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Neuroscience behind that perfect cup of morning coffee

Yi-Ting Wang (Tina) is a prospective neuroscientist at the starting point of her scientific career. She uses her little grey cellstrying to solve some of the 21st centurys most fascinating problems in Imperial College London. Like the entomologist in search of colourful butterflies, my attention has chased in the gardens of the grey matter cells with delicate and elegant shapes, the mysterious butterflies of the soul, whose beating of wings may one day reveal to us the secrets of the mind.’  -Santiago Ramon y Cajal

If you are an avid coffee drinker like me, the best way to kick a day off is brewing that one tasty cup of sweet-smelling morning coffee, or grab one at your favourite coffee shop on the way to the workplace. During the day, you probably need some more cups of coffee to keep you going. The active ingredient in coffee is caffeine, the most widely used psychoactive drug in the world. How does the whole process actually work, and how does caffeine affect our brain? Lets reveal the secret of this magical brain fuel from a neuroscientific perspective.

How does caffeine act on our brain?

It’s normal to grow tired as the day progresses because our brains naturally secrete a molecule called adenosine. Briefly, adenosine influences attention, alertness, and sleep. Adenosine builds up in our brain and when it reaches a certain level, our body knows its bedtime. In simple words, caffeine hijacks this system by competing with adenosine for the receptors. By blocking the action of adenosine, we end up feeling more alert and awake (Ribeiro and Sebastião, 2010). It is worth noticing that considerable amount of research reported that coffee can improve cognitive performance and decrease the risk for neurodegenerative disease such as Parkinsons disease (PD) and Alzheimers disease (AD).

Coffee every day, keep doctors away?

Three different epidemiological studies performed in Spain (Jimenez-Jimenez et al., 1992), Germany (Hellenbrand et al., 1996) and Sweden (Fall et al., 1999) reported an inverse, dose-responsive relationship between coffee consumption and the risk of developing PD. Two meta-analyses also showed that the risk of developing PD decreased by 31% (Hernan et al., 2002) and 25% (Costa et al., 2010) respectively in coffee drinkers compared to non-coffee drinkers. However, a more recent case control study suggested only a weak inverse association between coffee intake and the risk of PD (van der Mark et al., 2014). Though the debate is still going on, experimental studies have identified a possible mechanism behind caffeines potential preventative role in the development of PD.

Classically the primary pathology of PD involves the degeneration of dopaminergic neurons that originate in the substantia nigra and project to the striatum. Striatum is a principal component of the basal ganglia. Common PD symptoms such as slow movement, tremors, and rigidity are resulted from the cell death in basal ganglia and their connecting pathways. Low dose of caffeine was shown to mainly antagonise adenosine A2A receptors. The blockade of A2A receptors stimulates dopaminergic D2 receptors and as a result increases motor activity and improves motor deficits in PD models (Fenu and Morelli, 1998), (Kuwana et al., 1999).

A wealth of studies suggested that regular and moderate coffee intake over a lifetime reduces the risk of developing AD. A study published in 2012 gathered preclinical and clinical evidence and found a protective role of caffeine against AD. Results showed that caffeine can reduce risk, or delay onset of dementia. The effect was particularly evident in mild cognitive impairment patients (Cao et al., 2012). Among the most prominent studies, a case-control study showed that caffeine consumption was inversely associated with AD development (Maia and de Mendonça, 2002). In CAIDE study, 1409 elderly were analysed after a 21 yearsfollow-up. Coffee consumption in midlife was shown to decrease the risk of AD and dementia, with the lowest risk (65% decrease) found in people who drank 35 cups/day (Eskelinen et al., 2009). Animal studies helped us identify the possible mechanisms behind coffees effects on AD risk. Dr. Gary Arendash and colleagues found that caffeine improved learning and memory ability of transgenic mice and reduced the concentration of β-amyloid and presenilin in the hippocampus, the main brain structure involved in memory (Arendash et al., 2006). Caffeine also showed to reduce inflammatory mediators, which is another possible explanation of why it could ameliorate AD progression (Arendash et al., 2009; Cao et al., 2009).

How much coffee can we drink?

