In this age of h indices and impact factors, the choice of where to publish seems to get ever more important and complex. It used to be, as a physicist, the place to publish was PRL – or at least that was the general belief. I never subscribed to it, well I wouldn’t would I, given that I have never published a paper there. I used to get cross when hearing statements such as so-and-so couldn’t be promoted/appointed whatever because they hadn’t a PRL to their name because I believe these things are sub-discipline-dependent. I also got cross when, as an RAE panel member, I had to wade through turgid PRL’s because people (wrongly) assumed that a paper in such a ‘high impact’ journal would necessarily score better than a paper somewhere else. They should have read the small print which said clearly that where the paper was published would not be used as a criterion, only the quality of the paper. The challenge of where to publish interdisciplinary work is even more acute, and the problems I alluded to about obtaining funding for interdisciplinary working here equally apply to publishing interdisciplinary papers , as rpg pointed out in his comment on that post.
When I worked on starch (work I discussed briefly here) I was always perplexed. If I published in a physics journal I could talk about the neat physics but not the relevance; if I published in food journals I got no brownie points in my department but the people who were probably going to use the results were more likely to find the paper; occasionally (through collaborations) I got to publish in ‘real’ biological journals, when the consequences of genetic mutations on the structure were studied. I came to the conclusion one really had to publish everywhere, even if sometimes this meant taking the same, or at least similar, data and publishing it in different contexts and with different emphases to suit the particular journal. More recently I have been facing exactly the same issues over the work I do on protein aggregation.
This work started off as an environmental scanning electron microscopy study of protein aggregation in the context of foods, more specifically whey proteins from milk. It rapidly transformed (the joys of research leading you into strange corners of the landscape) into something quite different with an emphasis on the generics of protein aggregation. We observed the appearance of a new type of aggregate we termed a spherulite, because of its optical similarity to the spherulites found in semi-crystalline polymers such as polythene (as in polythene bags: try looking at one under crossed polarisers and you will see something remarkably similar to the beta-lactoglobulin spherulite that decorates the left hand side of the bar across the top of my blog, although to be precise the latter is viewed with an additional lamda plate inserted). From there it was, as a physicist, but a short step to the aggregation that underlies diseases such as Alzheimer’s Disease and recently, in a collaboration with bioinorganic chemists from Keele (notably Chris Exley) I published my first paper in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. Not the average first port of call for a physicist, but clearly the right place for this particular piece of work. I give a bibliography below, to demonstrate the breadth of places in which I feel a need to publish.
For new researchers setting out on their career, it is a daunting task, trying to navigate through this minefield. Should one aim for the high impact journals and risk a series of rejections (in the case of somewhere like Nature, mercifully these usually come very fast) as one cascades down the impact factor ladder, or should one play safe and get a nice solid paper published in a nice solid uninspiring journal? Should one hold off publishing results to aim at a superlative paper, risking someone pips you to the post – particularly if you work in a hot, topical area – or go for something less wonderful but which gets your name into circulation rapidly and which can then possibly be followed up by further similarly worthy papers. If you follow this path you can opt for the route I describe above, of spreading your favours around different flavours of journal and so, if you are lucky, get the same overall recognition from the breadth of coverage. I personally favour the latter approach. If you have those beautiful results with a complete accompanying theory – the sort of paper we all dream of but rarely accomplish – then aim for the top. But otherwise, for the benefit of both the PI and the student whose thesis chapters and whose future career we are likely to be talking about, I think getting work out into reputable-but-not-necessarily-top-flight journals is likely to be a better strategy. And then, for interdisciplinary work, you can play the double entry card of two papers stressing different aspects for each journal.
Sometimes one can be mischievous about this too. The only paper I ever published with Sir Sam Edwards (whom I described previously here) was on carrots. Yes, carrots. My contribution arose from a project to develop tools to study the mechanical failure of vegetables, using environmental scanning electron microscopy, and we (Brad Thiel and I) concentrated on carrots. Sam, with another theoretical colleague from my department Mark Warner, were working on theories of ‘filled foams’ ie foam structures containing fluids and carrots are an excellent example of these. So, our experiments and their theory came together on this and we published a joint paper in PNAS. My mischievousness manifested itself in submitting this paper to the 2001 RAE, since I thought the physics panel should be educated that vegetables are an appropriate topic for physicists and after all, PNAS is one of those high impact journals that people care about. However, I suspect (with the hindsight serving on the 2008 panel gave me) this probably backfired; carrots probably just turned people off despite the elegance of Mark and Sam’s theories. Luckily I will never know!
