A personal view on ten years of Nature Communications
memories from our longest-serving editor

By: Katie Ridd, Senior Editor

Everything happens for a reason. I never planned to be an editor, but it is the best career move that I have made.

I was applying for my own funding for a fellowship in the UK and had a six-month window to fill. I ended up taking a Locum Assistant Editor job at Nature Protocols and I have not looked back since. While I didn’t obtain the funding I wanted, I had learned that what I really liked was helping people. Assisting authors get their protocols into the best shape possible was really important for researchers to be able to use these methods and to further advance their work. I also enjoyed being surrounded by colleagues who were as passionate as I was about communicating research (and the research itself!).

I joined Nature Communications in September 2009, seven months before the launch date. There were five editorial team members: Stefano Tonzani, our physicist, now a Lead Editor at Cell Press; Richard White, a chemist, now the Chief Editor of Scientific Reports, myself, the biologist and our Chief Editor Lesley Anson, who was previously an editor at Nature; and our editorial assistant, Stuart Drake, who is now Head of Production for npj, Communications and Academic journals. There was much to do! We were still finalising the website design, ensuring that we had all of the workflows in place and recruiting our small editorial board. We started to receive our first submissions soon afterwards. I had experience in using our submission and peer review system and the everyday editorial language; however, I didn’t have any experience in assessing primary research. Our team of three editors and the Chief Editor worked together along with our editorial board to establish our editorial thresholds across the entire spectrum of the natural sciences. During this period, I received some great training from Barbara Marte, a Senior Editor at Nature.

It was an exciting time; I was reading papers on ageing to zoology, together with physics, chemistry and earth science all thrown into the mix. We also started to receive transfers from other Nature Research journals – in those days, these were largely papers that had been reviewed at another journal and were deemed unsuitable for a variety of reasons. We had a very unsophisticated visual that consisted of a board and a card for each paper to help us determine where our different papers were in the editorial process. It was an exciting race to accept papers in time for publication in the first ‘issue.’ I can still remember the life science papers that we published on April 12th 2010; the topics ranged from 
cancercaterpillarsdevelopmental biologyDNA damage and neuroscience. While I am now the cancer team manager, I always had a soft spot for the caterpillar paper; our multimedia team made a video and even Steven Inchcoombe, who was the Managing Director of Nature Publishing Group at the time, knew about this paper. 

Internally, we worked hard with our colleagues at Nature Research journals to ensure they understood the kinds of papers we wanted to publish. This was important for developing the system of the transfer of papers to our journal. The scholarly community wasn’t quite sure what to think of us at the beginning. As editors, we would attend some of the largest conferences trying to cover a broad range of topics but we weren’t really talking to researchers about science. We spent a lot of time explaining the types of papers that we wanted to publish and where we wanted to position ourselves in the publishing space. I think this is one of the major ways being a Nature Communications editor has changed over the years. The vast majority of

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researchers now know who we are and it’s always great to see people talk about Nature Communications papers at conferences. While we still spend time discussing editorial thresholds and publishing initiatives, which we are of course more than happy to do, we now talk a lot more about science both out at conferences and within our teams.  

It was pretty daunting being the only editor handling life sciences manuscripts; of course our Chief Editor had a background in neuroscience and so was incredibly helpful. I was certainly not, and still am not an expert in many fields, but we would also ask our editorial board if they thought a paper would be important to their fields. In some areas, a small advance can be very important for a field and that was sometimes a little tricky to discern. We were of course also indebted to our reviewers who were very patient in helping us to define our editorial criteria. I never felt alone, though the journal was always a collaborative effort. We shared an office with the Nature Cell Biology team, who were always very supportive, and we also attended meetings with Nature editors. There was a wealth of experience across the company and while we always maintained our editorial independence we could ask for support and advice.

The journal is now vastly different from when we launched. We now publish fully open access content on a daily basis, with more than 100 full-time professional editors and countless support staff, without relying on an external editorial board anymore. Aside from the sheer size, I think what has changed the most is the time we editors spend on discussing science. I really enjoy being an expert in the field of cancer and love discussing science within my team. Whether we’re chatting about a new submission we are excited about receiving or we’re hearing about a report from an editor who recently travelled to a conference, there’s always something to pique our interest. We’re continually learning about our fields. Having these types of discussions not only within Nature Communications but more broadly across Nature Research allows us to be the best editors that we can be and ultimately provide the best knowledgeable service to our authors.

Even though I have been at the journal for a long time, I still love it. While my role has changed slightly to be more focused on managing my team, it’s great to be able to use my scientific knowledge to devise an editorial strategy for our content and help my team to realise the strategy. As I said earlier, one of the reasons that I moved into an editorial career was because I really like helping people. I still enjoy supporting authors in getting the most out of their papers and facilitating conversations between authors and reviewers, but I also care about being there for my team and help them reach their full potential. There’s nothing better than the proud feeling I get when I hear from an author that they have really enjoyed interacting with one of my team members.

Everyone who has ever worked here will agree with me that the people and the science are the best things about Nature Communications. We work with great colleagues, and that’s not limited to my immediate team, but includes the entire editorial team and all of our support staff. Nevertheless, we wouldn’t achieve much without our brilliant authors and reviewers. The exciting work that researchers submit to us and we get to read is what drives us each and every day.