We have discussed some effects of caffeine on the brain based on different research findings. However, so far most of the evidence for both benefits and adverse effects of caffeine were derived mainly from observational studies, which means we couldnt draw any conclusion of caffeines causal effect on brain function. This awaits further randomised-controlled studies to confirm. Over the last decade, health authorities around the world have concluded that coffee/caffeine consumption is not harmful at levels of 300-500 mg daily (around 3-5 cups of coffee) (Nehlig, 2016). Back to the question, how much can we drink? Just remember moderation is the key, and be a happy coffee drinker!



Arendash GW, Mori T, Cao C, Mamcarz M, Runfeldt M, Dickson A, Rezai-Zadeh K, Tane J, Citron BA, Lin X, Echeverria V, Potter H (2009) Caffeine reverses cognitive impairment and decreases brain amyloid-β levels in aged Alzheimers disease mice. Journal of Alzheimers Disease 17(3):661-80.

Arendash GW, Schleif W, Rezai-Zadeh K, Jackson EK, Zacharia LC, Cracchiolo JR, Shippy D, Tan J (2006) Caffeine protects Alzheimers mice against cognitive impairment and reduces brain β-amyloid production. Neuroscience 142(4):941-52.

Cao C, Cirrito JR, Lin X, Wang L, Verges DK, Dickson A, Mamcarz M, Zhang C, Mori T, Arendash GW, Holtzman DM, Potter H (2009) Caffeine suppresses amyloid-β levels in plasma and brain of Alzheimers disease transgenic mice. Journal of Alzheimers Disease 17(3):681-97.

Cao C, Loewenstein DA, Lin X, Zhang C, Wang L, Duara R, Wu Y, Giannini A, Bai G, Cai J, Greig M, Schofield E, Ashok R, Small B, Potter H, Arendash GW (2012) High blood caffeine levels in MCI linked to lack of progression to dementia. Journal of Alzheimers Disease 30(3):559-72.

Costa J, Lunet N, Santos C, Santos J, Vaz-Carneiro A (2010) Caffeine exposure and the risk of Parkinsons disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies. Journal of Alzheimers Disease 20 Suppl 1:S221-38.

Eskelinen MH, Ngandu T, Tuomilehto J, Soininen H, Kivipelto M (2009) Midlife coffee and tea drinking and the risk of late-life dementia: a population-based CAIDE study. Journal of Alzheimers Disease 16(1):85-91.

Fall PA, Fredrikson M, Axelson O, Granérus AK (1999) Nutritional and occupational factors influencing the risk of Parkinsons disease: a case-control study in southeastern Sweden. Movement Disorders 14(1):28-37.

Fenu S. and Morelli M (1998) Motor stimulant effects of caffeine in 6-hydroxydopamine-lesioned rats are dependent on previous stimulation of dopamine receptors: a different role of D1 and D2 receptors. The European Journal of Neuroscience 10(5):1878-84.

Hellenbrand W, Seidler A, Boeing H, Robra BP, Vieregge P, Nischan P, Joerg J, Oertel WH, Schneider E, Ulm G (1996) Diet and Parkinsons disease. I: A possible role for the past intake of specific foods. Results from a self-administered food-frequency questionnaire in a case-control study. Neurology 47(3):636-43.

Hernán MA, Takkouche B, Caamaño-Isorna F, Gestal-Otero JJ (2002) A meta-analysis of coffee drinking, cigarette smoking, and the risk of Parkinsons disease. Annals of Neurology 52(3):276-84.

Jimenez-Jimenez FJ, Mateo D, Giménez-Roldan S (1992) Premorbid smoking, alcohol consumption, and coffee drinking habits in Parkinsons disease: a case-control study. Movement Disorders 7(4):339-44.

Kuwana Y, Shiozaki S, Kanda T, Kurokawa M, Koga K, Ochi M, Ikeda K, Kase H, Jackson MJ, Smith LA, Pearce RK, Jenner PG (1999) Antiparkinsonian activity of adenosine A2A antagonists in experimental models. Advances in Neurology, 80:121-3.

Maia L and de Mendonça A (2002) Does caffeine intake protect from Alzheimers disease? European Journal of Neurology 9(4):377-82.

Nehlig A (2016) Effects of coffee/caffeine on brain health and disease: What should I tell my patients? Practical Neurology 16(2):89-95.

