Interviews with Outstanding Authors (2023)

Posted On 2023-10-18 16:58:04

In 2023, many JSS authors make outstanding contributions to our journal. Their articles published with us have received very well feedback in the field and stimulate a lot of discussions and new insights among the peers.

Hereby, we would like to highlight some of our outstanding authors who have been making immense efforts in their research fields, with a brief interview of their unique perspective and insightful view as authors.

Outstanding Authors (2023)

Albert E. Telfeian, Brown University, USA

Scott L. Zuckerman, Vanderbilt Sports Concussion Center, USA

Michael Fiechter, Swiss Paraplegic Center, Switzerland

Troy Q’mars Tabarestani, Duke University, USA

Alison Rushton, Western University, Canada

Ilyas Aleem, University of Michigan, USA

Félix Tomé-Bermejo, Autonomous University of Madrid Medical School, Spain

Kohei Takahashi, Tohoku University, Japan

Khoi D. Than and Stephen M. Bergin, Duke University Hospital, USA

Matthew H. Meade, Jefferson Health New Jersey, USA

Ian J. Wellington, University of Connecticut, USA

Graham Ka-Hon Shea, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China

Yang Xia, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, Australia

Keagan Gertz, The University of Nebraska Medical Center, USA

Outstanding Author

Albert E. Telfeian

Albert Telfeian, MD, PhD, is a Professor of Neurosurgery at the Warren Alpert School of Medicine at Brown University. He also serves as Vice Chair for Quality Improvement to improve the quality of care for patients. He is a graduate of the MD/PhD program at The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University. He completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Yale University and his neurosurgical residency at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. He also completed fellowship training in spine and functional epilepsy surgery at Switzerland’s Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Vaudois and a pediatric neurosurgery fellowship at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Dr. Telfeian has published extensively in the areas of epilepsy, functional and spine surgery and is currently involved in the research and development of ultra-minimally invasive endoscopic techniques and innovations in neuromodulation. More information about Dr. Telfeian can be accessed here and here. You may also connect with him on LinkedIn.

Academic writing, according to Dr. Telfeian, is an opportunity to share advances and perspectives in science as it evolves. Facing the rapid pace of science advances, he tries to make sure his writing is up-to-date and can give new insights to the field of research. He explains, “The biggest privilege and opportunity to know what science is going on as it happens is being asked to review for journals. Reading papers is exciting and can inform the reader of the current landscape of science. And even though academic writing takes a lot of time and effort, you have to love it in order to keep doing it.”

(by Brad Li, Alisa Lu)

Scott L. Zuckerman

Dr. Scott L. Zuckerman is an Assistant Professor of Neurosurgery and Orthopaedic Surgery and serves as Co-Director of the Vanderbilt Sports Concussion Center and Vanderbilt Spine Outcomes Lab, USA. He completed medical school and residency at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Following residency, he served as the Cornell University Global Neurosurgery Fellow at the Muhimbili Orthopaedic Institute, Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, where he spent 6 months implementing a Spine Trauma Protocol. To finish his training in complex spinal disorders, he completed a Comprehensive Adult/Pediatric Spinal Deformity Fellowship at Columbia University Medical Center. His clinical interests include the surgical treatment of all spinal disorders, including adult spinal deformity, primary and metastatic spinal tumors, spinal trauma, and sport-related spine injuries. Dr. Zuckerman’s research has focused on clinical outcomes after spine surgery and sport-related concussion. He has authored over 300 peer-reviewed publications and given over 90 national podium presentations. He is a member of the NFL Head, Neck and Spine Committee and currently serves as a Commander in the U.S. Navy Reserves. Connect with Dr. Zuckerman on X.

JSS: What do you regard as a good academic paper?

