Magdalena Skipper is the Editor in Chief of Nature. She has spent over 15 years working for Nature Research in various roles at Nature Reviews Genetics, Nature, the Nature Partner Journals and Nature Communications.
What did you train in? What areas have you handled for the Nature Research journals over the years?
My background is in genetics. Life sciences fascinated me from an early age, but once I discovered genetics at school I knew this specific discipline was something I wanted to delve into deeper. I studied genetics for my first degree (at the University of Nottingham, in the UK) and then went to do a PhD researching sex determination in a classic genetic model organism – a small round worm Caenorhabditis elegans. Throughout my PhD and postdoc years, I always found using genetics to help answer research questions to be the most elegant and satisfying approach. And it was genetics and genomics that were my core areas as an editor, but since genes and genomes are involved in all aspects of life sciences my focus broadened and I developed an understanding of most, if not all, life science disciplines. More recently, as I took on more senior editorial roles I also began to delve into the physical sciences.
You are the first editor of Nature not coming from a physical sciences background. Do you find this a challenge in championing physical sciences in the pages of Nature?
It is true that to date Nature has had at its helm editors trained mainly in the physical sciences. In my opinion, the most influential paper published by Nature during my predecessor’s tenure was the sequencing of the human genome. I hope that during my time we can publish the greatest and most important advances in any field. Learning is a life-long passion for me and so as I grow my knowledge and appreciation for the physical sciences I also develop a growing enthusiasm for this branch of science.
You led Nature Communications and now Nature. What has that taught you about multidisciplinary journals?
My time as Editor in Chief of Nature Communications has reaffirmed my conviction about the importance of multidisciplinary journals in modern research. It has also taught me to appreciate the challenges and needs of different scientific communities which are often shaped by their very discipline; these discipline-specific needs must be respected, but multidisciplinary journals find themselves in a unique and privileged position to share solutions developed within one field so that they may be adopted (and/or modified) by other fields.
How can we move from multidisciplinary to interdisciplinary?
This is a fascinating challenge and an important opportunity. While this transition need not be complete – in so far that some questions may always be answerable without reaching beyond one specific discipline – true interdisciplinary approaches open entirely new avenues of investigation. As so often is the case the transition needs to start with researcher training, and we have seen increasing trend in this direction in a number of academic establishments. We as editors have an important role to play too, by recognising potential in interdisciplinary submissions. Multidisciplinary journals can be perfect incubators, if you like, in which interdisciplinary papers can flourish.
What is your vision on interdisciplinary research in the pages of the Nature Research journals?
Our Nature Research portfolio of journals offers a fantastic environment for championing and disseminating interdisciplinary research. Our classic, discipline-specific journals are complemented by so-called thematic journals; for these multidisciplinarity and interdisciplinarity lies at the very heart of their editorial scope. And then of course there are the broad scope, multidisciplinary journals like Nature and Nature Communications. What excites me the most is that the breadth of our portfolio allows us to really delve into all aspects of contemporary research questions. Take climate change for example: one can think of research questions the answers to which require approaches from physics, material science, ecology, economics and social sciences, all at the same time. We can and should be increasingly considering more and more work along these lines.