Ribeiro JA and Sebastião AM (2010) Caffeine and adenosine. Journal of Alzheimers Disease 20 Suppl 1:S3-15.

van der Mark M, Nijssen PC, Vlaanderen J, Huss A, Mulleners WM, Sas AM, van Laar T, Kromhout H, Vermeulen R (2014) A Case-Control Study of the Protective Effect of Alcohol, Coffee, and Cigarette Consumption on Parkinson Disease Risk: Time-Since-Cessation Modifies the Effect of Tobacco Smoking. PLoS One 9(4):e95297.

Advanced reading

Fredholm BB, Bättig K, Holmén J, Nehlig A, Zvartau EE (1999) Actions of caffeine in the brain with special reference to factors that contribute to its widespread use. Pharmacological Reviews 51(1):83-133.

Bridging the gap between neuroscience and spirituality: some notes on religion and mental health

Shivani graduated from the University of Hertfordshire in BSc (Hons) Biomedical Science and is currently studying MSc in Translational Neuroscience at Imperial College London

A hallmark of human life, religion is a crucial component of all cultures, although its biological basis has been fiercely debated (Bulbulia, 2004; Kapogiannis et al., 2014; Kapogiannis et al., 2009). The Oxford English Dictionary defines religion as the action of believing in, abiding by and revering to God or a superhuman power (Murray et al., 1961; Ashbrook et al., 1997). It involves social beliefs and traditions associated with ritual and ceremony (Simon et al., 2010; Ashbrook et al., 1997). Belonging to a religion provides support through various means which includes, though not limited to, creating peace, purpose, self-confidence, increasing acceptance and resilience, as well as a positive self-image (Moreira-Almeida et al., 2006). Furthermore, it comprises of a sequence of guidelines to enable better control and management over stress and strain (Behere et al., 2013). Studies have also demonstrated that certain aspects of religion relate to specific networks in the brain, which suggests that religious beliefs are embedded within neural networks (Kapogiannis et al, 2009).

Reports indicate synergism between religiousness and mental health and well-being. This means that there is a relationship between them. For example, review of the empirical literature found a correlation between religious commitment and mental issues (Gartner et al., 1991). The rate of suicide was indeed negatively correlated to the degree of religiosity, where church attendance contributed to an increased suicide prevention (Myers and Diener, 1995). Faith in widowed women provided a greater sense of joy, mothers of disabled children were less susceptible to depression, and people remain satisfied and content during serious illness, bereavement, unemployment or divorce (Myers and Diener, 1995). Maintaining firm faith in ones’ religion has been associated with higher self-esteem (Myers and Diener, 1995). Religion also appears to be one important way of having a sense of well-being. Well-being can be linked to several variables such as meaning, life satisfaction and purpose (Behere et al., 2013). Therefore, religion may enhance a sense of empowered and efficacious self (Gartner et al., 1991; Bailey, 1997; Behere et al., 2013).

Belonging to a religious group also has several advantages. This includes social cohesion in which members are part of a loving and caring environment (Behere et al., 2013). For instance, a part of Hinduism, the Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS), adopt the concept of samp, suradhbhav and ekta – unity, fraternity and solidarity – which is encouraged by their present guru and president, His Holiness Mahant Swami Maharaj, to maintain continuity in relationships with friends, families, as well as other devotees (Paramtattvadas, 2017). Additionally, Jewish Care, a health and social care provider for the Jewish community in the UK, aims to have a positive influence on Jewish people with mental health problems, dementia, and disabilities (Shaw, 2018). Islamic values and beliefs are also better suited in the treatment of Muslims with mental illnesses, where incorporation of Islamic beliefs support drug adherence (Sabry and Vohra, 2013). Consequently, religion might have an impact on promoting well-being by offering a ‘platform’. This provides meaning, direction and personal identity. Interestingly, religion may also be relevant for some aspects related to treatment of schizophrenia, a severe psychiatric disorder characterised by visual hallucinations, delusions, impaired motivation, social withdrawal, and cognitive dysfunction (Mohr and Huguelet, 2004; Owen, Sawa and Mortensen, 2016), and it may also aid to enhance coping and foster recovery (Mohr and Huguelet, 2004).

Several religious practices have been shown to be effective in managing mental health. Meditation is perhaps the most commonly studied religious practice. During meditation, there is a strong interaction between different regions of the brain implicated in self-monitoring and cognitive control (Brewer et al., 2011). The exercise can also stimulate changes in personality, reduce tension and anxiety, and stabilise emotions (Behere et al., 2013) as well as ameliorate panic attacks, anxiety disorder, depression, drug use, insomnia and stress (Behere et al., 2013; Grant, 2013).

