Celebrating Dr. Bruce Dancik's Service to CSP

March 8, 2017

As many of you know, in the fall of 2016 our esteemed Executive Editor-in-Chief of 26 years, Dr. Bruce Dancik, retired. You can read the official announcement published in our journals. Dr. Dancik led CSP through a period of immense change, not only in the scholarly publishing world, but also as CSP transitioned from part of the federal government to an independent, not-for-profit publisher. In addition to leading the editorial vision of CSP, Dr. Dancik has also had a wonderful career in forest research and was a mentor to many of our journals' Editors and Associate Editors. Before heading off to one of his many fishing trips to Argentina, we had the opportunity to chat with Dr. Dancik about his career and time as Executive Editor-in-Chief.

Q. Going right back to the very beginning, when did you first know you wanted to pursue a career in science?

In high school, I had wanted a career "outdoors" in something like forestry or wildlife management, so I enrolled in such a program. In the first couple of years, I found I was more interested in the science courses and then was hired as an undergraduate teaching assistant and research assistant for a new professor in my program. He convinced me to stay on for graduate work, which I started early after three and a half years in an undergraduate program.

Q. Tell us the story of how you ended up becoming an Editor of the Canadian Journal of Forest Research and then moved to Executive Editor-in-Chief of the NRC Research Press journals.

I was a young (36 years old) professor at the University of Alberta when Claude Bishop, then Editor-in-Chief of NRC Research Press, called me to offer me the position of Editor of the Canadian Journal of Forest Research (CJFR). I had not been an editor or an associate editor of any journal at that point, and I was more than a little surprised at his request. After we talked some more I finally, and more than a bit hesitantly, agreed to take on the task. I was rather scared and felt that I didn't know anything about editing a journal or making decisions about manuscripts, but I quickly learned. Just about that time Barbara Drew of NRC Research Press, who had just become Director, began encouraging my involvement in broader publishing-related activities such as joining the Council of Biology Editors (now the Council of Science Editors). CJFR grew substantially in my first few years, moving from a small quarterly to a bimonthly and soon after to a monthly publication. I became more interested in scientific publication more broadly, and I think Barbara encouraged Claude to appoint me as Assistant Editor-in-Chief of NRC Research Press. I served in this position until Claude retired, and the NRC appointed me as the first Editor-in-Chief from outside government.

Q. Serving on an editorial board of a journal and especially acting as editor of a journal can be a demanding time commitment. How did you stay on top of your other duties as an active researcher while still finding time to lead a journal?

When I was first working on CJFR I was lucky to have an Editorial Assistant and a separate office adjacent to campus dedicated to journal work. My assistant would have everything ready for me in the afternoon when I would set aside time to work specifically on journal tasks. I found that working in a separate location helped me focus on journal work and not be interrupted by my other work. In addition to making decisions on manuscripts after reviews were received, I would stay as long as it took to assess new manuscripts and send them out for review in 24 hours. Ensuring that I assigned manuscripts for review promptly was incredibly important to me, and I believe it is critical to keeping the journal on time, managing the flow of papers, and keeping authors happy. In the days before electronic submissions my assistant and I even had a system to assign new manuscripts when I was travelling. If I was away from the office I would call in and my assistant would go through the new submissions each day. In a nutshell, for me time management meant looking for little blocks of time I could set aside for the journal.

As Editor-in-Chief the demands were different from regular, predictable work. The work of an Editor-in-Chief happens when there are serious problems, issues, complaints, or major changes so it was more a role of crisis management. The work also involved people management—talking to people about potential editors, getting suggestions for new editors for individual journals, convincing people to take on editorships, and building and maintaining relationships with the community.

Q. As an active and influential member of CSP's publishing program for almost 35 years you've experienced a lot of changes in technology and innovation. In your experience, what has changed the most in the last 35 years? Has there been anything that has stayed more or less the same?

The two greatest changes that I experienced were the shift from print to electronic and the rise of open access journals. The general task of getting manuscripts out and finding reviewers is still the same but people seem to be busier. While most of us consider it part of our responsibilities and duties to review papers and to be a part of the editorial process, it has become harder to manage because of other demands on a researcher’s time. Now more than ever, universities expect more from faculty, specifically to publish more, to monitor more graduate students, and to teach more. While the electronic submissions systems have made the process a lot easier to a large extent, I found it has also made it easier for reviewers to say “no”! This means that journal editors have to be more patient and persistent and call out to colleagues and contacts to get good reviews.

The actual process of reviewing has also more or less stayed the same. All papers can be improved by review and that isn't going to change with technology. Anyone who has published has been grateful for the referee who catches that embarrassing error. Early in my career I got back a very discouraging review of my very first paper—it had many pages of comments—but in hindsight, it was all very constructive, and many years later I invited that referee to be an Associate Editor for CJFR.

Q. Do you have any advice on how to plan for the future in a time of constant change?

I don't know if you can plan, per se, but you can be patient and be willing to bend with the flow—don’t arbitrarily go against something just because it's not the way you did it before.

