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Research assessment

Policy work in support of responsible research assessment

Meeting of the Strategic Installation Grants Committee, Hinxton/UK, 2019

EMBO has been at the forefront of discussions on the need to abandon the misuse of publication-based metrics in judging researchers’ quality, and to change research assessment practices towards a more qualitative, informed, and transparent approach. To make these changes in practice, the organization has piloted and implemented innovative approaches and processes in its funding schemes and publication policies. As signatories of DORA and CoARA, EMBO and EMBO Press are committed to further implementing responsible research assessment practices throughout the organization. This policy work is aimed at improving research assessment processes, sharing best practices, and making the process fairer to all applicants.

The EMBO policies and initiatives for its funding schemes and scientific journals align with the principles and aims of responsible research assessment and with the DORA recommendations and the CoARA agreement. Peer review is considered the cornerstone of quality control in science and is the central mechanism for research assessment at EMBO, both for grant making and for scientific publishing. Researchers carry out this time-consuming activity as part of their contribution to the scientific community. EMBO embraces responsible research assessment and currently adheres to the following principles:

Abandon the use of journal-based metrics as a surrogate measure of the quality
  • EMBO reviewers are instructed to avoid relying on journal impact factors (JIF) or other publication-based metrics when evaluating applications.
  • Applicants are instructed to avoid indicating JIF or any publication-based metrics in their publication list.
  • To focus reviewers’ attention on the content of papers rather than journal metrics, applicants are asked to summarise their best two (Installation Grants) or three (Young Investigators and Postdoctoral Fellowships) papers and highlight why those papers were chosen.
  • The guidelines for EMBO funding schemes are publicly available on the EMBO webpages and provide detailed descriptions of the criteria used for each funding programme.
  • The names of the selection committee members are published on the EMBO website and in the funding scheme application guidelines.
Preprints and Open Science

Publishing preprints allows researchers to share their work on various platforms to be evaluated in a quick and open manner by the community. Another advantage of preprints is that the work can be evaluated for its own scientific merit and quality, and not based on journal fit.

  • Applicants to EMBO funding schemes are allowed to submit with their applications preprints posted on preprint servers alongside articles published in peer reviewed journals.
  • Since 2022, the Postdoctoral Fellowship programme has allowed applicants to submit peer reviewed first-author preprints that have been reviewed through a trusted independent peer review platform, such as Review Commons.
  • Since 2023, the Young Investigator programme has allowed applicants to submit peer reviewed last-author preprints that have been reviewed through a trusted independent peer review platform, such as Review Commons.
  • EMBO participated in the Open Science task force within the Initiative for Science in Europe. The group advocates for the improvement of research assessment and published a report on aligning Open Science practices in February 2022.
Rewarding a broader range of researchers’ activities
Improving peer review
  • EMBO and EMBO Press collaborated with the Research in Research Institute (RoRI), an international consortium of funders, universities and technologists that aims at improving the way research is funded, practiced, and evaluated. The collaboration resulted in the Experimental research funder’s handbook. Partial randomization was used as an example of how funders can experiment with selection processes. 
Equality, diversity, inclusion
  • EMBO is committed to gender balance and equal opportunity in its selection committees, staff, pool of applicants and awardees. All EMBO committees and Council have on average 30% members of the underrepresented genders. This represents the gender distribution within the EMBO Membership.
  • The EMBO funding schemes have clear conflict of interest policies that are sent to reviewers before each selection meeting. Conflict of interest is discussed on a case-by-case basis and reviewers who declare a conflict are excluded from the application’s discussion and review.
  • EMBO developed a presentation on unconscious bias that is presented at each selection committee meeting.
  • The EMBO Young Investigators and Installation Grants schemes have several initiatives that promote equity for scientists with children or other care responsibilities
  • Female scientists are given an extended cut-off date (one year per child), and male scientists are given an extension to account for paternal leave (three months per child or the total amount of paternal leave taken, whichever is greater).
  • Females are allowed a one-year extension per child born during their programme. Young Investigators are given an extension of benefits such as networking and support for their lab, while Installation Grantees receive an extension of their programme benefits and additional time to spend the grant funding.
  • EMBO recognises that taking care of children adds financial and time obligations for parents, which is why it provides additional support to scientists with families. Eligible costs include fees for a babysitter or childcare facility, travel costs for a friend or relative who can take care of the child, travel costs for taking the child to the meeting, etc.
  • Postdoctoral Fellows are granted a dependent child allowance as well as parental leave.

EMBO is a founding member and active supporter of the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA), a global initiative focused on advancing practical approaches to research and researcher assessment across all scholarly disciplines. Since the Declaration was first published in 2013, DORA has transformed from a call to action into an active initiative. Fair research assessment directly aligns with the organization’s goals to support researchers’ exchange of scientific information in a supportive research environment. The related policy work is in alignment with DORA’s aims and recommendations. EMBO continues to be actively involved in DORA, and Bernd Pulverer, Head of EMBO Scientific Publishing, serves on its Steering Committee.

EMBO reinforced its commitment to improving research assessment processes by signing the Agreement to Reform Research Assessment in January 2023, which was drawn up by the Coalition on Advancing Research Assessment (CoARA), and pledges to align its policies with the commitments of the agreement. Accordingly, EMBO has formed an internal working group with representatives from the funding programmes and publications teams to review and align research assessment processes.

In July 2023, EMBO and EMBO Press played a role in successfully forming the CoARA working group Recognizing and Rewarding Peer Review. The group consists of 18 funders and organizations who meet quarterly to discuss how to give additional attention to peer review activities within research assessment system by

  • Collecting evidence on how to recognize and reward high-quality peer review activities.
  • Developing principles and guidelines for this recognition.
  • Piloting their implementation in research performing and funding organizations.
  • Supporting wider implementation and evaluate the lessons learned.

EMBO organizes and leads sessions at international conferences on issues relating to research assessment and peer review.

A selection of past events:

Exploring best practices in research assessment: EMBO, EMBL and DORA, 12 May 2023 a hybrid panel session to present and discuss funders’, institutes’ and publishers’ initiatives to honour the DORA principles.

Recognizing Preprint Peer Review, a meeting co-organized with HHMI and ASAPbio, 1-2 December 2022. The meeting was covered in an article in Science.

Experiments in evaluation: lessons from randomisation in research funding. An SNSF, EMBO & RoRI virtual workshop
1 and 2 December 2021

Setting Positive Incentives in Research Assessment: How to align criteria with research integrity principles, ENRIO 2021 Congress on Research Integrity Practice, 27-29 September 2021

Emerging Trends at the Intersection of Research Publishing, Open Science, and Academic Reward and Recognition Systems, CellBio2020 Virtual Meeting, 2 December 2020

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