ASCO Journals Editorial Fellowship: A Journey From Submission to Final Decision

ASCO Journals Editorial Fellowship: A Journey From Submission to Final Decision

Guest Commentary

Jan 27, 2020

By Yara Abdou, MD, Maria Bourlon, MD, Arjun Gupta, MD, Ellen Kim, MD, MPH, and Charbel Matar, MD

As hematology/oncology fellows interested in scientific publishing, we were fortunate to be a part of ASCO Journals Editorial Fellowship. This program includes a hands-on experience to engage in a better understanding of how a manuscript is handled, from submission to final decision. All ASCO journals participate in this program: Journal of Clinical Oncology (JCO), JCO Oncology Practice (JCO OP), JCO Global Oncology (JCO GO), JCO Precision Oncology (JCO PO), and JCO Clinical Cancer Informatics (JCO CCI). Be the first to hear about the latest articles in these journals by following @ASCO_pubs on Twitter.

Dr. Yara AbdouDr. Abdou: JCO Editorial Fellow

I was selected as the JCO editorial fellow in January 2019. At the beginning of the fellowship, I completed the ASCO eLearning Manuscript Preparation & Publication online module, which is a very useful course to gain a broad understanding of the overall scientific publishing process. This module is available to all ASCO members and trainees and those interested in scientific publishing.

I was then assigned an editorial mentor: Dr. Bruce G. Haffty, a deputy editor at JCO. Dr. Haffty did an outstanding job with the selection of articles he assigned for me to review. I reviewed (and am still reviewing) various scientific topics in oncology including biomarker studies, clinical trials, quality of care, and patient-related outcomes. Knowing my interest in breast oncology, Dr. Haffty made sure the majority of topics I reviewed were related to breast cancer; however, I still had the opportunity to review a wide variety of topics in other malignancies. Dr. Haffty was a great resource, advisor, and mentor. He taught me how to recognize well-conducted research and how to detect flaws in trial design or data analysis. I also learned how to communicate my thoughts to the authors in a polite yet straightforward manner.

JCO managing editor Emilie Gunn helped organize my time during the fellowship and made sure I frequently communicated with Dr. Haffty. She would also send us reading assignments and resources that were very educational and helpful throughout the course of our fellowship.

At the 2019 ASCO Annual Meeting, I was invited to attend the JCO Editorial Board meeting. I met with Dr. Stephen A. Cannistra, the JCO editor-in-chief, who was very welcoming and encouraging. He introduced me to the whole editorial team and recognized my work as the journals’ editorial fellow.

The final step of our fellowship is to pass on our knowledge and education. Therefore, as part of my final project, I plan to put together a learning module that will help fellows at my institute, and hopefully other institutes, to develop their skills as reviewers and become reliable sources for journals to depend on for their publication process.

Dr. Maria T. BourlonDr. Bourlon: JCO GO Editorial Fellow

Early in my career, I wished to attend an ASCO Annual Meeting. To my surprise, in 2013 I received the ASCO International Development and Education Award (IDEA). It was a fascinating experience to get to know co-awardees from many parts of the world who were as perplexed as I was to see all the advances in oncology being presented at the ASCO Annual Meeting.

As we all know trainees from low- and middle-income countryies (LMICs) face the lack of many resources, such as treatment for their patients, research facilities, genetic testing, and multidisciplinary teams. They also lack mentors with enough time to guide them in the journey of writing grants, preparing manuscripts, and submitting articles. After my experience as an IDEA awardee, I realized I wanted to focus on genitourinary cancers, and in my country I couldn’t find additional training. I applied for a grant and was able to do a 1-year fellowship at the University of Colorado Genitourinary Cancers Program with my past IDEA mentor. This fueled my motivation and inspiration to start the first Genitourinary Cancer Clinic at my institution. During my endeavor of starting to do research in an LMIC, I encountered many obstacles, including lack of an organized research team, scarce resources, and little time due to a very busy clinic with patients waiting for their appointment. Nevertheless, all these obstacles could be overcome if the studies could be concluded; however, when the time for submission arrived I found myself left alone in trying to craft a manuscript and underwent many submission failures.

Incredibly, ASCO had launched the ASCO Editorial Fellowship, a program offering young oncologists an opportunity to have a mentor who will guide them in the writing and reviewing of manuscripts and other editorial tasks. To my surprise again, in January 2019 I received an email from JCO GO managing editor Emilie Gunn telling me that my application was accepted and that I was matched with Dr. Eva Segelov from Melbourne, Australia, a JCO GO editor working at the Monash Cancer Center, who would serve as my mentor.

The beginning was a little challenging; trying to match online mentoring with a 17-hour time difference between Melbourne and Mexico was hard. Sometimes I needed to do meet at midnight to match my mentor’s time.

Dr. Segelov is an impressive mentor. She gave me articles to review every 15 days and I felt I was not going to make it. With the first papers I reviewed, I was shocked by how many errors she found, and how many suggestions she had for the authors compared to my limited capacity to review.