Dr. Zuckerman: A good academic paper starts with a clinically relevant and interesting question, asked in a focused and specific way. A great paper shouldn’t be too broad to where it overwhelms the reader with large amounts of esoteric data, but it also can’t be too narrow to where the results only apply to a small population. Asking a focused question with clear objectives is essential. In our papers, we try to be very intentional about describing clear, specific, discrete outcomes, rather than nebulous outcomes with unclear meaning. Next, the methods section and data collection need to be meticulous. In the world of academic medical centers, data are often collected by students and trainees, and ensuring that all data collection is accurate is of paramount importance. Without accurate data, even the most well-designed and beautifully written paper is useless. Next, the results section and tables/figures should be informative yet simplistic, written without any emotion. We also try to design one key figure that explains the most important conclusions from the study and synthesizes the principle take-home message. Figures should be simple and intuitive, to where the reader can understand the main points in 5-10 seconds of reviewing. In papers today, I often see overly complex figures, with fancy lines/graphs/colors, yet they are too confusing to accomplish their objective. The forest is lost for the trees. Also, show us the surgery you are doing! Spine surgery papers are about spine surgery, and we often choose one or two representative cases that showcase the type of surgery performed with preoperative and postoperative imaging. Lastly, a good discussion section is not a literature review but rather explains, contextualizes, and provides reasons for why the authors found what they found. For all aspects of a paper, except the introduction, I recommend the use of sub-sections. Dividing the paper into specific sub-sections, with clear and focused paragraphs, often makes the paper easier to read and more digestible.

JSS: Science advances rapidly day by day. How do you ensure your writing is up-to-date and can give new insights to the field of research?

Dr. Zuckerman: I attend conferences regularly and do my best to keep up with the growing literature. My daily “PubMed” alerts help me stay up to date in all areas of spine surgery and neurosurgery. Additionally, engaging with industry has also been helpful to learn new surgical techniques, especially as technology grows and our ability to process large amounts of data becomes more and more powerful.

JSS: What is fascinating about academic writing?

Dr. Zuckerman: Scientific writing is fascinating, challenging, and enjoyable all at the same time. I am still evolving and learning the best way to write a paper. Academic writing to me is attempting to communicate important and complex ideas with as few words as possible. When I edit a paper, I am most often trying to remove words and unimportant phrases. When students and residents first start writing papers, there is often a lot of “fluff” and “hot air” that include phrases that sound intelligent but really don’t convey any useful information. It’s fine to do that on your first draft, but as you read and re-read your writing, sometimes 4, 5, or 6 times, removing extraneous sentences and streamlining the writing improves the paper exponentially. Tightening down your writing to only words that are absolutely necessary makes for the best scientific writing.

(by Brad Li, Alisa Lu)

Michael Fiechter

Michael Fiechter, MD, PhD, MBA, is the Head of Neurosurgery and Deputy Head of Spine and Orthopaedic Surgery at the Swiss Paraplegic Center in Nottwil, Switzerland. He is a graduate of the MD/PhD program in Integrative Molecular Medicine at the University of Zurich. He completed his neurosurgical residency at the Inselspital - Bern University Hospital and the Cantonal Hospital St. Gallen, Switzerland. He performed a fellowship in Complex Spine Disorders at the Craig Hospital in Englewood (Denver, USA). Finally, he obtained his Habilitation (Venia Legendi) at the University of Zurich. He specializes in adult spine deformity and revision surgery of the spine, including spinal cord tethering and syringomyelia. Dr. Fiechter's research focuses on functional (molecular) neuroimaging, technical improvements of surgical techniques, as well as surgical planning and clinical outcome measures after spine surgery. Learn more about him here.

A good academic paper, according to Dr. Fiechter, should have a significant impact on the respective research area it is intended for. In particular, in clinical research, it should have an implication to the clinical routine or stimulate new concepts relevant to patient care. As such, it is critical that new findings and developments are placed into context to the respective subject. This implies not only a well-structured abstract with a sound introduction and discussion but also an ability to guide the reader in a comprehensive and coherent way from the broader picture towards the actual findings of the research and on to the respective conclusion. Here, the way how the research findings are presented and how they are critically discussed using existing facts from the literature makes the difference in whether an academic paper is convincing or not. Certainly, the methods and results sections are at least equally important, but in the end, the better the research is presented and integrated into the wider context, the more it will hopefully impact current knowledge or lead to new developments. Finally, he considers it important that besides a relevant research topic and findings, a good academic paper should clearly admit its limitations. Every study has its limitations, and it is not a weakness to report them. In a good academic paper, a reader should never get the impression that the authors try to hide or tune down facts, which would limit the impact and the quality of the work.

In Dr. Fiechter’s opinion, the most important quality of an author is to be critical. Constant reflection about one’s own research but also the research of others builds a profound understanding of the respective subject matter, which is deemed necessary to produce a good manuscript. Along with this quality, both coherence and correctness, as well as focus are abilities of an author that should continuously be consolidated. Finally, a tendency for perfection with both writing style/spelling and the design of figures helps to better present its own work and to gain credibility.

