Partner Showcase

The Importance of the Editor and the Science, With Sandra Shumway

The editor of the Journal of Shellfish Research, Sandra Shumway, joined Carol to talk about the role of the editor in scholarly publishing and how important it is that members of the academic community participate in the review process. We also discussed how the National Shellfisheries Association’s (NSA) cookbook was created, and why it’s critical important for shellfish advocacy.

All profits from the cookbook benefit the NSA student endowment, and copies may be ordered directly from NSA. The clams with sun-dried tomatoes and Riesling is especially delicious!

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The Importance of the Editor and the Science, With Sandra Shumway


Carol: Thank you so much for your time, and I’m very excited to have you on our third partner showcase. Do you mind introducing yourself and telling us all a little bit about your career and your current role with the National Shellfisheries Research Association?

Sandra: My name is, is Sandra Shumway. I’ve only been Sandra to my mother and irate phone-callers, but, Sandy. And I’m at the University of Connecticut at the Marine Science campus at Avery point. And I’ve been here for about. 22 years now. Before that I did my undergraduate degree at Southampton College, which no longer exists as part of Long Island University, in Marine Science. And I went from there as a Marshall Scholar to the Iniversity of Wales, did my PhD, I worked there in Marine Environmental Physiology, working with invertebrates and lots of mollusks as my test animals.

And that was it. I worked on lots of other things. I worked on crabs and sea squirts and not just mollusks, and that becomes sort of relevant as I move forward. I went from there to a post doc at the University of Otago in New Zealand. And that was just a spectacular opportunity. I was there for almost two years and worked again with a number of different organisms, different taxa, but predominantly with a snail called Amphibola that had unbelievable environmental tolerances and another mollusk.

And from there went to the State University of New York at Stony Brook. And again, it was oysters. That’s what they wanted. That’s what we did. And again – mollusks. So now people were starting to think, “oh, well, yeah. She works on Mollusks. I said, “I work on lots of things, even fish, right?” But – mollusks, mollusks, mollusks. And then I said, that’s fine. Mollusks are wonderful. I still have done a number of other things along the way, and became very interested in toxic algal blooms, harmful algae, how those impact the shellfish. And of course there are human health aspects associated with that, so it branched out.

But my primary interest initially was the physiology of the mollusks and how they were impacted by those toxins because everybody said, “oh, they’re not.” And I said, “oh, but they must be.” These are, these are toxins that are as potent as curare. And I said, “you can’t tell me that they’re doing nothing.”

Now I’m very involved in microplastics and again, with mollusks, and the supposed impacts on mollusks. But my, my interests there have really focused on publishing and the scientific literature and the really, really poor peer review process.

Editors fall back on peer review, “well, we had it peer reviewed.” It’s not peer reviewed by experts. There are just egregious errors in all sorts of things, basic biology, things as fundamental as publishing a paper talking about the inhalant and exhalant siphons of a mussel and how the microplastics are ingested and exhaled. And, mussels don’t have an inhalant siphon.

Carol: Oh, wow.

Sandra: Yeah. It’s that level of egregious errors.

Anyway, I went, from New Zealand, I moved up to the say to state of Maine and was working with the State Department of Marine Resources, and also had the great, good fortune to be next door to the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences.

So that all worked very, very nicely for a little over a decade. And then one night I had a phone call from an old colleague back in Southampton, who just said, “What are you doing for the next several years?” and said that somebody was retiring and would I be interested in teaching?

Carol: What took you from researcher, educator to editor and being so involved with the society? Was it seeing what getting published and wanting to change that?

Sandra: Nothing took me, I became the editor of the journal of shellfish research, 35, 36 years ago. I was fairly new, I’d been working at the state of Maine and had already put in about six or seven years as a postdoc. And that was really because I received my PhD, by American standards, so young. I was only 24. And being abroad. Right?

So I had time. And so I was able to have a lot of extra experiences and was already fairly established when I went to a National Shellfisheries meeting and they were looking for a new editor. And I was asked if I would take that on. And at the time the journal was very small. Very, sort of, localized. And struggling on some fronts. But I thought, “well, that’s an interesting challenge and not something I had thought about doing,” but I said, yes. And the rest is history. We’ve been able to grow the journal over that time period into a fully international effort that comes out on a very regular basis. That was also an ongoing issue in, in the deep, dark, past. It came out every now and then. That’s not what you want in a publication.