However, after several times reviewing papers I found I was more and more critical of the data presented, could have a discussion with my mentor, and could propose improvement when submitting articles. I could not believe a person such as Dr. Segelov was now discussing projects with me. Together, we devised a project that has mapped the authors and accessing individuals of JCO GO by country economy to understand collaborations and interdependencies. This valuable information will be used to target efforts to improve authorship from low-income countries as well as to establish networks between economies where the links were underdeveloped. We hope to have results soon.

To date, my editorial fellowship has been a very rewarding experience to learn editorial skills that have helped me as a reviewer and to move my academic career in global oncology forward.

Dr. Arjun GuptaDr. Gupta: JCO OP Editorial Fellow

During residency, I participated in the ASCO Quality Training Program. I had the opportunity to interact with some oncology quality leaders, such as Dr. John V. Cox (@coxjv) and Dr. Arif Kamal (@arifkamalmd). They would often bring up a recent publication in  JCO Oncology Practice when making a point. Over time, I became an avid reader of JCO OP as it was perhaps the best (and possibly only) oncology-specific journal focusing consistently on care delivery and quality.

When I heard about the JCO OP Editorial Fellowship in the fall of my first year of oncology fellowship, I was slightly nervous. The first year of oncology fellowship at our institution is 100% clinical, with research time taking over a majority of the calendar in our senior years. I did not want to miss this opportunity, though—it seemed like such a perfect fit. I discussed it with our program director, who told me I could always review manuscripts at my own time. He further encouraged me, ‘’All the editors have gone through oncology fellowship and know what it’s like. I am sure this is for your learning, not to burden you.’’ That was all the push I needed to apply, and in retrospect, he was absolutely right.

I learned a tremendous amount through the year, both through formally reviewing manuscripts alongside established editors, and through the connections forged through the position. Dr. Linda Bosserman (@MdBosserman), JCO OP editor-in-chief, has been a terrific sounding board and mentor. We had a 2-hour phone call right at the start of the year. Dr. Bosserman shared her vision for the journal, asked me what I wanted to achieve, and explored my interests. We brainstormed some of the special issues in JCO OP which have been published in the past year. Amazingly, even when we first spoke, we discussed everything under the sun, not just academics or the fellowship. She has been a steadfast mentor, and it has been fantastic catching up with her in person at the ASCO Annual Meeting and the ASCO Quality Care Symposium.

My official duties as an editorial fellow evolved with the role. I reviewed approximately one new manuscript every 2 to 3 weeks for the first 2 months. I communicated with the handling editor if I had any questions. Depending on the need, we would regroup when they had reached a decision. Over the latter part of the fellowship, I took on more of a lead role and often reviewed manuscripts “blind,” so as not to bias my thinking. I purposefully requested that Dr. Bosserman not assign me to work with a specific editor since I wanted a broad experience.

At the 2019 ASCO Annual Meeting, I met several of the editors again at the JCO OP Editorial Board meeting, including Dr. Nicole Kuderer, Dr. James Armitage, and Dr. Arif Kamal. These introductions have led to several quality and supportive care endeavors unrelated to JCO OP. Throughout the year, Dr. Bosserman was always ready to jump on the phone if needed, for career advice or to reshape a research manuscript I planned to submit to another journal.

Another person who made the entire journey extremely smooth and fun is JCO OP managing editor Kelly Brooks. She worked tirelessly to tie all the loose knots throughout the year.

Dr. Ellen KimDr. Kim: JCO CCI Editorial Fellow

I was fortunate to participate in the ASCO Journals Editorial Fellowship program in 2019. During the application, I wasn’t even sure if I would qualify, as a radiation oncology resident; I explained in the application that I would be entering my last year of clinical training since we do not require a clinical fellowship. (For any interested rad onc residents, we are eligible, as are fellows in surgical oncology sub-specialties!)

The fellowship started in January 2019 with a foundational course from ASCO eLearning with online modules on manuscript submission and journal review processes. Even though I had submitted manuscripts before, only here did I learn how to write a proper cover letter, as well as more effective strategies for selecting appropriate journals.

Next, the fellowship helped me apply these strategies on real manuscripts under review by JCO CCI. I enjoyed the opportunity to work with a variety of editors for each review, in addition to the continuity of mentorship from my paired associate editor Dr. Jill Barnholtz-Sloan.  

One of the most interesting elements of this fellowship was being able to participate in the editors' monthly conference calls. It was illuminating to see how much deliberation and care goes into each decision, from short-term objectives to long-term overarching goals of the journal, and to see some of the limitations and challenges an editorial board can face. It was great to be able to go to the ASCO Annual Meeting in Chicago in May 2019 to meet the JCO CCI editors and editorial board in person, including editor-in-chief Dr. Debra Patt (@dapattmd). I always appreciate meeting in person over a conference call! Through this experience with JCO CCI, I have found mentors from a variety of clinical disciplines and institutions with shared interests in clinical informatics.