The Journal of Spine Surgery (JSS) provides an excellent platform for effective publication and dissemination of research on the subject of spine surgery. It has a good reputation with a decent impact factor, including a rapid and transparent peer-review process. Issues during the review process are promptly handled and resolved, and publishing with JSS is straightforward,” says Dr. Fiechter.

(by Brad Li, Alisa Lu)

Troy Q. Tabarestani

Troy Q’mars Tabarestani, BA, is a 4th year medical student at Duke University School of Medicine, Durham, USA, who is currently applying to neurosurgical residency. He obtained his bachelor’s degree in chemistry at Rice University, Houston, USA, where he also started his path in research at Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, USA. He matriculated into Duke’s medical school in 2020, where he quickly found his passion for neurosurgery, and specifically spine surgery research centered on using novel segmentation technology for minimally invasive procedures. He works closely with Dr. Muhammad M. Abd-El-Barr, Dr. Timothy Y. Wang, and Dr. Khoi Than, all neurosurgeons at Duke University Hospital. In tandem with a great team, they have published and presented nationally on topics ranging from awake spine surgery to using nerve segmentation to help aid in the pre-operative planning for percutaneous/endoscopic procedures. Connect with Troy on Twitter.

Academic writing is essential, in Troy’s view, because it is the means by which researchers can transmit scientific findings to readers, especially patients in the world of clinical research. Without a clear and consistent method of explaining their findings, the impact of the results can easily be misinterpreted. Additionally, he believes academic writing is what can push the boundaries of someone’s respective field of study. Papers can lead to insightful discussions or even thoughtful debates surrounding particular treatments or management guidelines. Without academic writing, it would be extremely difficult to disseminate information across the globe if a certain breakthrough is discovered. In summary, the world of science relies heavily on academic writing to not only push the limits of the unknown but also call into question what we already believe to know.

To ensure critical writing, Troy considers two key steps that academic writers should generally follow. First and foremost, understanding the limitations in validity and generalizability of one’s research is crucial to avoid overstanding conclusions. Not only can this be misleading to their audience but can potentially hurt patient outcomes if a certain methodology is not adequately tested. To avoid this, using guideline checklists, as most journals require nowadays, is a great way for authors to assess the quality of their own research prior to submission. Whether that be ensuring that the paper has a thorough limitations section of addressing all sources of potential bias/error, checklists are tools that all academic writers should strive to implement in their work as the teams at Duke University have done. Second, it is imperative that authors take the feedback from co-authors and their reviewers into consideration when revising or resubmitting articles to other journals. The fresh set of eyes and new perspectives offered by other experts in the field are meant to bolster the critical nature of an article. For this reason, responding to comments in a detailed manner can help ensure that one’s writing is critical and up to the standards of publication.

Initially, research felt like a necessity to remain a competitive applicant in the field of neurosurgery. However, once I found my niche in a certain area of research, specifically segmentation technology, academic writing morphed into a passion of mine. It was another way in which I could help improve patient outcomes when I wasn’t in the hospital. Although completing a project from start to finish takes a great deal of time and effort, the reward of seeing your work added to the literature surrounded by other incredible additions makes it all worth it. Knowing that there is a chance that your academic writing could help patients or inspire other researchers to take on difficult questions is what motivates me day in and day out,” says Troy.

(by Brad Li, Alisa Lu)

Alison Rushton

Dr. Alison Rushton is Professor and Director of Physical Therapy at Western University, Canada, and Associate Director of Western’s Bone and Joint Institute. She has a strong research profile (h-index 39, i10-index 118) with >250 publications. She is ranked 1,267th in the world in the field of General Medicine out of the 311,132 scientists on Standford University’s list of the top cited scientists, placing her in the top 1%. Dr. Rushton’s research is at the forefront of understanding the assessment and management of spinal pain. She works in close collaboration with spinal surgeons on research projects that are collaborative with teams of national/international researchers, clinical sites and patient partners. She leads research to understand patients’ journeys and presentations of spinal pain through comprehensive examination, considering the multifactorial nature of spinal disorders to inform development and testing of precision interventions to improve management of spinal pain. Connect with Dr. Rushton on Twitter and Google Scholar, and learn more about her here.

Academic writing is critical to science, in Dr. Rushton’s view, as it is the basis of evidence-informed arguments and debate to advance understanding and guide innovation in future research. Clarity in academic writing is essential, and the skill is to communicate difficult concepts as simply as possible so that complexity is understandable to a wider audience. It is a skill that needs to be learnt and developed. Academic writing is key to every stage of science from project conception to grant application to study protocol to manuscript.

