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IS MENTORSHIP THE KEY TO SCIENTIFIC PUBLISHING?

Op. Ed. by A/Prof. Laura Heathfield


The significance of mentorship in academic publishing, particularly in scientific research, is crucial, especially in developing countries across Africa. In my experience, when reviewing articles from developing regions, the challenges I have encountered are primarily as a result of flawed methodology, which are the main cause / leading to publication rejections.

The primary concern lies in the inception phase of the study.

Addressing issues in study design, especially in forensic science, requires intervention early on in the process. What I will refer to as 'secondary challenges', such as language, grammatical, or statistical inaccuracies, I think can be rectified/salvaged with guidance and support. However, the most critical flaws which often emerge from methodological errors, are mostly irreversible by the publication stage.

The absence of sound methodology from the experimental design phase results in significant obstacles that may render the study outcomes irrelevant or unsuitable for publication. Collaboration and guidance at this stage are in my opinion, imperative, ensuring a more comprehensive and appropriate approach to experimental design. Mentors' input during this phase is essential, necessitating an active engagement that fosters collaboration among scientists, particularly from developing regions, to help mitigate foreseeable barriers.

Identifiable barriers span various critical aspects in the design phase.

Some of these identified barriers include issues with obtaining ethical approval and informed consent, inadequate utilisation of controls, employing inappropriate/not fit for purpose primary methodologies, and using outdated or limited technologies. These issues, if not resolved at/during the study's design phase, inevitably lead to inconclusive or inapplicable results, which limit/jeopardise the study's acceptance for publication.

I have also seen that the lack of access to basic and essential equipment, such as genetic analysers, in many laboratories hampers the importance of meaningful data generation. The absence of appropriate / necessary tools and even supervisors from core forensic disciplines, can also undermine the study's validity and applicability to the global forensic community. Hence, early-stage mentorship could assist in circumventing these challenges, enhancing the quality of research.

In conclusion, mentorship that intervenes during the study's initial phases is pivotal in addressing methodological flaws and resource limitations, ensuring the credibility and applicability of research, particularly within the realm of forensic science in developing countries. Collaboration and guidance at this crucial juncture may be the key to advancing the quality and relevance of scientific work and circumventing avoidable publication rejections.

A/Prof. Laura Heathfield BSc, BSc (Med) Hons, MSc, PgDip, PhD

Associate Professor | Forensic Geneticist | Programme Convenor: Biomedical Forensic Science postgraduate programmes Division of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology | Faculty of Health Sciences | University of Cape Town

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