My First Paper: Liam Brierley
Posted on: 23 November 2022 by Liam Brierley in November Posts 2022
Liam Brierley, a research fellow within Health Data Science continues our 'My First Paper' Campaign, showcasing researchers and their research
Your name and your area of research
I'm Liam Brierley, I'm a research fellow within Health Data Science. I'm interested in the ecological, epidemiological and genetic factors that make a virus more likely to jump from one host species to another, particularly when that question is framed around emerging infectious diseases in humans and pandemic risks.
What was the title of your first paper and who was it submitted to?
The paper was titled "Quantifying global drivers of zoonotic bat viruses: a process-based perspective". I submitted it to one journal first where it was rejected, then I submitted it to The American Naturalist, a journal covering broad research in ecology and evolution. They often publish technical modelling papers.
How would you explain what this paper was about to your grandparents?
We know that outbreaks of previously unknown viruses are more likely to start off in particular parts of the world because of a mix of biological patterns, socioeconomics, and the ways in which people come into contact with animals. However, we didn't know if these general patterns would hold if we just looked at one particular type of animal hosts. So we used spatial data on all known viruses in bats at the time (which includes rabies virus, ebolaviruses, and SARS coronavirus) and then used computational models to understand which parts of the world are at risk and why.
(I actually did have to explain it to my grandparents at the time as I ended up being interviewed about this research on BBC Radio Scotland, so they wanted to know what it was all about! You can find an example of the media reporting on the paper here)
What was the most significant thing for you about that paper?
It was new and relevant - obviously all research should be new and relevant, but it was exciting to feel like I'd contributed to that for the first time. In particular, this paper pointed to an important gap in how we conceptualise and model infectious disease emergence. Previous models tended to treat new disease transmitting from animals as a single process, but we showed the picture of global risk is drastically different when looking at biological risk factors (where Central/South America had highest risk because of naturally high bat and viral diversity) versus human risk factors (where South/East Asia had highest risk because of large populations in close proximity to bats). Knowing this is really important because if it's going to be effective, pandemic preparedness and prevention needs to be tailored to local disease drivers and risk patterns.
What advice would you give to others about submitting their first paper?
Try and let go of perfectionism - I thought the first journal I submitted to would be the ideal place for it, and when it didn't get there, I felt a bit lost. No paper will inevitably end up looking like or being publicised exactly how you first planned. Similarly, the critiques you'll get from peer reviewers are not prescriptive instructions - you can absolutely make arguments or suggestions as to why they're not useful, feasible, possible etc. if you really think that's the case. It can be very overwhelming reading your first peer review back and looking at all the critiques, especially since you worked so hard to get the paper to a finished version, but try and think how you'd react to those comments if a colleague suggested them.
If you would like to be part of the #MyFirstPaper campaign (one of the most popular features on the Faculty website), the HLS Comms team would love to hear from you. The information we’d require from you is:
- Your name and your area of research (please identify any web links you’d like us to use)
- What was the title of your first paper and who was it submitted to?
- How would you explain what this paper was about to your grandparents?
- What was the most significant thing for you about that paper?
- What advice would you give to others about submitting their first paper?
Please supply photos of yourself (and any other relevant pictures), plus a link to the paper if possible. Please send all information to email@example.com