Interviews with Outstanding Authors (2022)

Posted On 2022-09-08 16:08:15

In 2022, many VATS authors make outstanding contributions to our journal. Their articles published with us have received very well feedback in the field and stimulate a lot of discussions and new insights among the peers.

Hereby, we would like to highlight some of our outstanding authors who have been making immense efforts in their research fields, with a brief interview of their unique perspective and insightful view as authors.

Outstanding Authors (2022)

Carles Escriu, The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre, United Kingdom

Marcus Taylor, Wythenshawe Hospital, United Kingdom

Rishindra M. Reddy, University of Michigan, USA

Outstanding Author

Carles Escriu

Dr. Carles Escriu is a board-certified thoracic medical oncologist and a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of London, United Kingdom. He works at the Clatterbridge Cancer Centre in Liverpool and leads thoracic medical oncology at Aintree University Hospital, as well as an academic advisor at the University of Liverpool, where he supervises and mentors medical students and junior doctors during their training and research activity and the lead consultant of the Lung Cancer Personalised Medicine Clinic at the Merseyside and Cheshire Cancer Network, and Thoracic Clinical Research Lead in the North West Cancer Research Network. He completed a doctorate in Cancer Biology as CRUK Clinical Research Fellow at the University of Cambridge and won several prizes from the Royal Society of Medicine. He is committed to stablishing patient-focused clinical and translational multidisciplinary research networks. His research interests lay in translational immunotherapy and niche identification of biological therapies in lung cancer treatment. You may find more about Dr. Escriu’s work in his Google Scholar and Scopus page. You may also connect him through his Twitter @CarlesEscriu, LinkedIn and ORCID page.

For Dr. Escriu, academic writing is a fundamental pillar of scientific practice, which requires peer interaction, sharing problems and ideas, confirming published results, and scrutinizing scientific methodology. “The challenge is to be critical with the relevance of your own results, laying a sequence of structured arguments accurately referenced, that lead to an honest and realistic conclusion. The aim is to reach out to the broad peer community and integrate their feedback in ongoing and future projects,” he says.

To ensure one’s writing is critical, Dr. Escriu notes that criticism can be the result of ignorance or in-depth first-hand knowledge of the field, and it is important to be self-aware and explicit about its origins when sharing the criticism. He notes that both sources of criticism are useful in science, as one can often find that by explaining a problem to someone with no previous background, a simpler solution appears more obvious. In scientific writing, however, it is important that criticism is based on comprehensive background knowledge and accurate understanding of what is being criticized. For instance, during his PhD he learnt that methodology is key, and all conclusions are limited by how methods apply to the problem at study. “Scientific criticism should aim at identifying leaps of faith in the contextualization of the results, so that further research can build on it,” he states.

Despite being a doctor, Dr. Escriu finds writing forces him to read and think about his clinical practice and research. He says, “This is how I learn and stay up to date, and how I discover areas to focus my research on. I try to write during the hours of the day when I am fresh and/or very motivated, and often block a week every month or two where I do not allocate meetings or talks, so that I can have more time to write. Planning in advance and a writing habit are key.

When it comes to Conflict of Interest (COI), Dr. Escriu points that a researcher will become a source of information once they published a work, and it is important that that source is honest. He believes that disclosing COI shows you have nothing to hide, where you may have been influenced (with varying degrees of awareness) by interested parts and remind the reader that science demands skepticism from their part. In his experience, COI are related to pharmaceutical companies supporting lectures or research in specific areas of interest to them. “The weaker philanthropic or governmental support structures are, the rarer alternative educational or research funding opportunities are,” says Dr. Escriu, “It is down to political management to decide who they want to influence their medical science, and to find out the degree to which these funding sources influence health-care resource utilization.” In his opinion, the standards of scientific peer-reviewed research are not influenced by the funding source.

(By Christopher Hau, Brad Li)

Marcus Taylor

Marcus Taylor holds a UK National Training Number and works as a Specialist Registrar in cardiothoracic surgery at Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust, based in Manchester, United Kingdom. He is currently undertaking a PhD at the University of Manchester, which is focused on risk stratification in thoracic surgery. He was heavily involved in the founding of the Northwest Thoracic Surgery Collaborative, an organization which facilitates regional and national research in thoracic surgery in the UK. As part of his PhD research, he has partnered with the UK national Society for Cardiothoracic Surgery (SCTS) to develop and validate a novel clinical risk prediction model designed to estimate 90-day mortality after lung resection (the RESECT-90 model). This project has been undertaken using data from almost 20,000 patients collected from multiple centers across the UK.

