Interview with Scientist – Dr. Ying Zhang

Welcome to this week’s eLife Ambassador interview with scientist series. We had a pleasure talking to Dr. Ying Zhang. Welcome Dr. Zhang and thank you for taking time to talk to us.

Ying

Can you tell us something about yourself

I obtained my bachelor degree in Life Sciences at Nanjing University in China, and then did PhD in Neuroscience at Zhejiang University. After that, I came to MIT for postdoc training.

What’s your area of research?

I’m interested in understanding the molecular mechanisms underlying the regulation of neuronal circuit, and in identifying therapeutic targets for neuropsychiatric disorders including autism and Parkinson’s disease.

What do you think about the current publication trend?

The topic should be eye-catching, the techniques involved need to be cutting-edge,and the statistical methods should be able to extract useful information from raw data. Last but not least, good writing matters.

Is publish or perish a valid statement for young scientists?

From the perspective of career development, especially for most young scientists, the answer is yes. Publication is a practical way for young scientists to communicate with other scientists and also potential employers. The number of publications and the journals where they were published are crucial for job and funding application. However, it is an oversimplified approach to evaluate a young scientist. Thereore, from a scientific perspective, the statement is invalid. Considering that the majority of journals are profit driven, as their primary consideration is popularity among audience, some excellent studies would be rejected just because either the topic is “unpopular” or too “hot”. However, it may contain valuable discovery, hence deserves recognition. 

What do you think of preprintservers? Do you think they are useful?

Preprint servers plays an important role in scientific discourse and dissemination. However, it’s more like a conversation rather than a publication. Nobody would check the authenticity of data in preprint. Actually, the main purpose of preprint server is to help people “getting ahead” of others in this publication race, as they do not have to go through the months-long peer review process. Authors will choose preprint server only when they are not confident in their work or they consider peer review process unfair. Therefore, they rush to publish the preliminary findings, in order to warn others from working on similar topics. In my opinion, the preprints shouldn’t be considered as publication and the concept of “scooping protection” is ridiculous. In fact, the peer review process shouldn’t take long if the work is indeed important and comprehensive.

Furthermore, it seems that every publisher would like to make their own preprint server. However, I believe we only need one server for authors to place their rejected manuscripts , where other scientists could critique the importance of the work. The preprint server should be a level playing field.

Do you think science is communicated well to non-scientists? What are some ways to improve science communication?

Science is not well communicated to non-scientists at this time. Non-scientists find it difficult to read and understand the papers printed in professional journals. Nowadays, there are indeed social medias that translate and report on frontier of scientific research. However, in order to attract readers, they tend to exaggerate or even distort the facts. I think the best way to avoid that is to let the authors themselves explain their findings to the public. Meanwhile, explaining every article to non-scientists is too time-consuming and the general audience is not interested in most of our research. We could choose ten most-viewed articles from each journal yearly, let the authors explain their findings in plain language in front of camera, and to reach the puclic by displaying these videos in journals. I think the key point in communication is to find out what non-scientists are really interested in and scientists should take responsibility for the accuracy and validity of the information.

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?

Young students came to science with great passion. However, passion alone does not guarantee a successful career. Not every PhD candidate or graduate is a great fit for scientific research. Unfortunately,we will only know that after 5 years of PhD training. Actually, PhD training is a process during which people find out whether they actually fit the work.

What are alternative career options for young scientists apart from applying for tenure track positions?

Having a doctoral degree in neuroscience is not a limiting factor in job hunting. We are trained to think rigorously and learn effectively, both of which are vital in any career. What matters is not the degree but what you have learned. Consulting and health care industry are two good options that come to my mind.

Apart from science, what do you enjoy doing the most?

I enjoy learning all kinds of health knowledge. Knowing the health benefit of fruits is as interesting as discovering a phenomenon in science. I always dream of running a small restaurant. We’ll serve food catering to each customer’s health need.

What do you think is a recent scientific inventionwhich has changed the way we do science now?

Both novel ideas and technical innovations are constantly driving the way we do science. For neuroscience research, single cell study is gaining popularity. Accordingly, techniques like GRIN lens and multichannel recording could potentially change the field.

 

 

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