Author profile - Armando J. L. Pombeiro

We interview Professor Armando Pombeiro, who shares his thoughts and views on what it is like to be an author

 Professor PombeiroArmando J. L. Pombeiro is Full Professor at the Instituto Superior Técnico, Vice-President of Class of Sciences of Academy of Sciences of Lisbon, former Secretary-General and a representative at ICSU, EASAC and ESF, and President of the Portuguese Electrochemical Society. His research Group on "Coordination Chemistry and Molecular Electrochemistry, Synthesis and Catalysis" addresses the activation of small molecules with industrial, environmental or biological significance. He has co-authored 550 research publications, 33 patents, 500 conference communications, and presented 80 invited lectures at international conferences. His work has received over 9,350 citations, h-index = 46 (ISI Web of Knowledge).

1.    What do you enjoy most about being an author?
The publication of a scientific work is the culmination of a long pathway, starting from the idealization of a project, and the final appearance concerns the successful reaching of a traveler's destination that eventually was not the one initially planned, via a route that also often was not that initially mapped.  It shows to the author that the value of his/her work has been recognized by others and generates the satisfaction naturally resulting from the success of an accomplished duty, along a route possibly thrilled with deviations and new paths  that had to be imagined. The recognition of the author's capacity to achieve a worthy scientific destination and share his/her new knowledge to others gives him/her a high pleasure.

As an author, I greatly enjoy these aspects, especially when they are complemented by the feeling that the work has opened new prospects that deserve to be further explored. Therefore, the work will not end or die therein, upon its publication, but has the potential to be continued. This provides to me a high satisfaction, as an author, when I recognize such features, and I am pleased to see that I still enjoy thinking of my first papers in the 70s.

2.    What advice would you give to a new author?
Think of publication not only as an aim by itself, but mainly as a tool to expand the knowledge of both the author(s) and the readers.
Hence, assure the expected originality, quality and clearness of presentation (put yourself in the position of a reviewer and of a reader and check if you have reached your purpose). Try to achieve excellence in the long run, although being aware that such an aim will not always be possible to reach, and thus be exigent to yourself but in a balanced way (sometimes the "optimum" can be the enemy of the "good" which, by itself, is already good).  Nevertheless, in order to achieve a successful publication, be prepared to encounter all sorts of difficulties (even those of a non-scientific nature) along the work behind, devote yourself towards finding out ways to solve them (consider this as an intellectual challenge) and do not give up even when the results are quite different from those you expected. Remember that you are learning whenever you fail in your prediction, search for the possible importance of the results you have obtained since eventually they can be even more promising than those you have anticipated (many great discoveries have occurred unexpectedly).

Do not be afraid of submission to a high impact factor journal, if you consider that your work deserves to be published therein.  In spite of the tremendous high competition and stress for publishing ("publish or perish"), never deviate from the ethical principles and your conscience.

3.    How do you think that the move from print to electronic publishing affects you as an author?
Positive effects have resulted from the print to electronic shift, such as, the much easier and faster access to the literature, and space economy. The dramatic decrease of storage needs concerns both libraries and offices, and it has been particularly relevant in my case, limited to a very restricted office space.

Habits have changed, and rarely my co-workers and myself need to go to a library since the information magically appears at screens upon pressing a keyboard.
However, there are also problems associated to that. Reading of electronic scientific publications is harder than the printed versions, namely when we need to jump frequently along the text, tables or schemes (e.g., for comparisons), or to highlight some passages/statements or to add our own comments or conclusions. Extended periods of fixed attention to the screens is also unhealthy (namely to the eyes, as I feel).

Moreover, an excessive demand on the authors' side has been growing. The manuscripts have to be submitted electronically according to tight guidelines, requiring electronic facilities, ability, knowledge and time that many authors, like myself, have not at their disposal. I have to rely on the skilfullness of my co-workers on those issues, before having the manuscripts in suitable forms for submission. It appears that authors are also taking publishers' jobs!

The demand of fast and extensive reviewing in the peer review process has also boosted eventually to an unacceptable level that some of us cannot cope with.

4.    What do you think about open access?
Open access to scientific knowledge would correspond to an ideal situation that would contribute to the "universality of science", one of the main key issues of ICSU (International Council of Science), but the financial issues have to be dealt with appropriately, in a balanced way. Otherwise, the scientific information cannot be properly assembled, treated and spread. The overall issue is a challenge to all the sectors involved, including scientific societies and learned institutions.

5.    What is your favourite quote?
I have not any particularly favorite quote. They vary according to the diversity of situations, from both professional and personal viewpoints. For instance, when things go wrong and the aims seem unreachable, it comes to my mind that only those who do not get tired can win, and that there is a hope while there is a life.

An interesting quote, for some types of situations, which I remember a few times, is the original motto of the Academy of Sciences of Lisbon, founded on December 24th, 1779 (233 years ago): "Nisi utile est quod facimus stulta est Gloria" (unless what we do is useful, our fame is foolish). I believe it could have an influence on the gradual shift of my scientific interests from mainly basic science towards more applied fields of industrial, environmental or pharmacological significance.

6.    Who or what is your biggest inspiration?
I do not feel that my life has been inspired by a major agent, person or fact.  I have benefitted from the inspiration I found in people with a high human dimension and/or scientific merit. The first inspiring persons I remember, from my childhood, are my Grand-Fathers (one of them as a civil engineer and army captain, expert on radio-communications, and the other one as an inventor and artist painter), whom I was not fortunate to know personally (they passed away before I was born). Along my academic life, a few professors had also a great positive influence, but, more recently, I am also getting inspiration from the younger generations, represented, in science, by my co-workers (I am nowadays even learning with some of them) and, in general life, by my Sons and Daughter who remind me of the beauty and value of life, not always evident in the competitive academic medium.

A glass of a nice wine (Portugal is a highly gifted country for superb wines), after dinner, with my Wife, is also rather inspiring… to plan the activities of the following days!

7.    What do you like to do for fun?
I enjoy travelling and associated activities, get acquainted with different cultures, visit museums, other cultural institutions and constructions of architectural value, and sightseeing.

Musicals and films (selected types), as well as a good cuisine (again, in this respect, I am fortunate to live in my country), also provide relaxing moments.

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