Dr. Rushton considers criticality the basis of academic writing. Anything we write needs to be well considered, and all content needs to be analyzed and evaluated carefully. She believes this is essential to inform our balanced integration and synthesis of content. Reporting statements guide our consideration of all biases as valuable resources to researchers, and are now easily accessible here.

Success in academic writing is based on planning in advance of writing. Planning encompasses structure, a logical progression of content and arguments, and cohesion of writing that connects all the component parts. One of the best pieces of advice I have received to develop my writing is that ‘less is more’ i.e., be as succinct as possible, and the purpose of every sentence you write needs to be clear and every sentence must be essential. Academic writing is usually in teams, and so always seek feedback from co-investigators, collaborators and mentors to enable you to develop your writing,” says Dr. Rushton.

(by Brad Li, Alisa Lu)

Ilyas Aleem

Dr. Ilyas Aleem, MD, MS, FRCSC, FAAOS, is a Clinical Associate Professor in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at the University of Michigan, USA. After completing his undergraduate degree in Neuroscience at the University of Toronto, he completed medical school at McMaster University and residency in Orthopaedic Surgery at the University of Toronto. He then completed a fellowship in Spine Surgery and further earned a graduate degree in Health Research Methodology at McMaster University. He then went on to complete a complex spine fellowship with world-renowned surgeons at the Mayo Clinic. Dr. Aleem has a strong interest in education and research, with numerous book chapters and almost 100 peer-reviewed publications. He has been recognized for his scientific presentations at both national and international conferences. He is an active member of the CSRS, LSRS and NASS, and is on the Executive Committee for the Michigan Spine Surgery Improvement Collaborative (MSSIC). Learn more about Dr. Aleem here.

JSS: What are the most commonly encountered difficulties in academic writing?

Dr. Aleem: One of the biggest challenges encountered in academic research and writing is the appropriate application and incorporation of evidence-based medicine (EBM). Evidence-based medicine (EBM) aims to improve the quality of care through the integration of best research evidence with clinical expertise and patient preferences. In practical application, this can be broken down into several key steps, which have their own pearls and pitfalls. Firstly, formulating a well-written research question is a key step in the EBM process. The question can relate to diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, iatrogenic harm, quality of care, or health economics. Often, this may be the hardest part of the project! Secondly, one must search the literature using a comprehensive and systematic search strategy, as well as incorporate the tools to critically appraise the studies to determine clinical relevance and accuracy. Finally, when applying the evidence to patient care, clinician expertise and patient preferences are all taken into consideration. The amalgamation of clinical expertise and EBM provides a powerful and transparent method to observe, evaluate, and ultimately benefit patients and advance scientific knowledge.

JSS: Science advances rapidly day by day. How do you ensure your writing is up-to-date and can give new insights to the field of research?

Dr. Aleem: Ours is an exciting time to be in spinal surgery. With the tremendous and rapid advances in technology and communications, every region of the world is actively contributing to the literature with wide global access just a few clicks away. Knowledge is expanding at exponential speed, and it is impossible for individual physicians and health care workers to stay current with the daily stream of new studies and discoveries. EBM not only provides the tools to critically evaluate these data but also standardizes their presentation and reporting. Further, EBM provides the tools and hierarchy of evidence that can facilitate learning and education to stay up to date without individually investing the time and effort required. This allows aggregation of data and in turn, facilitates new discoveries while enabling cross-collaboration. For example, systematic reviews may provide the highest level of evidence and summarize the accumulation of trials, case reports and observations pertaining to a specific clinical question.

JSS: Is it important for authors to disclose Conflict of Interest (COI)? To what extent would a COI influence a research?

Dr. Aleem: The goal of scientific research and discovery is to arrive at the truth. It is absolutely integral that the scientist identifies and minimizes bias in research, including author COI. Although COI is not a failing in and of itself, it can lead to incorrect conclusions regarding associations. It is imperative that authors disclose COI following established guidelines and protocols, and are also aware of its impact on study design and conclusions. This is as important for positive studies as it is for negative studies – that is, publishing results that may not show any statistical or clinically meaningful result. The extent to which COI would influence research varies significantly and may threaten the integrity of the entire research study, scientists and institutions involved, and even the public trust in medical research.