And then I decided somewhere along the way that I really liked the publishing/editing aspects of science and realized that a lot of scientists do it, but don’t have that real interest in the publishing, per se; in the process in how to make those processes better – they’re serving their time, if you will. They’re just using the loading templates for the various publishers, they tick off boxes on a webpage. They only care about ticking off those boxes.

So any reviewer is a good reviewer and that is absolutely not true. I mentioned during our other conversation that, plastics research is just a great example, but it certainly is not the only example of really poor science being published and poorly-edited science being published. You look at some of the top journals these days, and they have spelling errors in the titles. The language is very very poor, hasn’t been edited, hasn’t been cleaned up. That’s just not right. So I really try to work at that.

And I was the editor of the Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology with Elsevier for 18 years. And then I founded the Journal Harmful Algae and edited that concurrently for 18 years. and I’m currently still doing the Journal of Shellfish Research and Reviews in Fishery Science and Aquaculture, which is published by Taylor and Francis. And so those keep me fairly busy.

Carol: I can imagine. And I guess that’s my other question is: how do you balance it? Because it is so hard. I mean, I edited a journal within the field of linguistics over in Japan, and the joke within our society was “the only way out was to go up” because they were struggling to find people to do things, struggling to get reviewers who actually knew the content. And so, I would find myself really just project managing – how many can I get through? What can I get done? And then when we would get to the end, we’re looking at it and thinking this, this just isn’t what we want to do.

Sandra: It’s a universal problem. I don’t think it has anything to do with the field. Whatever the field is, they have the same problems, and certainly the biggest part of that, has to be good peer review and peer review is only as good as the individuals that you can engage. If you’re publishing, you should be reviewing.

Every paper that you publish, you should be, at least subconsciously, thinking “I need to review two or three for every one of those papers that I’m publishing, because somebody has had to go and find that number of reviewers for my work.” But it doesn’t work that way. I have a cadre of really good, reliable reviewers. I had a number of people. Well, I guess I shouldn’t say a number, a few very senior retirees who wanted to stay engaged in the field and they were terrific.

They would rewrite papers from China, and India, and the Philippines, and South America and places where English is not the first language and scientists shouldn’t be limited. They just, they shouldn’t, they shouldn’t be limited or penalized because English isn’t their first language. So I try very hard to, you know, help them or get people who will help them. Translation services you in linguistics, you know, this are not all that great all the time.

There is a scientific language and, you know, the language department has fixed some things but, not what we need. That’s a challenge and, and I’m still, you know, happy to help. And I do a lot of translating for colleagues. I travel, I’ve been to China several times and every time I pick up another group of folks, you know, who now have a contact that they can get in touch with me and I will help and read their papers before they submit them for publication.

So that fills whatever other time I have, but I think your original question was about, you know, how does it all fit or – it just fits. You know, I was a hyperactive kid and, as my mothers used to say, you know, they just turn into hyperactive adults. So, it really doesn’t phase me. I don’t expect others to, you know, keep up that same pace, but I do expect them to do their part.

Carol: perhaps make a terrible pun. It’s like an ecosystem. And if you’re involved in academia and publishing you, you can get involved in different ways and do different things.

Sandra: Absolutely. And I also try to engage senior level graduate students with their supervisor. Not on their own, but with their supervisor and you know, it should be a welcome learning experience because it’s not something that graduate students are frequently allowed to participate in. And sometimes it works and others, you know, they just say, no, it’s just easier to do it myself.

So. But I try where I can, because I, I think it’s important to get those students on board early and see the process and see how they can participate and how they should participate.

Carol: Yeah. And, understand the life cycle of publishing, because I think it’s so easy. They, they know they have to get published.They know they have to go through this long process. And then when you start to do peer review and see all the different steps and things that need to be done.

Sandra: And just because things are now done, you know, electronically, it doesn’t change the process and that process still takes time.

Carol: Do you have any kind of advice for new researchers, early career, starting out in the field? You know, what, what would be your suggestion to them if they were looking to establish themselves and, and to be published?

Sandra: I teach seminar course here called Career Development. And in fact, tomorrow I’ll be going to a colleague’s university and giving a lecture on how to publish a paper. And it’s a process and you need to become very familiar with that process for whatever journal you are planning to submit your paper to. And read the instructions to authors, and these sound like such basic things, but they don’t.