In conclusion, it is unfortunate that this field of research has not been extensively studied in more recent years. Religion and neuroscience are two distinct entities, yet research explicitly suggests a strong relationship between them. It will be therefore interesting to elucidate the effect of a religious lifestyle on the precise molecular neuronal interactions in the brain. The current literature echoes future insights into determining effects of religion, if any, on the diseased brain, in order to decipher and fully unleash its potential.



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Behere P, Das A, Yadav R, Behere A (2013). Religion and mental health. Indian Journal of Psychiatry 55(6):187.

Brewer J, Worhunsky P, Gray J, Tang Y, Weber J, Kober H. (2011). Meditation experience is associated with differences in default mode network activity and connectivity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 108(50):20254-59.

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Kapogiannis D, Barbey A, Su M, Zamboni G, Krueger F, Grafman, J (2009). Cognitive and neural foundations of religious belief. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 106(12):4876-81.

Kapogiannis D, Deshpande G, Krueger F, Thornburg M and Grafman J (2014). Brain Networks Shaping Religious Belief. Brain Connectivity 4(1):70-9.

Kevern P (2013). Can Cognitive Science Rescue ‘Spiritual Care’ from a Metaphysical Backwater?. Journal for the Study of Spirituality 3(1):8-17.

Mohr S and Huguelet P (2004). The relationship between schizophrenia and religion and its implications for care. Swiss Medical Weekly 134(25-26):369-76.

Moreira-Almeida A, Lotufo Neto F, Koenig Harold G (2006). Religiousness and mental health: A review. Revista Brasileira de Psiquiatria 28(3):242-250.

Murray J, Bradley H, Craigie W and Onions C (1961). The Oxford English dictionary. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Myers D and Diener E (1995). Who Is Happy? Psychological Science 6(1):10-19.

Owen M, Sawa A, Mortensen, P. (2016). Schizophrenia. The Lancet 388(10039):86-97.

Paramtattvadas S (2017). An Introduction to Swaminarayan Hindu Theology. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Sabry W, Vohra A (2013). Role of Islam in the management of Psychiatric disorders. Indian Journal of Psychiatry 55(6):205.

Shaw T (2018). Your Local Jewish Care. London: UK.

Interview with Dr Magdalena Skipper, new Editor-in-Chief of Nature

Kety Alania and Ines Das Neves) You are the first woman to become an Editor-in-Chief of Nature over the last 149 years. What does this mean to you personally?

It is interesting actually, at some level it means very little. When you think about the role, my gender should not matter. I am in the role because of what I have to offer, both as a scientist first and now as an editor. My professional setting should be gender-neutral. Of course, in general, there are fewer women and less diversity in leadership roles and roles of influence: for these reasons it is important that I am a woman in this role.

As it happens, I am the first woman. What is worth remembering is that although Nature has been around for almost 150 years, I am only the 8th Editor-in-Chief. My predecessor, the outgoing Editor-in-Chief Sir Philip Campbell, was appointed 22 years ago. When you go back to the previous appointments, unfortunately, there were fewer women in positions that would have allowed them to compete for the role then, both from perspective of personal engagement, education, and so on. Fortunately, things are changing, and this is important. Overall, I rarely think of myself as a role model in the true sense of the word, but if I can be a role model for young women, that is of course a delightful side effect of my appointment to this role.

Esther Awodipe) Have you experienced any challenges as a woman in science? And if so, how did you overcome these challenges?

I have to be honest and say that I personally have not, at least I do not believe that I have experienced any specific challenges, which of course is a delightful thing for me to be able to say. I have been fortunate enough to have the kind of mentors and teachers since the very beginning who looked at me as a person in a gender-neutral way, and then encouraged me in the direction I wanted to proceed. That has always been the case: when I was at school, at the University of Nottingham, where I had fantastic tutors in the Genetics department, and similarly during my PhD and my postdoc.

The biggest challenge we all have to face is the decision on how to divide the time between the professional engagement (and science is a very jealous profession, to which you have to devote so much time) and personal life. Early career stages are also times during which one thinks about a family; while these considerations are equally important for men and for women, for biological reasons women tend to be more intensively engaged, at least for a period of time.

Kety Alania) Have you seen a change in recent years in terms of number of females competing and being appointed in leadership roles within or outside academic publishing? Also, do you think we can do more about that?


