What are some ways to improve science communication?
Overall, I feel like university-hired science reporters are becoming much better at reporting scientific discoveries to the public, at least relative to a decade ago. The best way is to make sure that all science communication realizes that the goal is to spread accurate scientific conclusions in an easy-to-understand format.

As we know, there are more PhD’s graduating every year as compared to available tenure track positions. Do you think there is way to improve this?
With the global population increasing, I cannot think of a reasonable approach to decrease this issue. We must remember that tenure-track positions are a major commitment from the university’s standpoint, and it is unreasonable to expect that the number of open positions can ever match PhD graduates. On the other hand, what’s more likely to help is that academics become more open to non-traditional research positions, including in companies as well as independent institutes.

What are alternative career options for young scientists apart from applying for tenure track positions?
For me, this would include applying to industry positions that have become more similar (at least in certain companies) to academic style basic research as well as applying to private/independent research institutes.

Apart from science, what do you enjoy doing the most?
Traveling, visiting national parks, and photography. Most importantly, I get to do these activities with my family and friends, which is awesome!

What do you think is a recent scientific invention, which has changed the way we do science now?
Obvious ones include neural circuit approaches (e.g., optogenetics, chemogenetics, tracers) as well as genome editing in adult mammalian animal models (e.g., TALENs, CRISPR).

Thank you Dr. Roy, for such a great interview. We look forward to hearing about your research and we wish you all the best. You can follow Dr. Roy’s research update at @dheerajroy7.

Dheeraj Roy

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