The journal that I edit, Reviews in Fishery Science and Aquaculture, is a review journal. We only publish comprehensive in-depth reviews. And I can’t tell you how many papers I get that are very short, even notes that belong in a local journal, dealing with some individual fish species or an aquaculture species. And so they obviously have not looked at the journal to see what the scope of the papers is comprised of and they’ve just wasted their time, my time. I write back I usually try to give them some suggestions, saying that this would be more appropriate for this or this or this. If I have time, I’ll actually skim through it and tell them what they might consider doing before they submit it somewhere else.

But they have to have something to publish, I think is first and foremost, and that’s just being lost. These days, it really is, with this quest for numbers and filling up a resume with little bitty pieces of irrelevant information, things that should be combined, you know, I had somebody who sent me a resume as an example. They said that they were having difficulty getting any response in their request for post doc or getting a position outside of their country. And when I looked at this, I thought, “whoa,” you know, how am I nicely going to tell this kid that this resume is just not going to cut it because they had about 15 papers listed in what I call postage stamp or salami, sliced science, little tiny snippets of things that.

Individually were just irrelevant. They just were – nobody cares. If they had published six of them as one paper and said something substantial, then they would get somebody’s attention and they’re all hung up on numbers, numbers, numbers, and that still doesn’t really cut it. Senior people, people who are making the, you know, the hiring decisions, they know what they look at, that they know exactly what it –. It’s not substantial so, you know, trying to get students to understand that and believe that.

And I worked with this with this student, and tried to, you know, get them on a little bit different path and combine some of those papers. But they told me that their supervisor, their faculty advisor had told them, “oh yeah, you know, you have to have lots of publications.”

And in some countries, scientists get points, you know they get promotions, they get pay raises if they publish a review paper. So currently for Reviews in Fishery Science, I get regularly reviews that are not reviews. It just, I think, falls on deaf ears, but the publishing business now is just being driven by, you know, dollars and speed.

And I think that’s very difficult and that kind of leads in, if I can lead you in a little bit to one of the questions you asked me early on about societies or NSA. Being with BioOne, you know, and why that’s important. And I think that’s why it’s very important and a big, big role that BioOne is playing, in supporting small societies. Very focused societies that otherwise can’t compete in the big world of publishers and money. And it’s allowed us as a society to maintain control of the journal.

I mean, we’ve had several offers over the years and we’ve consistently said, “no, thank you.” And it’s because you lose. You just lose all control. You start just streaming manuscripts in you can’t control individual issues. Uh, in our case, the covers are as striking as I think the science and we wouldn’t be able to even do that. Um, so having bio one come along was a godsend. It really was a godsend.

And that came about as a, I guess an exploratory email, right? Saying, you know, we’re, we’re this new group and this is what we’re doing. And let us explain this to you. And could we call you? And we thought. That’s interesting. We called and we talked and then we met and, and it was just such an interesting proposition. And one of our now deceased members, Susan Ford, was really instrumental, with the publications committee in, you know, pulling all of this together in an understandable manner and selling. To the society. And she became so ensconced with BioOne and its mission that she became a board member.

We’re very thankful for our association with BioOne. It’s not only professionally made it possible for us to remain autonomous, and to maintain our identity. And that’s very important to us. The national shelf history society is one of the oldest professional societies in the world. We’re about to have our 115th annual conference. The other is it’s allowed us financially to maintain the journal. Publishing is becoming more and more expensive.

This has allowed us to keep the journal in house and pay for it. And it also has allowed us to use – because of the royalties that we get from BioOne users, we are now able to offer the journal to our membership free. So that all of their membership fees are used for other aspects of society ­– activities, especially, supporting students and their participation in conferences and other things. So it’s a really great relationship for us.

Carol: It it’s so important for us as well, to be able to help societies, to keep doing what it is that they, they do the best and they do well and then branch out into other things. Support students in the next generations. How do we get more young researchers into peer review as well?

Sandra: I actually, when I’m in my class and when I give lectures –in fact tomorrow when I’m talking to another graduate student group about publishing – I will invite this particular group because they are in a school of fisheries. And tell them that if they have an interest and a willingness to review that they should take the initiative. Write to the editor. And just say, look, I’m new. Here’s my here’s my resume. This is the field that I feel most comfortable talking about. I would be very interested in becoming a peer reviewer or learning how to become a peer reviewer. Shouldn’t be a mystery. It’s an integral part of their future livelihood.

