Reviewer Spotlight: Dr. Hechen Bao
The quality of eNeuro depends on the effort that is generously contributed by our reviewers, who lend their expertise and time helping to ensure we publish great science. This Reviewer Recognition series introduces the research of selected reviewers, as well as their strategies for approaching peer review of a paper. Dr. Hechen Bao is currently working as a Postdoctoral Associate in the Song lab at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. His research focuses on adult neurogenesis in the hippocampus.
"To me, peer-review is an irreplaceable experience in many ways. It not only sharpens your critical thinking, but also warms you with the feelings of engagement that you would hardly get from other scientific activities. It is a great responsibility and you are serving as a gatekeeper for future knowledge. "
Hechen Bao, PhD, University of North Carolina at Chapel-Hill
What research questions are you currently working on?
My current research interest is mainly focused on a postnatal neuronal development process, known as adult neurogenesis, in the hippocampus. Neural stem cells in the hippocampus continuously give rise to adult-born neurons, and these neurons can further integrate to the existing hippocampal circuit as new players. Adult neurogenesis has been recognized as critical for learning and memory, and the dysregulation of it could lead to various neuropsychiatric diseases. My work is mainly focused on studying the mechanism of circuit regulation of the adult neurogenesis process, and how the adult-born neurons functionally contribute to the local and brain-wide circuit.
Any exciting recent findings in your work you want to share?
From my most recent project, we utilized a schizophrenia model with disrupted adult neurogenesis, and found an interesting circuit mechanism showing how these dysregulated adult-born neurons cause the distortion of information flow through multiple downstream regions, which ultimately leads to behavioral deficits.
How did you become interested in this line of research?
Understanding how brain functions has always been my passion. The highly dynamic process of adult hippocampal neurogenesis fascinates me by its plastic nature and significant role in cognitive functions. In addition, with the most advanced tools in the science field, I feel we are at the best era to tackle these interesting and phenomenal questions.
What do you do when not in the lab?
I love music. During graduate school, I taught myself how to play guitar. I appreciate arts. I have created many scientific illustration for our lab’s work, including presentations, graphic abstracts, review figures, and even journal covers. Though I am not anything near professional, I’m very honored to have three journal covers along with our publications. I think all of these are very important approaches to convey science to the public.
What advice would you share with new reviewers?
To me, peer-review is an irreplaceable experience in many ways. It not only sharpens your critical thinking, but also warms you with the feelings of engagement that you would hardly get from other scientific activities. It is a great responsibility and you are serving as a gatekeeper for future knowledge.
Take your time doing it. You’re reviewing years of work from another colleague. So be really respectful to their work and efforts, and make constructive comments. Sometimes think about yourself in their position.
How do you approach a review?
First, I like to assess the advance/novelty of the study, if it provides knowledge that would fill the gap (great or small) of the current studies. Then I will carefully go through their main results, and check if all the conclusions are supported by their evidence. If not, that’s when I start to work on the major comments. Afterwards, I will read through the methods. I will pay extra attention to the critical techniques for the manuscript, and also the techniques that I’m very familiar with. Lastly, I like to check all the statistics approaches and figure legends to make sure everything is appropriate. A tip that works for me really well is that I like to print out the manuscript and take notes on it directly. So it’s very easy to draft comments afterwards.
What have you learned over the years that has made you an effective reviewer?
You always need to practice a lot to become effective. If you’re not confident about your comments/recommendation when you first started, you can always learn from other reviewers by reading their comments afterwards. And don’t be scared to state your own opinion if you think they are really important.
What is your experience as a reviewer with eNeuro's consultation review process?
The eNeuro consultation review process is a really good experience. It is transparent, and very efficient. By directly communicating with other reviewers and the editor, it feels very engaged and respectful. To me, it always end up with a nice and friendly vibe of agreement upon the comments and editorial decisions.
You are also a graduate of SfN’s Reviewer Mentor Program (RMP). What did you learn during that mentored review that you find the most valuable in your work as a reviewer now? Would you recommend the program?
The experience of getting a hands-on mentorship with a senior professor is a really valuable experience. They will evaluate the quality of your “critical thinking”, and make sure your peer-review is more valuable to the authors. You will learn how they might think about the paper you reviewed, and if you both agree on certain points, that gives you enormous confidence for your future independent peer-review.
I would like to acknowledge my RMP mentor, Dr. Satoshi Kida, as he was very supportive and provided me constructive advices during the program. And I will definitely recommend the program to anyone who is interested in doing peer-review process.
Lab website: https://songlab.web.unc.edu/
Personal website: https://hechen.studio/
Learn more about SfN's Reviewer Mentor Program.
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