A chat with David O'Connell

To celebrate the 15th anniversary of Nature Reviews Microbiology and to give our readers a glimpse behind the curtains, we asked a few of our past editors about their views on microbiology, the journal and their experiences of working with the journal.
A chat with David O'Connell

You’ve been an editor with Nature Reviews Microbiology previously. How did you get into editing? What are you currently doing?

Following a PhD undertaken in University College Dublin and the University of Calgary, I conducted post-doctoral training at Trinity College Dublin and Texas A&M University. Although I very much enjoyed the practical aspects of doing research, I developed a particular interest in writing and drafting manuscripts; in short, ‘telling the story of microbiology’. So, when an opportunity to become the Editor of Trends in Microbiology came up, I decided to pursue a career in scientific publishing and worked on this journal for about 4 years. In 2003, I took up the position as Chief Editor of the soon-to-be launched Nature Reviews Microbiology, which was an irresistible opportunity to get the first Nature-branded microbiology journal off the ground. The editorial team included Sheilagh Molloy and Susan Jones and, together, we published the first issue in October 2003. The journal quickly gained credibility and it was a huge pleasure to work with top researchers from around the word developing an initiative that was set to make a significant contribution to the field of microbiology.

In 2008, I decided to move back to Ireland, and took on a new role that, in many ways, has brought me full circle – so, having served my time on the bench, and then spent a significant period of my career focused on the dissemination of research outputs, I am now the Director of Research Support Services at University College Cork where I focus on the initial stages of the research process, developing and implementing R&I strategy and policy, and supporting our community in securing funding to fulfill their research ambitions. 

What was your favourite part of being an editor for Nature Reviews Microbiology?

For me, one of the best parts of being an editor was the opportunity to engage directly with talented researchers from across the world and, enabled by visiting their labs and attending conferences, also having the opportunity to remain close to the actual ground-breaking research being conducted. Working on a prestigious publication that contributed to the evolution of the discipline, having an influence on its forward momentum, identifying and disseminating great advances and challenges, and being able to promote microbiology research within the wider science arena were particular stand outs — there is no question that Nature Reviews Microbiology has evolved into a publication that contributes to the setting of the agenda rather than merely following the agenda. Working with great colleagues from other Nature titles was also hugely rewarding and facilitated the development of many valuable inter-disciplinary collaborations.

From all the articles that you handled for the journal, is there one that you particularly remember and that stands out? If so, can you tell us why?

I actually won’t pick an article, but instead would love to highlight a particularly rewarding collaboration that we developed over number of years with the WHO’s Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Disease (TDR). The goal of this organisation is to develop and implement ‘a global programme of scientific collaboration that helps facilitate, support and influence efforts to combat diseases of poverty’ and Nature Reviews Microbiology formed a very close partnership with the TDR to support this objective. In particular, we focussed on encouraging and promoting more sustained research effort into those neglected diseases that affect low income regions, and more widely communicate issues related to tropical infectious diseases and their impacts. The outputs of the partnership resulted in many great outputs including a long-running article series on tropical infectious diseases; the launch of ‘Disease Watch’, a section in each monthly issue of the journal that was co-developed with the TDR to inform the readers of advances and events in infectious diseases; a high impact series of supplements including user-friendly guides on how to conduct evaluations of diagnostic tests for infectious diseases that are a public health concern in the developing world, and a Nature Outlook supplement that focused on neglected tropical diseases. 

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