(by Brad Li, Alisa Lu)

Félix Tomé-Bermejo

Félix Tomé-Bermejo obtained his medical degree at Complutense University in Madrid. He completed specialist training in orthopedic and trauma surgery between Madrid, Toledo, London and Dundee, and a PhD. Cum Laude at Autonomous University of Madrid before moving to Edinburgh to complete his training with a fellowship in pediatric spine surgery. He is a Professor of Medicine at Autonomous University of Madrid Medical School, a former board of the scientific committee of the Spanish society of spine surgery, and EduWeek Faculty of the European Spine Society for the 2024-27 triennium. He is the author of multiple scientific articles in international journals and editor of several spine and orthopedic books and currently leads a number of research projects. Dr. Tomé-Bermejo serves as Head of the Orthopedic Surgery and Traumatology Department at the General University Hospital of Villalba in Madrid (awarded in the 15th edition of the Best-in-Class awards in 2020 as the best Orthopedic & Traumatology department inpatient care). Dedicated exclusively to the diagnosis and treatment of spinal conditions, he has extensive experience in the surgical treatment for osteoporotic vertebral compression fractures, spine deformity correction and minimally invasive spine techniques.

From Tomé-Bermejo’s perspective, academic writing is the backbone of scientific communication that serves as the primary medium for sharing and disseminating research findings. It plays a pivotal role in conveying ideas, methodologies, and results to the scientific community, facilitating the replication and validation of medical findings. Additionally, peer-reviewed academic papers contribute to the establishment of scientific credibility and consensus.

To mitigate biases in scientific writing, Dr. Tomé-Bermejo thinks that researchers must conscientiously employ objective language, emphasizing facts over opinions. Rigorous literature reviews and diverse sources help counter confirmation bias. They should constantly question assumptions and explore alternative explanations to uphold impartiality. Peer review and collaboration, on the other hand, provide valuable perspectives, reducing individual biases. By adhering to these practices, authors can enhance the reliability, robustness, and integrity of their work.

I would encourage fellow academic writers whose dedication is the catalyst for innovation to continue overcoming difficulties, as their contributions are the cornerstone of progress. And at the same time, the inspiration for the next advances,” says Dr. Tomé-Bermejo.

(by Brad Li, Alisa Lu)

Kohei Takahashi

Kohei Takahashi is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Tohoku University, Graduate School of Medicine. He graduated from Tohoku University School of Medicine in 2003. Then, he received clinical training in spine surgery at 8 Tohoku University affiliated hospitals, including Tohoku Central Hospital, where the study of “Radical decompression without fusion for L5 radiculopathy due to foraminal stenosis” was performed. In 2010, he obtained the Board Certification in Orthopaedic Surgery, Japanese Orthopaedic Association, Japan, and in 2015, the Board Certification in Spine Surgery, Japanese Orthopaedic Association, Japan. Until now, he has performed around 2000 spine surgeries, mainly degenerative thoracolumbar cases, as a primary surgeon.

JSS: What are the qualities an author should possess?

Dr. Takahashi: First of all, I have to say that I am not a full-fledged researcher and am still halfway to what I believe is ideal. I believe that the interpretation of the results of the study should be analyzed objectively, without being influenced by expert opinions, which should lead to novel discoveries.

JSS: Why do you choose to publish in Journal Spine Surgery (JSS)?

Dr. Takahashi: JSS is indexed and covered by major platforms, including PubMed, Scopus, and Google Scholar, and publishes so many articles, including technical notes of unique spine surgeries and various case reports. We published our article in JSS because we believe it will be read by many spine surgeons.

(by Brad Li, Alisa Lu)

Khoi D. Than                                         Stephen M. Bergin

Dr. Than is a professor of neurosurgery at Duke University Hospital specializing in spinal disorders. He earned his M.D. from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in 2007 and completed his neurosurgery residency at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He then completed a fellowship in Minimally Invasive and Complex Spine Surgery at the University of California, San Francisco. Dr. Than's medical approach prioritizes non-surgical treatments where possible. When surgery is necessary, he employs advanced, minimally invasive techniques to optimize patient recovery and outcomes. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

Dr. Bergin is a fifth-year neurosurgery resident at Duke University with an interest in minimally invasive and complex spine surgery. He earned his M.D. and Ph.D. from The Ohio State University. His research focuses on spinal surgery outcomes and integrating advances in machine learning to enhance personalized spine surgery. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

JSS: What are the most commonly encountered difficulties in academic writing?

