DIARY: Winter is coming, quick look busy

as if just ‘looking busy’ were ever an option…
Published in Microbiology
DIARY: Winter is coming, quick look busy

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Submissions, submissions and more submissions. It’s a good problem to have – make no mistake – and the opposite would be a problem for any scientific journal. But whenever a holiday period comes around, spring, summer or winter, our workloads rise. Anecdotally at least, one can attribute this phenomenon to a number of factors; some researchers will want to clear their desk before taking a vacation, others use a cessation in teaching to free up some time to complete that overdue draft. Some – whisper it – may even use a pressing writing task to avoid family and festivity, what Grinches! Thus, from midway through December until at least the end of January, an editor’s normally burgeoning inbox can start to creak under the weight of the additional papers. Not merely coincidental, this is exactly the time of year when our pool of willing referees dries up, leading to a steep incline in declines. For a couple of weeks at least, it looks like the whole endeavour might grind to a halt, but slowly as the new year sees people return to their labs, eggnog snoozed off, the gears start moving again.

Editor’s need their time off as well, the reader shouldn’t be surprised to learn, and so on this editors’ journal at least, a close down between Christmas and New Year is enforced. To the desk clearers, the unencumbered lecturers and any that live just north of Whoville; turnaround times will be longer than normal – my sincere apologies. A plea also; whether you will enjoy time off over the holidays or not, it is safe to assume that most editors and referees will want to, so manage those expectations somewhat, and leave it until the second week of January before demanding a decision.

Admissions accretion aside, an event packed programme over the past couple of months have stretched the diary beyond the standard. November saw the second in a series of Nature Café events in partnership with colleagues at Yakult, the topic once again on the role of microbiota in health and disease. Following on from the inaugural event in Tokyo in 2016, this years Café was hosted at Springer Nature’s London campus, and once again your diarist convened the day’s proceedings and moderated a lively panel discussion. Speaking this year were Professor Harry Flint,  Professor Nathalie Juge, Professor Kiyoshi Takeda , Dr Mary Ellen Sanders and Professor Paul O’Toole, a delightful and informative panel whose collected expertise gave a fascinating snapshot of the developing microbiome, probiotics and prebiotics fields, with growing mechanistic insight into functional interactions between microbiota, diet and host health and opportunities for diagnostic and therapeutic intervention. Those not in attendance do not simply have to take the compere’s assessment at face value, the talks from this and the 2016 event are online (see www.nature.com/yakult) and viewing them is heartily recommended. See if you can spot the continuity error in Dr Sanders 2017 lecture (09:22-10:30), the only evidence remaining of a scenery malfunction covered over by some judicious editing. A little embarrassing for the host, but the speakers and the science won through.

Two rapid fire dinners in London saw the shoe polish, jacket and tie employed with a frequency not usually witnessed in one for whom the norm is sartorially causal (some would argue a sartorial casualty). The first preceded the Nature Café, hosted by our partners in suitably glamorous surroundings in London’s Marylebone. This editor learned his lesson from the inaugural meeting in this series. Hosted in Tokyo, it came at the end of a 10 day tour of China, which yours truly was attempting with only carry-on luggage, a mistake on two fronts. Firstly, making space for trinkets purchased for friends and family on the road means jettisoning items of clothing, returning several pairs of socks lighter. Secondly, it doesn’t leave much space in the case to pack for Japan’s universally formal business attire. What the hosts must have thought, as your diarist arrived for a tour of their (stunning) Yakult Central Institute wearing a red checked shirt and blue jeans; a lumberjack among suits. Cringe! My new Yakult friends were kind enough to pretend not to notice the woodcutter in their midst, but lesson learned for the return visit on home ground and this editors act is smartened up substantially. The second night off parental duties in the space of a week was to a company dinner for those celebrating significant anniversaries working at Nature, this editor having recently passed the 10 year mark. A remarkably enjoyable evening among some excellent colleagues was not let down by the food either. Others present had served substantially longer sentences, yet despite speculation by the Nature Microbiology team in advance, the number of ice cream scoops at the dessert course didn’t correlate with the length of service. If you make it to 25 years though, you do get a spoon to eat them with!

To the Science Museum on a frozen mid-November morning, for a media preview of their new installation, SUPERBUGS, which I had been tasked with reviewing for Nature’s Books & Arts blog. You can read that review here, although perhaps instead read the better and more thorough account from Nature Microbiology editor Claudio Nunes Alves posted on this community site here, so I will not re-examine the exhibition now. I will, however, mention the preview event, at which several hundred people shared a buffet breakfast and heard speeches from Science Museum director Ian Blatchford, former newsreader and television presenter and antibiotics advocate Angela Rippon, and architect of the UK government Review on Antimicrobial Resistance, economist Lord Jim O’Neill. The speeches were an appropriate mix of tub-thumping and realism, with Lord O’Neill in particular rightly assessing that in many aspects a corner has been turned in tackling AMR, but that creating market conditions for developing new drugs and driving down demand at the consumer end remain particularly thorny issues for which little progress has yet been made. Serious stuff, albeit lightened by the breakfast served in beakers and test tubes by staff wearing fresh-from-the-packet white lab coats and safety goggles (lest the natural yoghurt, fruit and granola explode in their face?). Of course, it’s the Science Museum and the food service had to be science-ey, and who doesn’t enjoy a bit of dress up from time to time, but perhaps this stereotyped view of what a scientist looks like is a little 20th century.

