Our preprint journey

So now that the manuscript has been published:

I figure it’s a good time to talk about the journey and preprints in general. This manuscript covers copolyester nanocomposites prepared by Zygmunt Staniszewski during his PhD, within the ElastoKard project (sorry, no English) aimed at developing elastomeric polymeric biomaterials for use in heart assist devices in partnership with the Professor Zbigniew Religa Foundation of Cardiac Surgery Development. Heart assist devices have many components, including pumping chambers, connectors, pneumatic membranes, and valve leaflets, each with different material requirements; the goal was to expand the material design space available by developing thermoplastic elastomers and carbon nanocomposites.

The original manuscript was submitted in mid November 2017 to a journal that shall not be named. On April 29, 2018 we received the notice of rejection without review–everyone was shocked and very frustrated! Zygmunt was totally disillusioned; he had defended his PhD in January and was ready to just throw in the towel at this point. As a bioengineer, I was familiar with bioRxiv, thanks to the twitter #ASAPBio movement, but this experience led me to take look into ChemRxiv, which I was only tangentially aware of. But of course, publications and not preprints are the “currency” of aceademia—how would our preprint be treated? Could we submit it to the journal(s) we wanted to? Prof. El Fray, was very skeptical, especially once we started to look into journal preprint policies. In principle there’s a Wiki, but does that mean we have to google or contact each journal individually? Quickly we ran into some “gotchas”, for example Wiley’s preprint policy not covering the Advanced Materials journals:

After about 10 days of thinking it over, we realized that the advantages of getting our science out there far outweighed any complications/limitations in choosing a journal. Afterall, major funders, including ERC and NIH, are accepting preprints in proposals and as outputs. So we decided to “damn the torpedos”: Prof. El Fray gave me the go-ahead to upload the manuscript to ChemRxiv and we’d find a preprint friendly journal (in the end European Polymer Journal, as Elsevier’s sharing policy is pro-preprint).

At ChemRxiv, the submission process was startlingly easy: no specific formatting requirements, no lengthy web forms, just drag-and-drop and fill out basic information (title, abstract, authors, keywords). It was painless! The real shocker was when 4 hours later I got an email from Dr. Brennan that we were approved and live on ChemRxiv. We were live on Twitter too thanks to @ChemRxiv—graphical abstract and all!

Four days later our preprint was indexed by Google and Google Scholar—it was now discoverable! Frankly, we were all blown away by this and the instant gratification led us to redouble our efforts to finish 2 additional manuscripts, both of which have now been preprinted on ChemRxiv. These manuscripts were then submitted to various journals, but the act of preprinting itself is so rewarding and so much less of a hassle (format as you like!). (Nota bene: our second preprint was quickly accepted by MDPI Polymers.)

Our attitude has totally shifted from concern about journal preprint policies to “damn the torpedos, plenty of journals accept preprints!” We’ve completely turned the corner and I cannot imagine not submitting a preprint of every manuscript from here on out. Any journal that does not have a pro-preprints policy will simply miss out: the 6 months under review manuscript was in the top 10 viewed preprints for the week:

An additional benefit of preprinting is being able to more readily share and discuss your work at conferences. In mid July I had an oral presentation at the 4th International Society for Biomedical Polymers and Polymeric Biomaterials (ISBPPB) conference, largely based on our 3rd preprint. During discussion at the poster session and after the oral, I was able to share the PDF (both on site and via email), have a discussion, and have since gotten some feedback.

So to summarize, preprinting is easy and awesome. If you’re still hesitant, think about grad students and postdoscs looking for positions–a preprint is a real output they can share. Consider the next conference you’re planning to attend–a preprint is the meat on the bones of your oral or poster. Finally, consider that grant proposal you are working on–a preprint can help you get funding! But in the end, preprints are about sharing your work (in a way that you can be cited and get credit for it), receiving feedback, and moving forward.

Peter Sobolewski
Assistant Professor

My research interests include bioengineering and biomaterials.