Drs. Than and Bergin: One of the foremost challenges in academic writing, especially in the field of spine surgery, is managing the demanding balance between the rigors of surgical practice and the intricacies of academic research. Given the complexity and precision required in spine surgery, particularly in minimally invasive techniques, finding the time and mental space for detailed academic writing requires diligent time management to maintain both clinical and research excellence.

Furthermore, a significant hurdle is the articulation of highly technical and specialized surgical procedures in written form. Describing complex surgeries in a way that is both accurate and comprehensible to the academic audience is a skill that often necessitates careful consideration and clarity. For instance, in our recent manuscript on anterior column release, we included a supplementary video. This multimedia addition was crucial as it provided a visual aid that enhanced the reader’s understanding of the intricate surgical steps and their nuances. Such innovative approaches in academic writing not only aid in better comprehension, but also bridge the gap between theoretical knowledge and practical application, thereby enriching the academic discourse in spine surgery.

JSS: Science advances rapidly day by day. How do you ensure your writing is up-to-date and can give new insights to the field of research?

Drs. Than and Bergin: In the dynamic and swiftly progressing field of spine surgery, ensuring that our academic writing remains current and insightful involves a strategic and multi-channel approach. We regularly review key journals in the neurosurgical and orthopedic field. These publications are pivotal for staying informed about the latest research and breakthroughs. Additionally, active participation in professional organizations is instrumental. These organizations not only provide a wealth of resources but also facilitate networking and knowledge exchange at conferences and seminars, which are vital for keeping pace with the latest trends and advancements in spine surgery. Furthermore, the role of social media is increasingly significant. Following leading spine surgeons, institutions, and relevant peer groups enables us to tap into real-time discussions and has even led to collaborations on shared research. This digital engagement complements traditional methods of staying updated, providing a broader and more immediate perspective on the evolving landscape of spine surgery.

JSS: Is it important for authors to disclose Conflict of Interest (COI)? To what extent would a COI influence a research?

Drs. Than and Bergin: In spine surgery, as in all medical fields, it is imperative for authors to disclose COI. An unacknowledged COI can significantly influence the interpretation and credibility of research findings through potential biased study design, data interpretation, and conclusions. Transparency in acknowledging COIs is essential in maintaining the integrity and trustworthiness of scientific findings. By revealing any potential biases, authors allow readers to critically assess the research in the context of those interests. Although disclosure alone does not guarantee unbiased research, it is a critical step in ensuring ethical research practices and upholding the credibility of the scientific community.

(by Brad Li, Alisa Lu)

Matthew H. Meade

Matthew H. Meade, DO, is a PGY- 4 Orthopaedic Surgery Resident at Jefferson Health, New Jersey. He is an aspiring spine surgeon with a focus on adult degenerative conditions. His recent projects have focused on surgeon well-being/safety in the operative suite as well as methods to improve patient outcomes following intervention for cervical and lumbar degenerative pathology.

In Dr. Meade’s view, academic writing and research play a pivotal role in science. Not only is it imperative to further provide knowledge, but it is critical to maximize patient outcomes and safety. To him, clinical research is an integral part of practicing evidence-based medicine and ensuring that we are striving for optimal outcomes for our patients.

According to Dr. Meade, ensuring one’s writing is critical stems from establishing research processes. Implementing rigorous guidelines as research takes place will ensure that the final project is up to specific standards.

At the forefront of my mind in everything I do are my patients. Being involved in clinical research and academic writing ensures that patients are receiving evidence-based care backed with literature to demonstrate positive outcomes,” says Dr. Meade.

(by Brad Li, Alisa Lu)

Ian J. Wellington

Dr. Ian James Wellington is a senior resident in orthopedic surgery focused on spine surgery at the University of Connecticut, USA. He completed his undergraduate degree in neuroscience at Bucknell University before attending medical school at the University of Maryland. During his residency, he completed a dedicated research year as the Neag Chase research fellow, during which he conducted cadaveric biomechanical studies and clinical outcomes research in spine, sports, and hand surgery. His current research interests are minimally invasive spine surgery techniques and implant biomechanics. Learn more about Dr. Wellington here.

A good academic paper, according to Dr. Wellington, is characterized by a meticulous study methodology and design, essential elements that underpin the credibility and validity of its findings. A robust methodology ensures that the research is conducted with precision, allowing for the collection of reliable data and the drawing of sound conclusions. Additionally, a well-thought-out study design is crucial for addressing research questions effectively.

