Peer review duo create new tool in psychology research

From mentor to co-author: the Publons Academy helped to form an international collaboration

 Lilian Jans-Beken couldn’t believe her luck when her assigned mentor for the Publons Academy was leading clinical psychologist, Paul Wong. The PhD student and Professor Emeritus have since moved beyond peer review and formed an international collaboration in which they developed, validated, and published their work on a new tool in psychological research.

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Lilian Jans-Beken’s career took an interesting turn when she decided to improve her skills in peer review. During the final year of writing her PhD thesis, Lilian signed up to the Publons Academy, a free, online peer review course with one-to-one support from a mentor in the field. It was here she was introduced to Canadian psychologist, Paul TP Wong—a researcher who had helped to define her field of study.

Lilian, who is based in the Netherlands, describes Paul as the founding father of second wave positive psychology. This is a relatively new subject area examining the scientific study of wellbeing and virtue in difficult times. The pair were assigned as mentor and student in the Publons Academy, but their shared interest in gratitude research and its connection with mental health soon took over the conversation.

The two psychologists discovered that the current tools to measure gratitude, an emotion they consider capable of helping people navigate through the complexities of their real-world problems, were not fit for purpose. That’s when they decided to collaborate.

Lilian and Paul’s paper validating their newly-designed Existential Gratitude Scale was published in the Counselling Psychology Quarterly in August 2019—almost two years after they completed the Publons Academy together.

The pair are now seeking funding to continue their research and we got in touch with Lilian, who recently was a Global Peer Review Award recipient. We asked her to tell us more about how their research started and where it’s heading.



You two started out as student and mentor in the Publons Academy—when did you realize the potential for collaboration?

I initially could not believe such an eminent professor like Paul was appointed as my mentor at the Publons Academy. I decided to learn as much as possible from him during our time working together and it all progressed very organically. When we were almost done with the peer review training, Paul asked me to submit a paper to the 2018 Meaning Conference, which I did. I wrote a paper about gratitude’s place in positive psychology 2.0 and I received an honorable mention for it. I was thrilled about this and I went to Vancouver to meet Paul and to receive the award in person. I really enjoy working with him and I have learned so much in the process of our research that I hope that we can continue our collaboration in the coming years.


How does your Existential Gratitude Scale progress research in its field?

The focus on existential gratitude progresses the field of positive psychology because it takes into account that people experience adversity, loss and sadness. Humans all over the world face overwhelming threats such as wars, epidemics, poverty and malnutrition, climate change and natural disasters. But this can be on a smaller scale, too: people will fail, fall ill or get injured, face conflicts and lose loved-ones. Coping with these adversities while accepting what cannot be changed in the course of life can be very challenging. People need the psychological ability to deal with the encountered obstacles while investing in those things that are meaningful to them to reach and maintain good mental well-being throughout their lifespan.



Do you have plans to develop your work in this area further? What are you working on now?

Paul and I are actually working on a grant proposal to study several character strengths that interact dynamically to enhance psychological flexibility to handle all kinds of situations in life, both the good and the bad. Let’s hope we can receive the funding necessary for our research plans in the future. There will also be a symposium about existential gratitude at the International Meaning Conference in Toronto in 2020, which Paul asked me to organize.


How was your experience with the Publons Academy?

I did some peer review work before starting the course but I did learn new skills during the Publons Academy. The structural approach was especially very helpful to me. I still use the Review Template to do my reviews.


What advice do you have for researchers starting out in the Academy? What has learning peer review brought to your own research?

I would advise all researchers to take the course seriously because peer review is an important part of the scientific process. Your efforts will help other scientists with their work.

Peer review is very important for my own research in several ways. Of course, there is the academic importance of another scientist analyzing your scientific work. We don’t know everything and we should benefit from all the available knowledge given to us through peer review—especially because it comes with a fresh pair of eyes. Peer review also keeps me up-to-date because I get to read the most recent work that is done by my colleagues, and I can also look forward to including their findings in my own research once their papers are published.


You’ve gone from a Publons Academy graduate to a recipient of the Peer Review Awards! How does that feel?

It feels wonderful! It is a real appreciation for all the work I do, which is also visible to others thanks to Publons. Ending up as a Top 1% Peer Reviewer on Publons is a crown on my work in the past year. Let’s see if I can manage this again in the coming year!


Want to learn more about the Publons Academy? Sign up today for free to learn the core competencies of peer review with one-on-one mentorship from an expert in your field. For more reading, take a look at Dr. Paul Wong’s blog with 6 tips to review a manuscript like a pro.