After an action-packed week’s vacation at Center Parcs Elveden Forest’s ‘Winter Wonderland’ with Jermy’s Mrs, minor and minimus, it is back to the bunker in December, for the Nature Microbiology strategy day. And by that your diarist doesn’t intend to imply that a siege mentality is in place on our journal; quite the opposite in fact since our progress is excellent and the team are open to and excited about prospects for working every closer and better with microbiologists worldwide in 2018. No, the bunker I refer to is the room in which our strategizing took place, part of a new subterranean suite of meeting rooms in what used to be the services basement levels of our canal-side Crinan Street offices in Islington. Buried as we were beneath the streets of Kings Cross, disconnected from the hustle and bustle above, we were able to focus on how the journal (and this community) is run, where we can improve what we do, and then take a deep dive into some areas of the microbiology field that we cover. Taking stock of progress and planning for the future will ensure that we can build on the solid foundations laid during since the journals conception; we are above ground level now and will continue , brick by brick, to construct a fitting home for the most important research and ideas from across the microbiology field. Exciting times ahead.

Released from the dungeon and in festive spirit, the Nature Microbiology editorial team and their families decamp to the suburbs for a celebratory meal at Jermy towers. Professional Masterchef it most certainly isn’t, but your diarist cooked up Beef Bourguignon, Salmon en Croute, herb mashed potatoes and winter vegetables, followed by Mrs Jermy’s New York Chocolate Cheese Cake, the meal is charitably polished off by the 14 diners present, plates cleaned and guests all seemingly happy. Several enjoyable hours are spent putting the world, and our company, to rights before departures to the city or countryside in the early evening. Team morale boosted and no reports of food poisoning, a successful party then!

Taking stock at the end of the year is a curious business, worthwhile doing perhaps, but then resolutions to change things in the next rarely stick true. For this editor, 2017 was supposed to be the calm after a frenzied few years of change. At the end of 2012 I left Nature Reviews Microbiology to become the microbiology editor at Nature, and spent the following year travelling extensively to conferences and learning new aspects of the trade. Meanwhile on the home front, together with Mrs Jermy we were going through the necessary steps for IVF, resulting in a pregnancy that eventually delivered us Jermy minor in 2014. As seems to be the way of things for the Jermy family, a one-in-one-out policy is in play and my father unexpectedly passed away towards the end of 2013, knowing of the impending arrival of minor but unfortunately never getting to greet him. 2014 saw a bunch more conference and lab visit travel, a house move from one suburb to a different one, progression from neonate into toddlerhood for minor, and laying the groundwork to convince those people necessary that Nature Microbiology should become a reality. The latter clearly worked, and so 2015 brings a change in job to become Chief Editor for Nature Microbiology, recruitment and training of an editorial team, a whole load of travel to spread the word of the launch, organizing a conference in China, laying down journal policy and establishing a submissions pipeline. No let-up in 2016, as we launch for real and get into the pace of publishing issues each month, more training and recruitment as two team members move on, one temporarily, one permanently, and the editorial team expands. Minor continues to grow into whizzing, noisy, fidgety bundle of energy, fun and excitement, so enjoyable that we take the necessary steps, again through IVF, to add minimus for 2017. The merger of Springer Nature sees almost every single system that we work with change, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse, rarely smoothly. More travel (of course), and then minimus arrives, bringing with him a drug resistant and persistent UTI that dogs his first six months. And beyond these headlines; the day to day thrum of assessing papers, managing a team, writing editorials and blog posts, editing reviews, childcare, housework, married life and more. No calm in 2017 then, and this diarist/editor/father won’t make the same mistake again - challenge and change will surely be coming in 2018 too, so better instead to face and embrace whatever comes than plead for calm. Life would be boring any other way.

A final note; the one-in-one-out policy struck again unfortunately this winter as, following the arrival of minimus earlier in the year, we bid a farewell to Mrs Jermy’s grandfather. Not as sudden as my own fathers passing, but still incredibly sad nonetheless. A great-granddad to minor (and minimus for a few months), a granddad to Mrs Jermy and two others, a father to three and a husband and partner of more than 50 years, he lived a long, productive and happy life. A sergeant in the metropolitan police force, joint owner of a small furniture repair business, and for more than 30 years a soloist tenor with the London Welsh Male Voice Choir. Movingly, the funeral is attended by a great many of his chorister colleagues, who assemble in the pews in their concert formation, raising hairs on necks and bringing tears to the eyes of all in attendance. This grandson in-law doubts that the small crematorium will have ever been graced with such a powerful and beautiful sound as mourners pay their tributes, and likely never will again. The extra verse of Guide me O thou great Redeemer, in Welsh, still brings goosebumps on recollection. Ffarwel Iorwerth.

Happy holidays everyone, may you enjoy a relaxing break with your loved ones. 

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