What was it like to be a part of Frontiers in Plant Science (FiPS) at the beginning?
Like any new project, getting started was really question of vision and commitment. It wasn’t just about defining what sections should be in the journal; it was a lot of conversations and one-on-one sessions about why there should even be a new plant science journal. The original FCEs, Wolf Frommer and Uwe Sonnewald, did a spectacular job attracting top-notch people as Specialty Chief Editors who really believed that publishing could be better and that active researchers should be playing a key role in making it that way. Those Specialty Chief Editors (SCEs) did a fantastic job in putting together their boards of Associate Editors, who in turn recruited the many Review Editors that the unique Frontiers Interactive Review relies on so heavily. From there, it was the slow task of introducing ourselves to the rest of the research community. While gradual at first, growth really took off in the past year, and we published more articles in 2013 than in the previous two years combined. As a result of our substantial progress, we will receive an Impact Factor this summer.
What do you think are the most important factors that have contributed to this growth?
The first piece has to be the quality of our Editorial Board. I don’t mean just the caliber of researchers – which is quite high – but also the time and commitment they put into their work. It is true that reviewing and editing manuscripts at Frontiers, the bulk of which is handled by Review Editors, can be more involved than with traditional publishers, but the detailed discussions that occur really help improve the quality of accepted articles and give authors confidence that the process is fair, constructive, and transparent. Quality reviews lead to quality articles which lead to a quality journal overall.
The other most important factor is the organization of the journal into sections based on disciplines within the broad field of plant sciences, each with their own chief editor and their own editorial board. This not only allows focus on traditional disciplines – such as physiology, cell biology, development, and genetics – it also allows smaller, newer disciplines such as systems biology, proteomics, and traffic and transport to foster the development of a new community. I think the latter has been particularly useful and I think FiPS is playing an important role in the establishment, growth, and maturing of these newer disciplines. The organization into sections helps put each submission in front of people from the right niche while still letting the journal grow and establish its reputation as one of quality across the whole field.
How is being an Editor for Frontiers different than other journals?
I have to say that it is different at every level – from the multi-stage review for the Review Editors to the scientific advisor and mentor role of the Chief Editors. The most important difference is the Interactive Review process, which is unlike the review process at any other journal. While anonymity is preserved for Review Editors during the process, upon publication their names are published in the article; they know they must take responsibility for ensuring that the work meets the standards of the field. I know of no other journal that gives reviewers such a substantive role and such a large responsibility in evaluating and approving manuscripts. Associate Editors thus have a unique role too, overseeing the Interactive Review process to ensure it is fair, respectful, and substantive.
What was it like shifting from heading a specialty to heading a journal with Frontiers? What were the main differences?
This is definitely a case of more work for more reward. Stepping in to the role of FCE made me aware of the work that goes on behind the policies and decisions, the balance between trying to work with the needs of individual authors, individual specialties, and the publisher as a whole. Seeing behind the curtain does give you more patience, because you are more aware of the very hard work that is being done by the managing editors and staff at Frontiers. You realize that you have a talented team backing you up. Of course, it also means that more people start knocking on your door about concerns, changes, or anything really. The more you invest, the more you become accountable. Changing roles also gave me the chance to shift my focus. I had been concentrating on the needs and growth of my specialty, and then I had to start thinking about all the specialties in FiPS and how all of them fit together to make a whole.
What were some of the biggest obstacles to overcome in the last few years?
The first was clearly the need to introduce ourselves to our peers. Frontiers was relatively well-known in the medical science community, but FiPS was one of the early journals outside of that realm. As more open-access journals began to form, the struggle shifted to making ourselves stand out from the sea of other journals flooding the arena. There has also been the general slow pace at which changes come to the academic and research world – scientists tend to be surprisingly conservative about publishing. Even as people embrace the importance of open-access, many have still not taken the step to make it a priority for their own research. It is the early adopters who have driven our growth to date, but I fully expect the entire field of plant science to embrace FiPS over the next couple years. Also, as governments, funding agencies, and institutions continue to develop new policies that regulate the publication of publicly funded research, it is likely that more and more researchers will recognize open-access as an imperative when publishing.
What growth do you hope for with the next 1000 papers?
I have no doubt that our success to date is already driving rapid growth. FiPS has become one of the three largest journals in the field in a surprisingly short time, and I look forward to its continued growth toward becoming the largest journal in the plant sciences within next couple of years, perhaps by the time we publish our second set of 1000 articles. Most importantly, I expect that we will be a highly recognizable part of the community and that we will soon be known as an essential central platform for the presentation and discussion of new discoveries, ideas, and paradigms. When people are keeping up on the most recent research, they should be following FiPS. When there is an excellent session at a conference, I hope that organizers and participants will consider putting that work together as a Research Topic. Overall, I just hope that FiPS continues to grow as it has not just in size, but in quality and as a fundamental part of the plant science community.