Wed Jun 15, 2016
# Goodbye eLife!
So after nearly four and a half years I am moving on from eLife. I’ve had an amazing time, worked with some amazing people, and we have gotten a few really nice things done.
First off, we are hiring a replacement for my role, this is an amazing opportunity to effect real change in scholarly publishing. eLife has just announced follow on funding of £25M to sustain us through to 2022. We have a great dev team, we have the buy-in from a hugely respected editorial board, and our submissions are going from strength to strength. Being open, and making the software we build open source is baked in to our culture. If you are excited by the possibilities, then do think of applying!
Secondly I’d like to cover the reason why I’m leaving. Eight weeks ago my wife delivered our beautiful little daughter Laira, and now we are jugging two little ones at home. I live in London and commute most days up to Cambridge to work at eLife. Though I was not in the market for a new job, when an opportunity came up that was just around the corner from where I live, it was something I had to think seriously about. After thinking deeply about it, I made the decision that this new opportunity was both sufficiently exciting and could give me the ability to support my family in a way that is just not possible with a commute to Cambridge as part of my daily routine. I am a strong believer in putting family first in these decisions. Life is not a rehearsal for some time when we will get to do it all again in the future, but better. It’s also not lost on me that when I moved from Mendeley to eLife, that was driven by the upcoming birth of our son. I have been extraordinarily lucky to have had such great opportunities that allow me to support my family in this way, while at the same time allow me to pursue work that is exiting and impactful.
Finally I’d like to look back over my time at eLife and give a personal reflection on what we have achieved. If I count it correctly I think I was the eighth person to join the team (not including our amazing editor in chief Randy). At the time of joining I wrote
"With eLife I'm convinced there is an opportunity to make a contribution and an impact too. It's in front of us now, and we have the opportunity to do something great."
Well four years on, I think we have done something great. When I joined eLife was literally a blank sheet of paper. One of the first things we did, even before launching our journal platform, was to start attracting submissions, and when they had been submitted posting them directly to PubMedCentral with no delay. At the time this caused fury in some areas of the publishing world, but it was the right thing to do for the researchers, and for science, and I think that kind of set out our marker that we were not simply interested in doing things the same old way.
Those manuscripts went through the eLife peer review process, a collaborative process that almost totally eliminates the 3rd reviewer problem.. There are not a huge number of innovations happening in peer review at the moment, so I think what eLife has done here is really laudable, and it’s great to see if getting traction in some other journals.
Of course I was brought on board to deal with the technical development of the journal, and in December of 2012, with Highwire as a partner, we launched the eLife journal website on an incredibly ambitious timescale. At the time it was widely lauded as having the clearest layout for a scholarly article page of any journal on the web. We brought videos inline, made a good effort of no longer abandoning supplementary materials to the ghetto of the page footer, and made it far easier to see related images than had ever been done before. A lot of that was due to working with a design agency that had no previous experience in scholarly space – http://ripe.com, and tackling the problem as a straight up UX problem, rather than a problem specific to research. Hand in hand with that went a focus on getting as much value as possible into the XML, including funding information and well structured contribution information for authors. We have posted our sample XML into github, and we push the XML of all of our journal articles into github, along with some nice tools for parsing them.
One of the most fun products that we worked on was eLife Lens. We did this in collaboration with Ivan Grubisic who had the idea, and the http://substance.io team, who added a great deal of coding and thinking muscle to the project. Lens has gone on to be adopted by a number of other publishers, and I’m exited about it’s future.
Another great highlight of my time at eLife was when Randy won the Nobel prize in 2013. Amazingly we were one of the first people he called, even before the news had been press released. The traffic to the journal got a nice spike that week.
Earlier this year we hit another big milestone, and we took over full hosting of our own content, along with developing the production system behind the scenes that powered that. We are going to open source eLife Continuum in the next couple of weeks, and that’s one of my big remaining jobs to get done before I move on.
All of this technical development happens in support of science, and the development teams’ mission in eLife is
To build a platform for research communication that embodies the best practices of open development and that treats its users with respect.
It’s been incredible to see the support that eLife has from the scientific community. We are now getting well over 600 submissions per month, and the quality of the research that we are publishing is fantastic, from editing RNA, to work on the Zika virus right through to the discovery of new species of Homo. The papers we publish make their data open, and their reviews open too. It’s just fantastic to see the scholarly community embracing such transparency, and it’s making a real impact on improving the way science is done.
On a more personal level, all of these things were achieved through the dedication and hard work of a large number of people. I had the great pleasure of working with an amazing team, and also working with some amazing partners over the last four years. When I was evaluating joining eLife I got in touch with a mutual friend who had worked for my boss Mark. He said that Mark was the best boss he had ever had, and if I ever got a chance to work for him, I should jump at that chance. Well, jump I did, and I can very gladly report the same. I’ve learnt so much working for Mark, and I hope to carry some of that with me in my future career.
The technical team that we have built up over the last four years are amazing, and I’ll definitely miss working with David, Nathan, Sian, Chris, Luke and Giorgio. I’ll miss the great interactions with the planning team, the support from eLife, and the general sense of camaraderie within the office.
I am so incredibly proud and humbled to have been a part of this initial journey for eLife. Knowing what I do about what is coming down the line, I’m just really excited for the future of the journal and the continued future impact that eLife is going to have. I feel that it couldn’t be in a stronger position right now, and I wish whoever comes in to shape the role I’m leaving as much fun and enjoyment as I’ve had over the past four years.