We welcome our new Executive Editor, Lara Ferry

Lara Ferry
Lara Ferry

Hello!  I am so thrilled to be able to write this post and introduce myself to you all!  Some of you have surely worked with me in the past several years as I have been a Senior Editor for the journal, Functional Ecology, for about four years now.  I am sure I will be getting to know even more of you soon.  I am excited to be taking over the role of Executive Editor from Charles (Chuck) Fox, but also want to share with you how grateful I am for the leadership he has shown, and the tremendous investment he made into our journal during his tenure in the role.

Chuck has served two stints as Executive Editor.  He began as a senior editor of Functional Ecology in February 2004.  To give you a sense of what it was like then, Functional Ecology received about 400 submissions that year.  He assembled the journal’s first board of editors after he became Executive Editor in June 2005. He took a short break from this role after his sabbatical in Switzerland, and Duncan Irschick served as Executive Editor starting in 2010, through August of 2013.  Chuck agreed to serve a second time as Executive Editor in 2013, and has served until now.  For comparison, in 2021, Functional Ecology received 400 submissions by 12 April.  Obviously, we’ve grown quite a bit over the years with Chuck at the helm.

Chuck was Executive Editor when the journal adopted the policy of providing lay summaries of work that we publish, and when we started the tradition of including an image of the study organism prominently, like as Figure 1, in publications.  The journal published its first special features in 2004, and they were so well received that they became a regular part of Functional Ecology under Chuck’s leadership.  The concept of a blog for the journal was initiated by Chuck, shaped more fully when Duncan was Executive Editor, and finally launched in its formal (and current) form in 2017 under Chuck’s guidance.  Today the blog is flourishing with its own editors ensuring the timely production of high quality content.  Chuck spearheaded the original BES data policy, and was the first of the journals to be integrated with Dryad, followed by the others a year later.  Due to his love of data, Chuck has conducted quite a few analyses of the data generated by the journal itself around publication rates, authorship, peer-review, and so forth looking at both the effects of gender (see here, here, and here) and the COVID-19 pandemic (see here).  Chuck was the central figure in the development and implementation of the double-blind peer-review study underway now at Functional Ecology

So, where are we now?  One of the most exciting, and positive, pieces of recent news is our latest (2020) journal ranking.  We have gone up in the rankings within the Ecology section of Journal Citation Reports, with an Impact Factor of 5.608, which is fantastic news.  This is up from our 2019 impact factor of 4.434.  However, how the rankings are computed has also changed slightly, and this affects our ranking as well.  The area within which we are now evaluated, and compared with other journals, is “Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics.”  Within this disciplinary category, we are in the first, or top, quartile (Q1).  Google Scholar ranks us 6th in Ecology based upon their h-index.  My goals in the coming year include making sure that we maintain or even continue to rise in these sorts of metrics.

Impact Factor, however, is only one way in which to measure the success of a journal.  Success also means that we continue to represent the work of diverse authors, from diverse continents, countries, ethnicities, and cultures.  Chuck Fox has done a tremendous job studying our progress towards being an accessible and equitable journal.  So, we have a good idea of where we have been, and where we need to go.  

One of the ways to ensure that our authors are diverse is to ensure that our Associate Editor (AE) pool is equally diverse.  We count on our AEs to not only review work that is submitted, but also to solicit work that would attract the existing and potentially new readership of FE, and to find suitable reviewers for that work.  Soliciting authors and reviewers happens at conferences and meetings, as well as more informal gatherings. We need representation in diverse places, via the AEs, speaking with potential authors and potential reviewers, and helping them to feel like we would welcome their contributions.   

To help to cultivate and sustain a diverse pool of AEs, I would love to increase the amount of mentoring, and professional development, for the AEs.  It is my belief that serving as an AE should be a benefit to the AE.  Of course, such service looks good in the portfolios of faculty and researchers seeking promotion.  However, it also offers real professional development opportunities.  Over the past couple of years we have embraced remote technologies, like Zoom or Microsoft Teams, and we have been able to offer training sessions to the AEs to help them to do their jobs better.  However, I think there is tremendous potential to expand upon these, and offer workshops that also focus on realizing and articulating the benefits to the AE of being an AE, like communication skills, managerial skills, and leadership development.  These are real, tangible skills that are developed in the AE role, and highly transferable to other aspects of one’s professional life.

Another important aspect of ensuring we have diverse authors publishing in FE is to contribute to the publication-readiness of the pool of prospective authors.  Therefore, a second audience for me, in terms of professional development, is our potential authors, particularly young authors still developing their craft.  I would love to create some resources for authors to help them to better prepare their papers for publication, to better convey their message to readers.  If there were general advice I could give to authors considering publishing in FE it would be to think broadly about your work.  While your study may be about species X living in environment Y, ask yourself why someone who studies completely different organisms in completely different habitats would read your paper?  Of course, you can’t extend beyond what your data really say, in terms of broad sweeping conclusions. But, you can think about how your findings affect or alter major theories or hypotheses that would be of interest to a very broad audience.  

I look forward to writing another of these posts in the future to tell you how these efforts went.  But, in the interim, I would love to hear from you if you have ideas.  Tell me about the training you want; training needs that aren’t being met in other settings, such as at your university.  Tell me about topics you would like to see featured in the journal.  Tell me about improvements we can make to ensure we are representing and serving the most diverse authors possible.  How might we serve our authors better, as well as our readers?  It remains of paramount importance that we provide authors with a good home for their papers, while simultaneously ensuring that the papers that we publish are worth the time spent reading them for our readers.

Lara Ferry

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