In general, we do see many more women who are much more visible in roles of responsibilities and senior roles in academia, in publishing and in industry (or applied research, if you like), which is, of course wonderful to see. Just the right thing to be experiencing: there is not a reason why they should not be there. There never was, but it is great that we no longer see it so emphasised.

Publishing is a very interesting example. In my experience, and I have been working in science publishing for eighteen years now, has always been quite well balanced. If anything, I would say that it was almost skewed towards females. In my experience, many professional editors tend to be female rather than male.

Actually here within Springer Nature some of the most senior roles on the editorial side are actually filled by women. Editorial directory: is a woman. Nature editorial director: is a woman. Many among the Chief Editors of Nature Research titles are women. My previous role, Editor-in-Chief of Nature Communications, was filled by me, a woman, until some days ago. In this particular industry, women ‘drive’ and this is certainly recognised (and rightly so).

Ines Das Neves) Considering your background in genetics, what drew you to a career in publishing/editing or out of a career in research? 

My answer is actually agnostic of my specific background. Having spoken to many colleagues of mine over the years, the reason why I left the bench and active research itself and chose publishing actually resonates with many of my colleagues. The fact that I was a genetic researcher before is not related to that decision. I did a PhD and a postdoc. At some point during my postdoc years, I began to think in what way I could most fruitfully contribute to the advancement of science. My postdoc was such that I would have not been in a position to start an independent career after one postdoc, so the plan would have been then to go onto a second postdoc. While I enjoyed research very much, I decided that I was probably not the person who would make the strongest contribution to the advancement of science through research. And yet I really love science, ever since I was a child. I have always found scientific discoveries fascinating, and knowing how the world around me works fascinated me more than anything else. So I did not want to lose this kind of contact with scientific research.

Having considered a number of possibilities, I thought that the editorial career could have been ‘the’ thing for me. At that time I began to look for editorial opportunities and I saw a job advert for an Associate Editor at Nature Reviews Genetics, very much within the area in which I specialised. What happened next was this: the journal, like all  Nature Reviews journals do, sent me a set of tests to be done at home. The test consisted of a series of tasks you would do if appointed to the role. One of them was, for example, looking at a submitted review article to see whether it could be edited to improve the story flow. Another one was to come up with a number of commissions, to effectively create a table of contents for a future issue of the journal, and select some recently published research articles to write a short ‘research highlight’ about, and explain the choice. I had no previous experience in writing nor editing. But as it happened, I enjoyed the test that I had at home so much that by the time I came back for the interview I obviously was imbued with so much enthusiasm that, as I now joke, I almost bullied them into giving me the job.

For me, moving from research to being an editor was, in many ways, a  perfect transition for me.

Mash Coomaraswamy) Do you feel like more needs to be done to open pathways for a more equal gender representation in the biological sciences?

Definitely we do need to encourage girls and young women, and this effort has to start very early on, at school or pre-school. We, as a society, anywhere, continue to have pre-set ideas of what girls and boys are like, and we reward our children for different things depending on their gender. The stereotyping unfortunately begins very earlier on. I do think we have to place more emphasis on equality from the very early days. The responsibility is not only on the educators, but on the whole society, whether we are talking about our own children or children of others

Certainly this effort needs to continue through the schooling years, at university at undergraduate and postgraduate levels, during postdoc years and so on. I see no distinction between biological sciences, physical sciences or engineering. Right across the board, agnostic of the topic, we should encourage those who are interested in the study, regardless of their gender.

Esther Awodipe) How do you manage your work-life balance? 

With difficulty! (she smiles) I have never really made a complete distinction between work and life. Work is part of life for all of us, it is more of a continuum. I find what I do absolutely fascinating. Having said that, I do other things in life, which have nothing to do with work. For example I particularly enjoy pottery. One has to make an effort to switch off. Another thing I try to do as much as possible is not to check my emails when I am on holidays. It is for everyone’s sake, really. For most of us, balancing leisure and work requires some active management of time, but I believe it is very important that we have leisure time and can switch off completely.

Esther Awodipe) Who is your biggest science inspiration?

I am inspired by a numbers of characters, not necessarily within science. But let’s start with scientists.

