You have published over 200 papers in your career. How do you transmit this experience to your students? Through formal training, such as a course during their PhD program? Or do you teach them through personal comments and correcting their papers?
I don’t know all the French universities, but in some you could have training on how to write a scientific paper. That could be one aspect. As a lab researcher, I have almost no [classroom or formal] teaching duties. Instead, with PhD students, I try to give them some clues on how to write a paper. Well, the first thing is to start with the figures, put the figures in the order that you think is the best. [For the manuscript], first start by writing the results section because, I would say, it’s the most easy. Of course, materials and methods is not the most complex, and after this comes the introduction. The introduction is the background, which is not the most complex thing to write; however, you have to [keep] your main message [in mind].
For the abstract, and this is very important when you go to very high rating journals such as Nature or Cell, when you read the abstract, it needs to be very easy. It’s not very complex. I was in a meeting last week, and there was the editor of Science and the editor of Cell, and they said, ‘In the abstract, try to be the most understandable by everyone, to be broad.’ I discuss this with the students.
In the title, never overstate your data. Your title must be very close to the data you will present. Don’t overstate or try to be like a newspaper [headline]. And after this comes the most complex part of the paper, even for the most senior scientists, the discussion….Then, [my students and I] discuss the [whole] paper.
It’s good for PhD students to go through the whole process. And what I try to do, which is not easy, is to keep the style and the idea of the PhD, except if it is totally wrong, but it is the paper of the PhD student. It’s good to encourage that they determine the layout of the paper, even if I do not agree. Sometimes in science, you can have a different logic on certain aspects, but it is not because I’m the boss, [any changes should be due to] logical aspects. It should be the student’s paper, for the PhD student to gain experience. I think this is good, rather than the boss just writing the paper.
Well, that is very admirable of you because many researchers tend to have their own style and want to pass that style to their students. So, basically you get rid of the student’s style.
Well, maybe I do that now because I’m quite old! But in my group, we have time to train. We are not in a hurry to publish, except sometimes with some topics.
So the students have the time to practice their own styles.