The previous installment of “Between Author and Editor” was an overview of the mentoring component of AuthorAID, a program of the International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications that pairs developingcountry researchers with mentors who help them to write and publish their research. Here are thoughts on the program from an AuthorAID mentoree and mentor. Rhoune Ochako is a demographer in Nairobi, Kenya, and Jackie Goodrich is a doctoral student at the University of Michigan. I spoke with them by telephone in early 2011, when they had been working together for almost a year. Following are excerpts from our conversations.
I went to the [AuthorAID] Web site and then did my search. I was trying to look for mentors who had similar interests as mine. I identified quite a number, about four, then I sent e-mails to them. Two of them responded—Jackie and somebody else. After that, we started communicating. I sent them my research paper after I introduced myself and they gave me their e-mail addresses. I told them that I’m a researcher in Africa, based in Nairobi, Kenya, and I was interested in having my work published.
I had done some analyses and a write-up, but I needed guidance to improve what I was doing. Jackie and I agreed that she’d look at my paper and give me feedback. That’s how we started doing the communication.
I was doing a paper on comprehensive HIV and AIDS knowledge. [The other mentor] said he was not quite conversant with issues of HIV. So he looked for somebody who knew a lot about HIV and then gave the paper to that person for review. So I received comments from two mentors. And I was able to revise and improve my paper. But after some time, I lost one mentor. I think he got busy with work. I don’t blame him, because he was doing it on top of his work, and again, as he mentioned, this was not quite his area of specialty.
When I met Jackie, I was happy. She told me that her interest is slightly different from mine; she does biological sciences research, and a lot of her research is done in the lab. But I was quite happy because she’s still knowledgeable and she knows a lot about research in general. And so far, she has provided me with a lot of guidance in the process. Jackie provided guidance on how to write my introduction and even do the analyses. At times when I’m stuck and I’m not sure how to interpret my results, she guides me through the process. When I submitted [the HIV/AIDS] paper for publication, the reviewers told me to review the English to improve the quality of the paper, and Jackie helped in the process.
[Our communication] has worked out quite well. We haven’t used Skype calls or telephone calls—we just work with e-mail, and it’s never been a problem. The only problem is with the time difference. There are times when I send an e-mail during the day and I get the response the following morning. But at least we are consistent. When I send her an e-mail she responds, and [our communication] has been good.
I think AuthorAID is a very great idea. Maybe what needs to be done is to make many more junior researchers in the developing world know about AuthorAID. I learned that even in my office, where we have access to AuthorAID, not too many people know about it.
What I like so much about AuthorAID is that I can always receive help on improving the quality of my research work. I’ve been able to get a very good mentor. I really wanted to get my work published. And I’m so happy because two papers have now been accepted and published in online peer-reviewed journals. I’m working on the third one. AuthorAID is very good. The mentors give free guidance on how to improve our research work, while at the same time they are doing their normal jobs. This is a sacrifice they are making. The collaboration which is possible through AuthorAID should be encouraged, because it can take us to a higher level by ensuring we publish quality research findings that will influence policy.
I heard about [AuthorAID] when I was at a Society of Toxicology meeting. I attended this small workshop on scientific writing, and the lady who was leading it told us about AuthorAID. I’m a PhD student, so I’m not even that experienced yet myself, and she was saying how, even so, there are probably people we can help in other countries with editing—that it is a good way to get more experience in that type of thing. And I also like interacting with other scientists and students, so I thought it would be interesting to check out and see if I could actually help anybody.
I signed up on the Web site as a potential mentor in March 2010. At the end of the month, Rhoune contacted me; there is a way that you can send messages on [the AuthorAID Web site] to people who you are interested in working with or talking to. She sent me a message through the Web site and asked if I would want to work with her on helping her edit some papers she was writing. And from then on we have e-mailed back and forth using our regular e-mail when she wanted to discuss her papers.
It has been nice to see how we’ve both improved. Her papers have been improving a lot as we’ve been working on them, and it has been really satisfying to see her submit them. Hopefully, they will be accepted, too, which we’re both really excited about. And it has also helped my writing, too, because looking at someone else’s papers helps me to see what is important when reading a paper. When you are writing about your own work, you know everything about the information, so sometimes you don’t realize that other people don’t understand something. It is easier for me to pick that out by looking at Rhoune’s papers since I’m not an expert in her field. Sometimes I have to say, ‘This could use a little more explanation because everyone might not understand that’, and I think that helps in my own writing, too.
Her grammar is pretty good and her word choices. I have helped her with word choice and transitioning between paragraphs and making the writing sound a bit more formal. As far as the information content goes, I usually suggested more information here or less there depending on whether I thought things needed more explanation or not.
I definitely would say that you don’t have to be a really experienced professional to be a mentor. If you’re a student, you might be able to help other researchers who are just starting out, like Rhoune. I probably could not help a more advanced researcher. Really, anyone can be a mentor and can help with something, even though the extent of that help probably depends on your expertise. You just need to be open to trying new things and going a little bit outside of your exact field to offer any advice that you can. I think that it is very rewarding. And it is not extremely timeconsuming either. I probably spend something like 4 hours per paper. And I suppose if you use one of the AuthorAID contracts (available through the Web site), then you could set an amount of time to be working together if you don’t want it to go on forever.
I’m really glad that I did join the program. It helps to get another perspective and it’s exciting to work with someone who is a budding scientist in another country. It’s interesting to see how science is done in different countries and how things are progressing. That has been a really good experience. It is nice to be involved with someone like Rhoune and to help a little bit and get to know other scientists better.
Visit https://www.authoraid.info/join_form if you are interested in signing up to be an AuthorAID mentor or mentoree.