Equally important, in his opinion, is the clarity of expression in writing, ensuring that the paper's meaning is easily comprehensible to a diverse readership. Clear and concise language facilitates the dissemination of knowledge, making the research accessible and impactful. A transparent writing style enhances the paper's overall quality, fostering effective communication of ideas and enabling fellow researchers, educators, and practitioners to grasp the study's significance. In essence, a good academic paper seamlessly combines methodological rigor with lucid writing, establishing a foundation for scholarly contributions that withstand scrutiny and contribute meaningfully to the academic discourse.

In the fast-changing world of spine research, Dr. Wellington makes sure his writing stays up-to-date and brings fresh ideas to research by keeping an eye on the latest studies and talking with other experts. He regularly checks reliable journals, attends conferences, and joins academic conversations to stay in the loop. In his view, building connections with colleagues also helps him share and learn new perspectives. Being open to new methods and technologies keeps his work innovative. This way, his writing not only keeps up with what is happening in the field right now but also brings in new thoughts that can help move scientific knowledge forward.

What I find fascinating about academic writing is how it helps us explore and share knowledge. It's a way of connecting with others and building a larger picture of what we know. Writing in academics requires careful thinking and attention to clarity, which makes it a great way to understand and explain complicated ideas. It's akin to creating a roadmap for others to follow and learn from. The best part is that academic writing keeps growing and changing, contributing to a big conversation that helps us all understand the world better,” says Dr. Wellington.

(by Brad Li, Alisa Lu)

Graham Ka-Hon Shea

Dr. Graham Ka-Hon Shea graduated from a combined MBBS / PhD programme at the University of Hong Kong in 2012 and completed his residency and fellowship examination (FRCS in Orthopaedics and Traumatology) in 2019. Since 2020, he has focused on spine surgery and has developed a clinical interest in spinal cord injury and cervical myelopathy. At present, he works as a Clinical Assistant Professor at the Department of Orthopaedics and Traumatology at the University of Hong Kong in the capacity of a clinician scientist. He is passionate about academic medicine and how it offers the opportunity not only to make a difference in patients’ lives but also to conduct exciting research and interact with students at an undergraduate and postgraduate level. In this capacity, he leads a lab in translational research with ongoing projects on the application of autologous human bone marrow stromal cells for neural regeneration, and the basic pathophysiology of cervical myelopathy. Learn more about Dr. Shea here.

JSS: What role does academic writing play in science?

Dr. Shea: Good writing and good science come hand in hand. Writing well, i.e., succinctly providing the clinical context, research gap, novel finding/s, interpretation, bias, and limitations – this demonstrates that the research team considered each aspect towards conveying a measured and relatively impartial message. When the writing is verbose and tangential, this reflects upon the underlying thought process. Nevertheless, good science can fail to have its desired impact when the work is presented poorly.

JSS: Science advances rapidly day by day. How do you ensure your writing is up-to-date and can give new insights to the field of research?

Dr. Shea: A ‘classic’ answer would be to read the most updated literature and to attend conferences regularly. With this approach, however, there is the predilection to jump upon trends that may be getting congested and competitive. I’ve found it to be of greater benefit to reflect upon daily clinical exposure – the patients we see in the clinic and operating theatre, grand round discussions, and non-spine-related literature. This stimulates me to identify a research gap/hypothesis whereupon I then scour the literature from past to present to determine whether the underlying research question is novel whilst addressing an important clinical unknown.

An example of idea generation would be a recent article I published on the natural history of 40 – 50o adolescent idiopathic scoliosis curves in the skeletally mature (DOI: 10.2106/JBJS.22.00939). Our team has had many pre-op debates on such patients when the best available evidence had remained that of Stuart Weinstein’s seminal publications on the natural history of AIS from more than 40 years ago, which did not specifically address this tenuous curvature range. Another recent article on neurological survivorship following decompression in cervical myelopathy (DOI: 10.2106/JBJS.22.00218) came about when reflecting on the number of patients seen at the clinic with recurrence in neurological disturbances years after surgery despite exhibiting good post-operative recovery. Survivorship analysis is ubiquitous in arthroplasty literature, which we thought to be the methodological approach best suited to provide insight into the problem.

JSS: Academic writing takes a lot of time and effort. What motivates you to do so?