My earliest inspiration, when I was still a child, was Isaac Newton. My parents bought me a book specifically written for young readers, and it was a book about Newton’s life. I guess that partly thanks to how the author put the story across and explained the different contributions that Newton made and how they came about in his life, I was absolutely fascinated by the dedication to discovery and knowledge, and it may be that this is why I become a scientists. Although I do not remember a very clear connection, now, from perspective of time, I think that was an early inspiration for me.

I have recently acquired a new inspiration – Alexander von Humboldt; he is somebody I did not know much about until recently. The remarkable thing about von Humboldt was that he was a bit of a Renaissance man and possibly the first environmental scientists. Multi-disciplinarian but most importantly, he was somebody who was not afraid to go out there and empirically test ideas and collect data. He spent months and months travelling around South American jungle, completely disregarding the associated discomforts because he was so interested in collecting data. Importantly, he was a very progressive thinker. One of the things he encountered during his travel was slavery. He very openly spoke against slavery and human inequality. Apparently, this was one of the few things he disagreed with George Washington about.

Another person I was very inspired by, if I am allowed to use an inspiration from outside sciences, was a woman called Rosita Forbes. She was not a scientist, but an incredible woman. During the early 1930s she spent quite some time travelling in the Central Asia, by herself and propelled by her own curiosity. At that time Central Asia was politically quite sensitive. She wrote the most wonderful diaries about her travels, where she described her amazement at the cultural variety in Central Asia: it is an amazing chronicle. She wasn’t formally trained as a scientist, but her writing tends towards social anthropology. I think that the reason why I am inspired by her is that in that climate, when women did not travel or did not have necessarily independent existence from their male companions, she just went forth to a part of the World that nobody knew very much about (and which was associated with many different perils) and brought back incredibly rich stories; I find it very inspiring.

Sarah Lee) Over the past years working at Nature, what do you think has been the greatest change (development) in regards to publishing scientific data?

Certainly data availability and being able to increasingly and effectively link scientific papers  to real underlying data. The problem is far from solved: a great challenge for publishers is to be able to even better link the data with the results as discussed in the paper and, ideally, to provide the data exactly as associated with each figure and each graph in a paper that has been published. Publishers spend a lot of time thinking about how we can best do this best. Our ability to directly link and lead the readers of a paper, and of a story, to the dataset would allow them to replicate (at least in silico) how the data were analysed and a particular conclusion is reached.

Sarah Lee) What has been the highlight of your career at Nature so far, from the very first job interview to nowadays?

I am most excited by is something I was involved in when I was the genetics and genomics editor at Nature. I am referring to the ENCODE project.

ENCODE is the Encyclopedia of DNA elements. The Consortium had been working for years, producing a very large body of work, some of which had been published previously. But at some point a very significant bulk of information was ready to be published in a number of papers that were going to come out simultaneously. The dataset and the analyses were so rich that it was quite tricky to choose the story to tell. If you imagine the project as a landscape, writing papers to convey certain messages only allow you to discover certain aspects of the ‘landscape’. But there are other paths through which you can explore a landscape.

Together with the authors we proposed to create what we called ‘threads’. Threads were composed of sections from the already accepted papers, sections of text, or figures, or tables. Threads orthogonal to the exiting papers revealed additional insights into the ‘ENCODE landscape’. The reason why I find it particularly exciting was that not only that was an added way of enriching the data and the analyses, but also a new thing in publishing: nobody has ever done this before. We did this not just with the papers we published in Nature, but together with papers that were published in other journals, such as Genome Biology and Genome Research, which were published by other publishers. For me that was a wonderful opportunity but a number of things had to align: we had amazingly rich datasets, which were ready to be published at the same time; we had the interested and willing authors who took an extremely active part in the whole process; we had the goodwill of the different publishers (including publishers of Nature, but also different publishers: now Genome Biology is part of Springer Nature, but at that time it was not, it was BMC, and Genome Research was published by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory). A wonderful opportunity! And then the efforts were well rewarded by the response from the community: I had much positive feedback on this initiative

Ines Das Neves) Do you think there should be any major shifts in the way Nature and scientific publishing in general work?

I certainly can see the need for some shifts. Although not an entirely new initiative, we have made a lot of effort towards rewarding and surfacing efforts to make research reproduce and robust. Again, much work remains to be done.