Carol: Each issue, you choose a couple of articles to make open access. What’s, your thought process there?

Sandra: So, choosing the open access articles, I don’t really have a process, I guess would be my, my first, my first assessment.

And as I tell you about it, perhaps I do have a process – each issue, unless we, unless it’s a focused issue, and then it would be difficult to choose sort of thing. And we haven’t had specialized issues in, in a little while now, but a regular issue I just look at all the papers that are there and say to myself, does anything there leap out. For any reason, any reason whatsoever.

For instance, the current issue has a review paper by one of our most senior members, covering basically his life’s work and summarizing photo IDs of larval bivalves. I chose that as one because that’s something that everybody isn’t going to see or choose on their own. I try to look and see if there’s somebody from a developing country that really could use, you know, a little more exposure or a little more of a push, because it really does help them.

If it’s an interesting topic ­– we have one on, on the development of an octopus that has beautiful photographs of every life stage as they’re developing from larvae. Yeah. And I was like, that’s really interesting and fun. Or something people might look at and go, “oh, gee.” From one of the other fields, right from the ichs and herps people, or somebody might go “Oh, that’s, that’s interesting.” So things like that. If there was a student paper, we have an award that we give for the best student paper published, well, it would be a year back because we wait until the end of a calendar year to make sure that everybody’s considered

So if I see, you know, student papers coming along, uh, that I think are really significant or particularly well done, you know, I’ll try to give that a boost but it’s there’s I don’t think I have any real system. I just, I just try to pick, you know, one or two. Sometimes three, that I think might appeal to others and hence, you know, boost downloads and general interest, and enhance our revenue.

Carol: It’s so important. And having the open access articles is giving a little taste and then sparking more interest. And I suppose in many ways, like that’s what the cookbook is about, right?

Sandra: Ah, yes. The cookbook. So that actually came kind of as a joke back in. The first, 1991 or two somewhere in there. I mean, I had no intentions of doing a cookbook, but I did cook a lot and traveled a lot and had all these great collections of recipes. And about a year something down the road, somebody said, well hey, you know, how’s the cookbook coming along.

I was like, what cookbook, you know, so, and that’s really where it came. I said, well, alright, let’s get on with that. And the first edition came out, with a colleague who had just done a smaller effort for a government agency, just making some recipes and things available. And I said, hey, let’s, you know, pull all this together. So we did, and then it sold out and somebody then asked if we were going to redo it. And at that point in time, I found out that the cookbook publisher, you know, those are the, the little one-off offices. A lot of them in Pennsylvania, had gone out of business and took all our files with them.

So it became a brand new effort and that was fine. So I, you know, I revamped it. I more carefully went through it. I actually have tried every one of those recipes to be sure they work and. Are edible. Um, yeah. And then that one sold out and we reprinted. And we’re now about to run out of our third printing.

Oh goodness. So it’s really been kind of a fun effort and all of the proceeds for the sales go to the student endowment fund, uh, to cover whatever students need scholarships and, and travel funds. And. Yeah, it’s been a lot of fun.

Carol: You’re also explaining, you know, the, the nutritional value and, and how important it is for us to kind of eat the whole ecosystem.

Sandra: Yeah. Well, I tell people. One of the things that you asked early on was, you know, shellfish and the environment. And one of the, one of the books that I did is Shellfish Aquaculture and the Environment, and, you know, shellfish are very, very important. Very important members of the Marine environment.

And they provide a number of ecosystem services. They clear the water, they provide structure for other animals and spawning grounds, and, you know, the list goes on. And people don’t realize that shellfish aquaculture also provides a lot of jobs globally to very, very small, what we would call in the United States, “mom and pop” farmers, livelihoods sustenance.

They’re primary consumers. So you don’t have to feed them You don’t have to treat them with drugs and, and, uh, antibiotics or anything like that. People don’t really get that. I’ve done a few editorials and the final message is, you know, shellfish, aquaculture. Good for you. Good for the ecology. Good for the environment. They just serve, it just serves so many, so many purposes, but they are a very, very nutritious source of food.

Carol: Well thank you so much for your time and it’s been a pleasure to chat to you.
Sandra: Oh my pleasure

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