Q. What advice would you give to a young person interested in pursuing a career as a researcher?

I've found throughout my career that if one has a certain curiosity about the natural world or anything in the sciences or medicine, physics, biology, etc. that really helps… and anyone interested in pursuing a career in academia should like to read, a lot. I'd also advise young people to find potential mentors, particularly for graduate degrees, someone you can get along with and respect, and someone who might be tough on you and pushes you and looks for opportunities for you. You should also take a look at the papers your mentor is being asked to review and offer to help—use it as a learning experience. And lastly, try to get a job in a lab, and if you can't get a job, volunteer.

Q. What are some of the major challenges you faced in your role as Executive Editor-in-Chief?

It is always challenging to deal with the unexpected issues that come up. Though they are few and far between, every Editor-in-Chief has had to deal with issues of potential fraud, controversial authorship, and problematic editors. There is no training for dealing with issues such as these—we just have to use our best judgement. I always encouraged all the journal editors to come to me with any problems and we'd just talk them out. Often the editor can see the right decision just by talking about the issue.

A challenge specific to our company was when the Canadian federal government made the decision to either sell NRC Research Press or shut it down. It was a huge challenge to take that leap and step into the unknown. Fortunately, capable staff had the confidence that it could succeed and thrive as a not-for-profit, and the last six years have been proof of that resiliency and success.


The CSP team at Dr. Dancik's retirement party. 

Q. What did you like most about your role as Executive-Editor-in-Chief?

The people! Everyone I've had the opportunity to work with has been interesting, well educated in a variety of things, and with wonderful personalities, backgrounds, and interests in things aside from their profession. Working with all these great people will be the part I'll miss most.

Q. For those of us who know you, we know that you are a man of many passions and hobbies. Do you have any advice on how to find a healthy balance for researchers with much work and little time?

Early on, when I didn't have a class to teach that day, I'd sometimes take the day off to go fly-fishing. I liked fishing because I could think about a lot of things and work a lot of things out while listening to the birds and watching the water and fish, I found it therapeutic. There was a great departmental secretary who knew if I wasn't there by 8:30 am that I was off fishing. She'd tell callers that I wasn't available because I was “out making field collections”. It also helps to have a partner who pushes you to take time off when needed. I also found that I enjoyed my hobbies so much that I’d look for opportunities to find time to do them. Finding something outside of work that you really enjoy doing is important.

Q. Is there any one decision or chosen path that you now consider as a pivotal moment in your career?

When Claude Bishop called me to twist my arm to become Editor it was the farthest thing from my mind. I had no experience, had only reviewed a few papers, and I felt completely unqualified. But he was very persuasive. Being offered the role of Editor of CJFR and deciding to take it was certainly a turning point for me. I found that working as an Editor also helped my own research. I read about new innovative approaches and was inspired by the work of others.

Q. What will be some of the major challenges for science and scholarly publishing in the future?

Predatory publishing continues to be a major challenge. These predatory organizations can be so persuasive to young researchers who don't have any experience. The other challenges aren't new and probably aren't going anywhere, though I have found that they come in cycles: a lack of funding for research and job availability.

Q. What are some of the ways that an early- or mid-career researcher can measure the success of his/her work?

While impact and citations are useful as a measure of success, it is important to look for where citations are coming from. I often encourage researchers to publish things like interesting methods/materials because they could be useful for lots of researchers in a number of different fields. Working on a review paper, while seemingly a thankless task, can be greatly rewarding and very useful for others. Review papers are often essential reading for students and some of the best papers are those good, critical review papers that set you on a path of research that interests you; it helps people rapidly get up to speed in new disciplines. Teaching undergrad students about research can be very helpful and set people on a path so that they can be great successes and you can be pleased for having a little role in encouraging them. And lastly, make sure that you steer clear from "salami science". Write good, thoughtful papers. If it is too long you'll be told, but don't cut up a paper needlessly right off the bat.

Q. You've spoken before on the importance of science communication. Tell us a little about how science communication has shaped your career and any advice for researchers wanting to improve the reach/discoverability of their work.

Communication is the most important work we do as researchers. You've done all this great science but it is not completed or useful until you can tell someone else about it. One of my first submissions resulted in a rigorous review that showed me all the ways I wasn't communicating my work, even though I thought I had. Most of us fail at communication because we are trying to explain something that is so close to us and can't imagine how others don't understand. Use simple sentences! And don't be discouraged by reviews; everyone can improve their work. It is also important to get feedback along the way. This will help you anticipate any problems before you submit.

Q. For researchers who want to have an active role in scholarly publishing, what is the best way to join a journal's editorial board?

Every time you get asked to review a manuscript in your area of expertise, even if it is a time imposition (which it always is), try to do it and do it well. Associate editors will notice your participation in the process and somewhere down the line you will likely be asked to join. Also, introduce yourself; let yourself be known by meeting associate editors at conferences or meetings and tell them that you'd like to see more manuscripts and that you are willing to spend some time and do a good job. You can also ask that your mentor or a senior professor to put in a good word for you with a member of an editorial board. Another way to get involved is to be active in your scholarly society and take on various roles and responsibilities.

Filed Under: NRC Research Press Meet the Editor Scholarly Publishing

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