When asked about what the most commonly encountered difficulties in academic writing are, Dr. Taylor replies that one of which is achieving purposeful academic writing with a cohesive narrative and clear message is challenging. Proficiency is only achieved, he believes, with time and practice. He remarks that the best manuscripts not only provide a clear outline of the research aims but provide a framework in the context of why the research is necessary, justified and important. Furthermore, he points out that failure of maintaining a sharp focus on the principal research aim throughout the course of an academic manuscript is a frequently encountered difficulty. “The research may be robust and the results valid, but if the message is lost amongst jumbled and overly long prose, the strength of the manuscript will be greatly weakened,” he adds, “Identifying the key message from a research project prior to committing pen to paper sounds straightforward but can be challenging.” To tackle such challenge, Dr. Taylor suggests that researchers must make every effort to ensure they have a firm grasp of the message they are trying to convey before the academic writing begins. In addition, he recommends authors to reduce the key aims and findings of research to a single sentence or a limited number of words as a useful exercise to ensure that the principal message is not lost or diluted throughout the course of an academic manuscript.

As a clinician himself, Dr. Taylor acknowledges that combining clinical activity with research activity remains an ongoing challenge. “Whilst undertaking my PhD, my clinical activities have been reduced to allow for dedicated non-clinical time for research,” he says. “In the UK, a small proportion of consultant surgeons are dually employed by both an NHS trust and a university with formal job plans including protected clinical time and protected research time.” However, Dr. Taylor admits that this is very much the exception rather than the norm and for the majority of clinicians wishing to expand their research portfolio whilst holding full-time clinical positions, allocating time for conducting research and writing manuscripts is difficult. He remarks that the key is excellent time management, in which he cited the story of the small grains of sand filling up the jar and preventing the large stones from being inserted, whereas if the large stones are inserted first, plenty of room remains for grains of sand to follow. “Using small amounts of free time on a daily or regular basis to keep up with small tasks (small grains of sand) means that the longer periods of free time, encountered on a much less regular basis, can be fully devoted to larger tasks such as data analysis and manuscript writing (the larger stones),” Dr. Taylor comments.

In terms of whether it is important for authors to disclose Conflict of Interest (COI), Dr. Taylor believes it remains important to do so. He adds that this is not necessarily because the author has colored their writing to benefit their associates but is primarily to avoid research outputs being viewed with suspicion if unknown affiliations come to light at a later date. “Transparency and objectivity are central tenets of medical research and academics should conduct themselves in accordance with these principles, so as to minimize the possibility of their research being tainted by (potential or actual) COI,” he states. When it comes to the extent to which COI influences research, Dr. Taylor thinks that it varies according to the topic being studied. For instead, he mentions if a researcher has a specific link to a drug company and is conducting specific research comparing a drug from that company to a drug from another company, the potential for bias and for the COI to affect the research is high. In contrast, research undertaken by academics whose COI affiliations and research aims do not correlate as strongly could be conducted with very few concerns about the impact of COI on the project. Finally, if any academic feels that their COI affiliations could result in a research project being (fairly or unfairly) tarnished, Dr. Taylor believes they should excuse themselves from the project as a matter of principle.

(By Christopher Hau, Brad Li)

Rishindra M. Reddy

Rishindra M. Reddy, MD, MBA, is the endowed Jose Jose Alavarez Professor of Thoracic Oncology Research at the University of Michigan, USA. After completing his medical degree at Northwestern University, he finished his general surgery residency at Washington University-St. Louis. He spent two years as a Clinical Research Fellow at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland. He completed his Thoracic Surgery residency at the University of Washington and was a visiting fellow at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York. Dr. Reddy is the former Clerkship Director at UM and is the current Chair of the Robotic Surgery program and the Director for the Center for Surgical Innovation. His research interests span lung cancer tumor cells, student education, and optimizing costs in healthcare. You may find more about Dr. Reddy’s work in his LinkedIn page. You may also connect with him through his Twitter @RishiReddyTSurg.

Dr. Reddy believes that finding the time to write and being able to communicate effectively to the audience are some of the biggest challenges encountered in academic writing. “We all write articles but the audience can vary from a lay audience to a very technical audience,” he adds, “and it can be a struggle to minimize the use of jargon for one group, while not sounding simplistic for the other.

To ensure one’s writing is critical, Dr. Reddy says that they must try to keep up with the literature, either by reading regularly, reviewing articles for journals regularly or some other means. “Information changes, guidelines change over time, and if not paying attention to these changes, your writing will suffer,” he empathizes, “I work in a teaching institution and much of the work I do is reviewed and used to teach others.  This forces us to stay current and thinking critically about what we are writing about.

Dr. Reddy also reveals that the heavy burden of being a doctor is another one of the biggest challenges in academic writing. “Time is limited and I have a younger family and they need my time also,” he states, “I try to find time during travel or down times when I can steal 30-60 minutes a time to work on different projects/writings.”

When asked about the importance of following reporting guidelines, such as STROBE, CONSORT, and CARE, Dr. Reddy thinks that the use of these guidelines is important and will grow in importance. “The way that manuscripts are written are not standardized at all which can lead to challenges in how to interpret the data and meaning,” Dr. Reddy mentions, “I think the guidelines outlined help the readers understand the methodology and allow for a better interpretation of the results.

(By Christopher Hau, Brad Li)