Nature Communications from the point of view of a former Editor in Chief:
Q&A with Magdalena Skipper

You used to be the Editor in Chief of Nature Communications and you are now the Editor in Chief of Nature. In your opinion, what makes these multidisciplinary journals successful and how do they complement each other? 

Multidisciplinarity is coming back into vogue, and for all the right reasons. In the early days of Nature, back at the end of the 19th century, its pages carried contributions from individuals who were not easily classified into one discipline of science, as we understand them today. Much of the 20th century was rather different, each discipline was much more inwardly focused, and it is only now that we are openly acknowledging that some of the most exciting discoveries lie at a confluence of disciplines. 

Indeed, some of the key issues that researchers and policy makers are grappling with today, including the sustainability of our planet, will be impossible to tackle without a multidisciplinary or indeed interdisciplinary approach. For this reason, multidisciplinary journals such as Nature Communications and Nature have a key role to play in today’s research ecosystem. 

Nature has always focused on publishing the most influential work from any discipline with clear broader implications that go beyond the boundaries of that discipline. Its role has of course also been to offer opinion, synthesis and journalistic take on the most important findings of the day, and to surface them for the governments and policy makers. 

In its turn, Nature Communications has an important opportunity to publish many more studies in many more disciplines that are instrumental for the advancement of those disciplines while at the same time offering these studies to anyone, anywhere. This is a truly enabling role when it comes to communicating original research findings. So, the two journals have an overlapping and yet distinct function, and as such complement each other very well.
What is the biggest strength of Nature Communications?

I actually find it hard to choose just one strength; I think the journal has many, including its multidisciplinarity, long article format and open access, just to name a few. But my pick of the biggest strength will go to the journal having a team of dedicated, full-time professional editors, each of whom is an expert in a given field and carefully scrutinizes each submission for its scientific content, ethical integrity and adherence to the journal’s editorial policy, all of this before deciding whether to send it out for peer review. There is enormous value to this level of editorial service. 

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What achievement are you most proud of during your time at the helm of the journal?

Achievements of a journal such as Nature Communications are truly a team effort. But perhaps there is one thing which I championed during my time at the helm of the journal that I am especially proud of, and I am very happy to see that the initiative continues… I am talking about editorials. There is so much more to a journal than curating research papers. But I concede that with a multidisciplinary journal such as Nature Communications, one can wonder who the target audience for editorials might be. I remember having such discussions with the editorial team. But of course the beauty and the strength of Nature Communications editorials lie precisely in its broad audience. Here’s the opportunity for the journal to speak about policy matters, discoveries, problems and other aspects of one field, say psychology, and know that the message can reach practitioners of network science, chemistry or geology. It’s a chance to showcase synergies across disciplines or call for cross-discipline learning. I am delighted to see that this tradition has persisted.

What was the best bit about working at Nature Communications?

The people, without any doubt it has to be the people – the journal’s editors as well as all of the production and support staff. The passion, dedication, professionalism and ingenuity both impressed me and infected me! As well as being fascinating and rewarding, it was also always a lot of fun too!
Where do you see the journal in the next ten years?

Predicting the future is not only hard but impossible. My favourite example of this comes from the cyberpunk novel by William Gibson – Neuromancer. While Gibson, in his 1984 book, has his chief protagonist undergo a form of neural cyber-stem cell therapy, he also makes his character use a public phone box simply because he failed to predict mobile telephony! So with all the usual caveats in mind, I imagine that Nature Communications will be in the lead on opening up research; already an open access journal which offers transparent peer review, I imagine it will further open up its editorial process, mandate the sharing of data, code and protocols, and I hope by then it will be possible to seamlessly integrate this information within the papers themselves. I also hope that new ways of exploring the Nature Communications content will be available, in a kind of advanced version of today’s Editor’s Highlights. And as I am a fan of constructive discussions about science on social media, I hope that these will be better integrated with the journal content.