Another important focus is transparency. Transparency of research goes hand in hand with reproducibility. That said, in my view publishers and editors, who demand transparency from researchers, should themselves be more transparent about their own practices. We at Nature have begun this journey already: we try to surface exactly what it is that editors do, how we consider submissions and how peer-review is conducted. For example, within the journal I led until some days ago, Nature Communications, with the author’s agreement, we publish the referees’ report: we call it ‘transparent peer-review’.

It is important to add much more transparency to the whole scientific discussion that surrounds the publication of a paper. These are just a couple of examples of where I think we should be increasingly moving, and certainly that I would like to champion.

Alexandra Rother) What is in your opinion the best strategy to make sure that papers present reproducible results? What is your opinion on this on both sides, editors and scientists?

I would say to the scientists that a lot of reproducibility uncertainty arises from unclear reporting of how research was actually done. It is not that there is something fundamentally wrong with the way something was done, but simply insufficient details are provided. In some way,  the most transparent way would be for all the researchers to switch to electronic notebooks and publish them as part of, or substituting, the methods section of the papers. This would lead, by definition, to a 100% transparency. Although I am not entirely sure whether that would be necessarily helpful to all the readers.

In the meantime, there are a number of platforms and venues available to researchers to publish their protocols in details, to deposit their data and to describe their datasets in a specific way. For example, a number of journals are specifically dedicated to publishing descriptors of datasets. Springer Nature publishes one of them, but there are also others. The one we publish is called Scientific Data; it publishes an article type called ‘Data Descriptors’. There are no results there, no conclusions, but a description of a dataset alongside, not necessarily coincident, with the analyses and the results that emerge from this dataset; the latter published elsewhere. Of course the beauty of spending more time on describing the dataset is that others can re-use it. There are already a number of tools that scientists could take better advantage of and which can be linked to papers themselves.

Mash Coomaraswamy) What advice would you give to those hoping to enter university or those unsure about pursuing a PhD and further study in science? 

The advice to those entering university: open your mind and enjoy learning about the most wonderful planet (and beyond) and the various aspects of whatever you have chosen to study. I remember being very excited when I was an undergraduate: learning about the mysteries of life. It sounds perhaps cheesy, but that really was the case. Uncovering how things work. Very importantly, uncovering what it is that we do not know yet.

I should say that I am still very excited by many of these questions today, so you do not have to stop being excited by them when you leave university. But I do think it is a wonderful time when you are a student. My advice would be: do not constrain yourself with other things, just immerse yourself in this sort of sea of knowledge as a student.

Moving on to the PhD and further, I would say the following: if you are thinking of doing a PhD because you cannot think of something else to do, you probably should not do it. PhD is hard work: you will have to dedicate yourself to work on a specific problem (to the exclusion of many other things) and to be persistent. Most of the time experiments do not work, you will have to encounter a lot of failures. But if you are genuinely interested in what you do, if you are curious and if you want to make a contribution to research, then the PhD and the postdoc are absolutely wonderful times to be exploring and making your own contribution.

If, after your PhD, you find that you are happy with your contribution, but you are not sure about what to do but the path of least existence  seems to be a postdoc, I would say: think again, there are many other things you can do after a PhD in science. You are incredibly well-qualified for all sorts different roles in society, outside of academia, in industry or actually in other aspects of academia, or publishing, industry etc. The somewhat cliché question ‘where do you see yourself in a five-year time?’ is useful to consider, despite being a cliché. Even if you do not know exactly what you may want to do, perhaps you know what you do not want to do; that is already quite informative.

Alexandra Rother) What tips would you give to someone wishing to pursue a carrier in scientific writing/editing?

Scientific writing and scientific editing are actually quite separate. For scientific editing, there is not specific training or preparation. What you need is an open mind, the ability to consider and discuss a broad range of topics, broader than just your own area of research. If you are interested in pursuing this career, what really helps is talking to an editor. From my own experience, I can tell you that editors are very happy to talk about their careers Editors attend scientific conferences and will often come and visit your university or your institute. Why not invite an editor to come over and maybe give a talk or just have a lunch-session with you and your peers so that you may find out what specific advice they have for you.

Scientific writing usually requires a little bit more of preparation. Some people are natural writers, but, as with any skills, it requires practice. If you do have an opportunity to write, whether it is a blog or a newspaper (it can be a student or a university newspaper or any other), then do so. Sometimes newspapers are looking for science writers as interns. There are also specific courses: Master Degrees or summer courses that will teach you about the fundamental of science writing or just give you tips on how to do that.