From the start of this month I began my slow fading away as Editor of Chemistry Education Research and Practice and I am delighted to say that involved handing over the reins to Professor Gwen Lawrie, who has taken up the position as Editor in Chief of the journal. It was a very difficult decision to stand down from the journal that I have been working closely with for five years, but the right one for me at this time.
On taking up a position like this, you make mad plans and generate lots of “great ideas”, but in reality it is possible only to achieve what seems in advance a small amount, but I hope in hindsight, some significant progress. For the sake of my own reflections, my main areas of focus were:
- Maintain the editorial and intellectual standards of the journal set out by the founding Editors, and greatly enhanced by my predecessor;
- Broaden the expertise and representation of the editorial team;
- Broaden the reach of the journal in terms of its readership and authorship;
- Ensure the ongoing sustainability of the journal as free to access and free to publish, in a modern publishing environment.
I think I can say that – in the words of an Irish political party’s election slogan – there has been “a lot done, more to do”. One of the things I have learned in recent years is that change, even transformational change, comes slowly, and winning over hearts and minds alongside changing systems and processes takes time and a lot of patience!
My first task to maintain standards was an easy one because my predecessor Professor Keith Taber had written a long series of editorials that were very useful in putting concrete guidance into practice. As a series we can point to these editorials in discussions with authors, and the first task in my role was to condense the headline messages in these editorials into a single piece, which became the journal’s definition of scope and quality. We used the opportunity to reassert the journal’s guidance on influencing practice – directly or indirectly, and I hope that articles published under my tenure will continue to influence practice well into the future.
Broaden the editorial team
Maintaining standards as Editor in reality means relying on Associate Editors as they are the ones that do the hard work in handling manuscripts, reviewers, and authors. I inherited Keith’s excellent appointments in the duo of Professor Ajda Kahveci and Professor Scott Lewis. Having this expertise and experience as Associate Editors was a major factor in defeating the imposter syndrome I had on taking up the Editor post. As the journal expanded in terms of submissions, it became apparent that we needed to expand the team, as the workload was becoming higher. I used the opportunity to broaden the diversity among the team in terms of geography, reflecting that CERP is an international journal, and in terms of areas of expertise. Professor Nicole Graulich joined and she brought expertise in organic chemistry education research, as well as representations in chemistry generally, and is also a teacher educator, so complements Ajda’s expertise very well. Organic chemistry is a very popular topic in submissions and among the readership. We also recruited Professor Gwen Lawrie, who brings a vast amount of experience in chemistry education and research informed practice in a range of international contexts. Gwen brings expertise in a range of research methods and her experience of education research in Australia, and so complementing the Northern hemisphere!
Broadening the reach of the journal
Who “owns” CERP? One of the things I was very conscious of in taking on the role of Editor was that I wanted to broaden CERP’s representation in many ways – those who felt they could read it and those who felt they could publish in it. This is a tight-rope, balancing accessibility with editorial standards, which rightly should be very high. But I knew from conferences I attended and conversations I had that there was a lot of amazing work going on that was not coming onto our radar. Part of the role then was – to use another political term – pressing the flesh; getting out and about and discussing CERP in the community. As someone who is happier sitting back and listening, this was quite a challenge, but I thought it was important to ensure that CERP was seen to be open to conversation and submission. I was amazed at how many conversations I had with people who thought that CERP was “out of reach”, who ended up submitting and publishing very well regarded work.
A parallel to this was the local problem in the UK and Ireland (one dominion in RSC terms) and the low publication rate from this region generally in chemistry education. How could this be – with such a dynamic and vibrant community here?! In 2016, I started the annual MICER conference to talk out issues about the doing of chemistry education research, sharing expertise and generating conversations. I wanted people to be confident in saying: “I am a chemistry education researcher”.
Broadening the ownership of the journal also came under the spotlight in general terms under the RSC review of gender bias in publishing in the chemical sciences. While we do not have granular data for CERP, as Editor I wanted to be sure that we as a journal set out to systemise any changes necessary in eradicating all of the small but incrementing aspects affecting gender biasing. The initial response of the journal was published in an editorial, and the editorial board now has a representative charged with holding the journal to account in this regard.
Perhaps the largest task of my work over the last two years has been work to ensure the sustainability of CERP over the coming years. As a free to access, free to publish journal, CERP is highly unusual, and continues in this form only through the support of the RSC through its Education Division. A few years ago the RSC undertook a governance review of the entire organisation, and as an output of that, there was a responsibility on all aspects of the Society to ensure it was providing good value for the money it was spending. At a local level, this translated into the question: should the Society continue to support CERP to ensure free to access and free to publish? Of course if you ask anyone on the doorsteps (another Irish political phrase) they would tell you that of course CERP is necessary and valuable, but what data could we point to? The purpose of the governance review was to ensure that there was a concrete evidence base to ensure that funding could be justified.
Therefore over the course of the last two years within CERP, we set out to better understand who was using and reading CERP, and what its value was to the community. This transpired to be a very complex question, because of course CERP serves several communities, and those different communities have different needs. The review was completed this year, and I am happy to report that value of the journal was indeed easily justified, and the RSC was secure in its intention to continue to support the journal. With that review completed and sustainability ensured, I was happier to make the decision to pass over the pen to the new Editor, and wish her well. It is so exciting to see where she will take the journal next.
In signing off, I would like to thank the Editorial Team – I feel very lucky to be associated with the names Lewis, Kahveci, Graulich, and Lawrie – their expertise, empathy, and work ethic is inspiring. Thanks also to my colleagues in the editorial office for their kind and too frequent reminders to remember to look at “The Queue”. And a final thanks to Professor Loretta Jones, whose prompting and reassurance helped me overcome my imposter syndrome and apply for the role in the first place!