The announcements last week of the award of the 2018 Nobel prizes in Physiology or Medicine to James P. Allison and Tasuku Honjo “for their discovery of cancer therapy by inhibition of negative immune regulation”; and in Chemistry, ……one half to Frances H. Arnold “for the directed evolution of enzymes”, the other half jointly to George P. Smith and Sir Gregory P. Winter “for the phage display of peptides and antibodies”, is rightly a time for celebration of the key role these individuals played in undertaking research that has led to huge impact. For example, as highlighted by Tim Elliot, the director of our Centre for Cancer Immunology, the work of Allison and Honjo has directly lead to the development of new therapies for cancer (one of which the University of Southampton helped to bring to the clinic).
The work of Frances Arnold on directing the evolution of enzymes by introducing random genetic mutations has become a widely-used strategy in the chemical and pharmaceutical industries. Directed evolution of enzymes tailors them to operate in new reaction conditions, optimises their catalytic activity towards new substrates, and makes them catalyse new chemical reactions. This has led to development of biocatalysts as efficient and environmentally-friendly alternatives to metals and organic catalysts in industry. George Smith and Sir Gregory Winter were honoured for their development of phage-display technology of peptides and antibodies that has led directly to the development of monoclonal therapeutic antibodies to treat a wide range of medical conditions.
However, while we quite rightly celebrate the achievements of these individual scientists, we must also recognise that increasingly, progress in science is dependent on teams of individuals with complementary skills and expertise. As highlighted in a report by the Academy of Medical Sciences in 2016 (1), although ‘team science’ is becoming increasingly common across all fields of research, current recognition frameworks do not always adequately capture or celebrate the ‘individuals’ contribution to team science projects.
More and more, high quality, impactful research is the result of the bringing together of different skills and perspective to solve problems. At the same time, this raises questions on how to credit the vital contributions of members of the team to research outputs, or even the contributions of individuals outside of the research team. For example, in my own research field of genomics, projects often incorporate data that no one on the immediate team collected but that has been made available through databases such as GEO or ArrayExpress. This data is often key to the development of novel analytical methodologies, or enhancing the interpretation of observations made by a research team.
Recently Gretchen Kiser argues in Nature (2) that “If we really want transdisciplinary research, we must ditch the ordered listing of authors that stalls collaborative science”. In some fields, such as high energy physics where it is common for teams of 100s or even 1000s of individuals to contribute to a project and be listed as authors on manuscripts, the convention is to list authors alphabetically, though this does nothing to aid understanding of the relative contributions of each author. Many journals now are adopting structured author contribution taxonomies and/or narratives that are published alongside the paper detailing the contribution of each author to different aspects of the research. One such example is the CRediT Contributor Role Taxonomy system that grew out of a workshop held in 2012 by the Wellcome Trust and Harvard University, and that has been adopted by an increasing number of publishers such as Cell Press, F1000, and Oxford University Press.
For early career researchers in particular, proper attribution of their contribution to projects is important for career development and to ensure that they are recognised and rewarded for contributions to team science. There are a number of ways in which this can be achieved, and these are helpfully outlined in a blog by Dr Amy Slater, Careers Policy Officer at the Academy of Medical Sciences, on “Top tips for gaining recognition on team science projects”(3) – well worth a read.
One useful suggestion is for all researchers to register and obtain an Open Researcher and Contributor ID (ORCiD). ORCiD is a non-profit organisation established to enable transparent and trustworthy connections between researchers, their contributions, and affiliations (https://orcid.org/). An ORCiD ID is a unique identifier that can distinguish any researcher from others with the same name. Use of ORCiDs is increasingly being mandated by journals, funding bodies such as the Wellcome Trust, pre-print servers such as BioRxiv, and by databases such as PANGAEA a data publisher for earth and environmental science, allowing authors to claim credit for datasets they have made publically available and making unpublished, yet creditable, work more visible. For example my ORCiD profile can be found here: orcid.org/0000-0001-9998-0464. ORCiDs are now also increasingly being used as common logins across publishers’ submission platforms – very helpful if you are like me, and seem to always have to reset the password when trying to submit a new manuscript or access a manuscript you have agreed to review because you can’t seem to remember precisely how you registered with each journal!
Registering for an ORCiD ID couldn’t be easier, either directly with ORCiD, or for those of us in the University of Southampton you can register for an ORCiD identifier, or to connect your existing ORCiD identifier with the University, by using Pure. This not only makes obtaining an ORCiD ID easy, it has the added benefit of making sure that the publications you upload into PURE not only populate your profile on the University website, but also populate your ORCiD profile. See the library’s helpful webpage for more details. You could even add your ORCiD identifier to your email signature.
Now it is time for me to turn my attention once again to team science and prepare for my lab meeting tomorrow, where I will hear the fantastic work being done by my team while I sit in meetings for much of the week. Who knows, perhaps even the early work of a Nobel prize winner of the future….
Professor John Holloway
Associate Dean (Research)
- The Academy of Medical Sciences. Improving recognition of team science contributions in biomedical research careers. 2016.
- Kiser GL. No more first authors, no more last authors If we really want transdisciplinary research, we must ditch the ordered listing of authors that stalls collaborative science, says. Nature. 2018;561(7724):435-.
- Slater A. Top tips for gaining recognition on team science projects [Internet]2018. Available from: https://acmedsci.ac.uk/more/news/top-tips-for-gaining-recognition-on-team-science-projects.