Relevant Selected Bibliography
RE Cameron and AM Donald- 1993 Carb Res 244 225-236. A small angle Xray scattering study of the absorption of water into the starch granule.
RE Cameron and AM Donald – 1993 J Poly Sci. 31 1197-1204. A small angle Xray scattering study of starch gelatinisation in excess and limiting water.
TA Waigh, MF Butler, I Hopkinson, F Heidelbach, C Riekel and AM Donald – 1997 – Macromolecules 30, 3813-20. Analysis of the native structure of starch granules with X-ray microfocus diffraction. – which featured as a News and Views Article in Nature
SJ Livings, C Breach, A C Smith and AM Donald – 1998. Carb Poly 34 347-55. Physical Ageing of Wheat Flour Based Confectionery Wafers.
TA Waigh, PA Perry, C Riekel, MJ Gidley and AM Donald -1998. Macromolecules 31 7980-4. Chiral side chain liquid crystalline properties of starch.
S Zeeman, A Tiessen, E Pilling, L Kato, AM Donald and AM Smith – 2002. Plant Physiology 129, 516-29. Starch synthesis in Arabidopsis; leaf starch is fundamentally similar to storage starches.
DC Fulton, A Edwards, E Pilling, HL Robinson, B Fahy. R Seale, L Kato, AM Donald, P Geigenberger and AM Smith – 2002. J Biol Chem 277, 10834-41. Determination of Starch Granule Morphology in Potato.
BL Thiel and AM Donald – 1998. Annals of Botany 82 727-33. In situ mechanical testing of fully hydrated carrots (daucus carota) in the environmental SEM.
M Warner, BL Thiel and AM Donald – 2000. Proc Nat Acad Sci. 97 1370-5. The elasticity and failure of fluid-filled cellular solids – theory and experiment.
BL Thiel and AM Donald –2000. J Text Stud 31 437-55. Microstructural failure mechanisms in cooked and aged carrots.
MRH Krebs, CE MacPhee, AF Miller, I Dunlop, CM Dobson, AM Donald – 2004. PNAS 101, 14420-4. The formation of spherulites by bovine insulin amyloid fibrils.
MRH Krebs, EHC Bromley and AM Donald - 2005. J Struct Biol, 149, 30-37. The binding of thioflavin T to amyloid fibrils: Localisation and implications.
SS Rogers, P Venema, L Sagis, E van der Linden, AM Donald – 2005. Macromols 38, 2948-58. Measuring the Length Distribution of a Fibril System: a Flow Birefringence Technique applied to Amyloid Fibrils.
SS Rogers, MRH Krebs, EHC Bromley, E van der Linden and AM Donald – 2006. Biophys J 90 1043-54. Optical microscopy of growing insulin amyloid spherulites on surfaces in vitro.
EHC Bromley, MRH Krebs and AM Donald – 2006. EPJE 21 145-52. Mechanisms of structure formation in b-lactoglobulin near the isoelectric point.
SS Rogers, P Venema, JPM van der Ploeg, E van der Linden, LMC Sagis and AM Donald – 2006. Biopolymers 82, 241-52. Investigating the permanent electric dipole moment of b-lactoglobulin amyloid fibrils, using transient flow birefringence.
MRH Krebs, G Devlin and AM Donald – 2009. Biophys J 96 5013-9. Amyloid fibril-like structure underlies the aggregate structure across the pH-range for beta-lactoglobulin
MRH Krebs, KR Domike and AM Donald – 2009. Biochem Trans 37, 682-6. Protein aggregation: more than just fibrils.
C Exley, E House, JF Collingwood, MR Davidson, D Cannon and AM Donald – 2010. J Alzheimers Disease 20 1159-65. Spherulites in Abeta 42 in vitro and in Alzheimers Disease.
V Fodera and AM Donald 2010. EPJE 33 273-282. Tracking the heterogeneous distribution of amyloid spherulites and their population balance with free fibrils.