Meet the preLights Ambassadors: Jennifer Ann Black

8 June 2023

In order to keep developing preLights and respond to the needs of the community, we recently launched the preLights Ambassador scheme. Four wonderful preLighters have now been appointed as Ambassadors and we caught up with all of them to chat about the things that they’re excited to bring to this role during the coming year.

First up is Jennifer Ann Black. Jennifer works as a Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of São Paulo in Brazil. She joined preLights in 2020 and is now one of our most active community members with over 25 posts published on the website! For a more in-depth interview with Jennifer, please also check out this post from 2021.

Congratulations on joining our first preLights Ambassador team! Why did you decide to apply for the role of preLights Ambassador?

I really enjoy writing preLights. It allows me to critically analyse a preprint and has helped me to refine my review of papers. Though writing preLights myself remains a useful and fun way to engage with science, now I would like to use what I have learned to help other early-career scientist navigate scientific information. More specifically, I hope to connect young researchers here in Brazil (where I currently live and work) with the wider scientific community and offer help and support where possible.

In your own career so far, how often have you felt part of a larger community? And how important has it been for your own academic and personal development?

I think it’s really important because science can feel a little bit lonely at times. You can get kind of get stuck in your own project and your own mind. So having other people there to support you, even when you’re not talking to them all the time and knowing that there is a big community of like-minded people out there is really helpful. Certainly for me it’s been very useful because, up until very recently, I have been largely working by myself in the lab alongside my supervisor. That said, I am very fortunate to have talented and supportive colleagues just a Zoom call away, all of whom also play very important roles in my work here.

What do you think should be the most important goal of community projects like preLights?

I think the main goal should be to be as inclusive as possible. I do like the idea of everyone feeling like they can contribute to something irrespective of their career stage or level of expertise. So when it comes to preLights, I’m always happy to see posts from undergrads or master students. It is important to get early-career researchers to realise that they can contribute and find their own voice in science. Of course, there will always be barriers, like language (!), which will be hard to address.

What is your favourite thing about preLights?

My favourite thing is the interaction with the preprint authors. Having published a few papers myself, I know the stress of having your work criticised by others in the context of formal peer review. With preLights, things are much more informal and light-hearted. Whilst it is very important to critically review science, the feedback we as scientists receive during this process can sometimes feel overwhelmingly negative. Instead, the discussions I’ve had as part of preLights were more about the excitement about the presented findings and ways in which things could move forward; in many cases I found this approach to be much more constructive and positive.

During the next year, what aspect of preLights would you like to strengthen? And how would you like to achieve it?

As I mentioned, language may be a barrier for some researchers (for example here in Brazil) to engage with preLights. It would perhaps be a good idea to publish preLight posts in multiple languages to try and remove this barrier somewhat. Also, I’d love to try and create more visual content (eg. videos) that could help explain the idea behind preLights and the best ways to get started with it. Again, these could be produced in different languages (or with subtitles) and could help to get more people involved.

What are you hoping to gain from the experience in terms of your own career development?

I’m at a crossroads in terms of my career, as I’ve now been a postdoc for about seven years. At the moment, I’m in the process of writing up fellowships to become more independent and potentially start my own research line. Therefore, I’d like to pick up some more experience in managing people and learn how to interact with people in a more formal setting. It seems that for many young PIs one of the main challenges is to learn how to manage, talk to, and help other people. So I’m hoping that becoming a preLights Ambassador will provide an opportunity to pick up some of these essential skills in a friendly, supportive environment.

Finally, what is something that people should know about you (but may surprise some)?

I’m very much into music; my mom is also a very musical person who used to sing on stage. So I grew up with music. As a child, I did ballet for about 10 years and I actually performed quite often – also as an adult. I used to play a lot of instruments as well and taught myself how to play the piano. I don’t play much here in Brazil, but every time I visit my parents I head straight for the piano.