In the fall of 2020, with medical school and a few years of general surgery residency training behind me, I started a postdoctoral fellowship position at Harvard Medical School in biomedical informatics, digital health, and artificial intelligence. I was excited to become a part of the laboratory I was joining, start asking interesting questions, and make an impact on the field. However, as I began to get involved in the lab's activities, I found myself having difficulty contributing new and creative ideas to existing projects, as well as coming up with new meaningful project ideas of my own. I had emerged from a world focused solely on clinical training in surgery and stepped into a very different field - one that I had immense interest in, but little knowledge of what research was being done at the frontier of the field. I realized that I needed to quickly learn about the latest research and innovation in digital health to be able to contribute new ideas at work.
npj Digital Medicine immediately stood out to me as a leading journal in the field - many of the papers from our lab cited influential work from the journal, and we often saved our best and most innovative work for submission there. I began to wonder if playing an active role on the "other side" of the journal - contributing to the everyday tasks of an influential journal - would help me think more critically about work being done on the leading edge of the field and how to build upon it. But how could I get involved? In early 2021 I reached out to the journal's Editor-in-Chief, Professor Joseph Kvedar, to find out.
Joe enthusiastically responded to my inquiry and expressed interest in getting trainees exposed to the "behind the scenes" work at prominent scientific journals like his. We began crafting a one-year fellowship consisting of three phases:
- Review phase: The first four months of the position involved peer reviewing 2-3 manuscripts per month under the guidance and supervision of the journal’s editorial board members. The goal of this phase was to learn to write high-quality, thoughtful, and constructive reviews on a wide range of informatics and digital health-related topics.
- Editorial phase: The second four months of the fellowship involved highlighting recently-published important work in the journal. With the help of the editorial board and my new experience reviewing manuscripts, I identified impactful, high-quality work published in the journal and wrote editorials that made the findings of these studies and their real-world utility accessible to a wider audience beyond the traditional readership of the journal.
- Operations phase: The final phase of the fellowship involved contributing to the journal’s operations. I identified a few projects that would impart a meaningful impact on the quality and efficiency of the journal’s peer review processes and expanded its scope to new readers, topics in digital medicine, and types of content. My main focus for this final phase was being the guest editor of a special issue of the journal on emerging digital technologies in surgery.
As the end of this invaluable year-long experience was approaching, I found myself wanting to share this incredible opportunity with other trainees in my position. The editorial fellowship helped me grow in countless ways, including exposure to:
- New ideas: As a peer reviewer and an editorialist highlighting groundbreaking work from the journal, the fellowship exposed me to the highest quality ideas in the field of digital health. Writing reviews and editorials that will inevitably be read by experts in the field pushes you to think critically about how you would improve the work and communicate your suggestions constructively, and encourages you to build a confident and thoughtful public voice of your own. I was able to take these new ideas and new voice back to my lab and apply it to my own work.
- New people: Throughout the editorial fellowship you are constantly communicating and collaborating with authors of submitted works, familiarizing yourself with prominent names in the field, and working extremely closely with the incredible members of the journal's editorial board, most of whom are prominent figures in digital health themselves.
- New perspective: As a new member of academia, the scientific review process can often feel like a black box. Before starting this fellowship, I had no idea what happened behind the scenes at journals when I submitted my manuscript. Demystifying how journals prioritize certain topics and manuscripts, and how they make their work timely and relevant to the widest possible audience was incredibly helpful in teaching me how to do the same for my own research.
The npj Digital Medicine editorial fellowship was an incredible opportunity to spend a year at the forefront of digital health, getting to learn from the people who are doing the groundbreaking work, and positioning yourself for success in your own work. I encourage you to reach out to the journal if you are interested in applying for the position in the future, or to me directly if you have any questions about the fellowship.
Jayson Marwaha, MD, MSc is a general surgery resident physician at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, USA. He recently completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard Medical School in biomedical informatics. His past and ongoing work is focused on bringing new digital technologies to the bedside and into the operating room to improve care for surgical patients.
You can follow Jayson on Twitter @Jayson_Marwaha.