Dr. Shea: In brief, I enjoy it. From my experience, academic writing becomes easier (and you get faster) with practice. When the manuscript is completed (especially when accepted for publication), I get a strong sense of satisfaction at having contributed to the body of work within my chosen field and that others can learn from it. It is especially exciting when certain findings promise to be practice-changing and of tangible benefit to patients.

(by Brad Li, Alisa Lu)

Yang Xia

Yang Xia is a junior doctor working within the neurosurgical department at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital located in Perth, Western Australia. His recent research paper showcased the first thoracic endovascular aortic repair being performed in the prone position via the popliteal artery for inadvertent vascular injury during thoracic spondylectomy. As a budding researcher, he is keen to expand the boundaries of neurosurgery with outstanding cases. Eager to delve deeper into the field, he looks forward to contributing to more exciting projects in the future.

JSS: What are the essential elements of a good academic paper?

Dr. Xia: Any paper with the answer to my clinical question. Apart from the obvious, well-powered, unbiased, double-blinded, etc., the academic paper should reflect the enthusiasm of the author whilst keeping its results objective. It is always exciting to write about a topic that I believe will add to the literature. In such cases, the writing becomes easier, and I hope the reader will find it a more enjoyable read. Contradicting results can dishearten researchers, leading to papers with an agenda to publish. Alternatively, the results from a well-designed trial can be open to interpretation and picked apart. As researchers, it is important to identify the objective truth, and sometimes a well-designed RCT can be more powerful than stacking cow-patties over and over.

JSS: Science advances rapidly day by day. How do you ensure your writing is up-to-date and can give new insights to the field of research?

Dr. Xia: Writing promotes reading and vice versa. I believe it is a good idea to involve a healthy amount of academic work to our busy daily practice. Part of the research is staying up to date with the literature. The more I read, the better equipped I will be in commenting on a topic. It also highlights gaps within the literature, which invites new research opportunities. From reading, breakthroughs can be made, expert opinions can be exchanged, and everything is eventually extrapolated to better the care for the individual patient that we care for day to day.

JSS: Would you like to say a few words to encourage other academic writers who have been devoting themselves to advancing scientific progress?

Dr. Xia: Being towards the beginning of my research career, I would say thank you to all who have been paving the way for scientific progress. Thank you for all the answers you have given me, and I look forward to unveiling the unknown. Your contributions have played a pivotal role for both clinician and patient, and the medical field owes much of its current status to your invaluable input.

(by Brad Li, Alisa Lu)

Keagan Gertz

Keagan Gertz is a 4th year Orthopedic Surgery resident at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. He grew up in Ohio and graduated college from Bowling Green State University. He attended medical school at the University of Cincinnati where he met his wife Brooke, who is currently finishing a fellowship in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. They have two wonderful children and enjoy the challenge of balancing parenthood and clinical training. His career goal is to practice spine surgery in an academic setting. His current research interest is pain control for spine surgery patients, especially alternative methods of pain control to curb the number of opioids in the population. Recent projects have examined the effect of methadone on post-operative opioid prescriptions and the effect of opioids on post-operative patient-reported outcomes. Connect with him on Facebook.

One of Dr. Gertz’s favorite aspects of the field of spine surgery is that it relies on a variety of opinions, philosophies, and operative techniques to continuously improve outcomes and meet individual patient needs. This variety invites rich discussion and debate. A good academic paper feeds on this variety of opinions in the field. It fosters discussion and serves as the starting point for the sharing of ideas among its readers. It presents an idea that stimulates dialogue and may perhaps shape the practices of readers as well.

To Dr. Gertz, there are some ways to avoid biases in writing. The first step is to recognize that we have biases and to acknowledge them, then to assess their impact on the content and even style of the writing. Take a moment to ponder what underlies the bias and what modifiable factors can mitigate the impact of the bias on outcomes, results interpretations, and recommendations. The best way to avoid biases in one’s writing is to consider only what you believe is best for patient care without minimizing the complexity of individual cases. Authors should also critically evaluate their own writing for objectivity and use an open-minded approach to accept critiques of their writing from colleagues and mentors.

Academic writing is the key to the spread of novel ideas around the world. As an academic writer, you keep the progress of scientific discovery going by spreading new ideas for investigation to others. Even ideas that result in negative or neutral studies are lessons learned. Keep up the amazing work, and I look forward to reading your ideas soon,” Dr. Gertz says.

(by Sasa Zhu, Brad Li)