The final component of the fellowship was to share what I’ve learned with others. I presented to the residents and faculty in my department, which led to interesting discussions on authorship and the benefits of reviewing manuscripts. It has also been enjoyable to tweet about this experience throughout the year, connecting with other oncologists, statisticians, and patients around the country.

Overall, I am grateful to have had this tremendous opportunity. I’ve become a better reviewer and writer, connected with career-long mentors, and gained a better appreciation of the editorial process. I know that my career in academic medicine will be stronger as a result.

Finally, I would like to give special thanks to managing editor Ashley Ketelhut for always being helpful, available, and kind.

Dr. Charbel MatarDr. Matar: JCO GO Editorial Fellow

On a Tuesday afternoon in January 2019, I received an email congratulating me on my acceptance into the ASCO Journals Editorial Fellowship program. I was officially going to be an editorial fellow for JCO Global Oncology (JCO GO) with Dr. Ophira Ginsburg (@OphiraG) as my mentor.

I believe the main role of scientific journals is to deliver the most updated results and the latest research discoveries to concerned parties across nations—they are the foundation of the constant growth of medical knowledge. However, manuscripts undergo thorough reviews and extensive editing before publication. This systematic process is not as simple as one would imagine. This is where the importance of editorial fellowships come into place. It is especially essential for young oncologists to go through all the stages of editing and reviewing manuscript to optimize their research skills.

The experience I gained from the editorial fellowship is diverse and spans several levels. First, I learned how to critically approach the submitted material and this learning process was always guided by my mentor through continuous interaction. Moreover, I was given access to online courses related to medical ethics, manuscript preparation and publication, and evaluation of the scientific literature. Second, I learned how to criticize a manuscript; I was able to differentiate between well-conducted research and papers that needed amendments. I learned how to deliver the message in written communication, helping the authors improve the presentation of the manuscript.

The most exciting part of the fellowship was the opportunity to attend the 2019 ASCO Annual Meeting, traveling all the way to Chicago from Lebanon. I felt so overwhelmed once inside the majestic McCormick Place! An unbelievable number of oncologists attend the meeting from all across the globe. I met my mentor Dr. Ginsburg in person for the first time. I was also invited to attend the yearly meeting of the JCO GO Editorial Board, where I learned about the main objective, goals, and scope of the journal. Data related to the achievements of the journal throughout the last year were presented, in addition to future plans of reaching out to more readers and covering specific topics related to global oncology.

I was even given the chance to participate in the discussion and voice my opinion, speaking from my experience as an oncologist in a low- and middle-income country (LMIC). I felt so nervous but at the same time proud to have the responsibility of expressing my community’s perspective and needs.

This editorial fellowship helped me gain insight to the work done in global research. Witnessing the purpose of scholars across continents, especially those in LMICs with limited available resources, made me realize that with perseverance and determination one can overcome all difficulties. I can only thank the JCO GO editor-in-chief Dr. Gilberto Lopes (@GlopesMd) and Dr. Ginsburg for all their support and guidance throughout this unique and amazing experience.

Conclusion

In summary, the ASCO Journals Editorial Fellowship is an absolutely spectacular opportunity to gain a better understanding of the editorial process and learn new skills in writing and critiquing manuscripts. If you are a fellow in training or no more than 1 year out of training, consider applying in November 2020. If you have further questions, you can reach out to us or contact ASCO Journals staff at pubs@asco.org.

Dr. Abdou is a hematology/oncology fellow at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center. She is an aspiring breast oncologist focusing on immuno-oncology and cancer immunotherapy. Follow her on Twitter @YAbdouMD.

Dr. Bourlon is a medical oncologist and national researcher in Mexico City with interest in global oncology and mentorship. She started and leads the Genitourinary Cancer Clinic at Instituto Nacional de Ciencias Médicas y Nutrición Salvador Zubirán, and was part of the 2018 ASCO Global Oncology Task Force. Follow her on Twitter @BourlonMaite.  

Dr. Gupta is a medical oncology fellow at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD. His clinical and research interests include gastrointestinal oncology, symptom intervention trials, quality, and improving care delivery. Follow him on Twitter @guptaarjun90.

Dr. Kim is a PGY-5 and chief resident in radiation oncology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. She will be moving to Boston in July 2020 to start a clinical informatics fellowship at Mass General Brigham (formerly Partners HealthCare). Follow her on Twitter @EllenKimMD.

Dr. Matar is a hematology/oncology fellow at American University of Beirut, Lebanon. He is interested in gastrointestinal malignancies with a research focus on venous thromboembolism in solid tumors, guidelines development, and global oncology. Follow him on Twitter @Charbel_matar1.

The ASCO Journals Editorial Fellowship is supported by the Mission Endowment of Conquer Cancer, the ASCO Foundation.

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