Interview with SRHM’s Editor in Chief: Dr Julia Hussein

23 July, 2020


Julia Hussein – Editor in Chief

Julia has 30 years of professional experience as an obstetrician, public health practitioner, development worker, researcher, writer and scientific editor. She has worked with non-government organizations, universities, funding agencies, governments and the United Nations in several countries in Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean. She now prefers to spend her time helping others write, publish and communicate their research and insights on science and public health. Julia is based in Aberdeen, Scotland and joined SRHM in 2018 as Editor-in-Chief.


What is your background and journey to become editor in chief of SRHM?

I originally trained as a clinician in obstetrics in the UK and loved every minute of the work. I had also wanted to work in humanitarian and low-income settings for many years, and when I took that step, I found that my public health interests won out over clinical practice. It was never my intention to do research after I returned from being abroad, but it turned out that the rigour and detail involved in the work provided a good grounding for scientific editing. When I was invited to be an editor with another medical journal many years ago, I accepted with some trepidation, but as I got used to the work processes, found myself enjoying it tremendously. As I gained experience in my own research and publications, I was increasingly drawn to exploring how other authors wrote and why some papers got published and others did not. I found I enjoyed running workshops and events to support authors to write – so much can be done when authors who may perhaps be less experienced, get timely and targeted support for their papers. I don’t think there is enough of that sort of individualised approach in academia. Most people are just too busy with the pressure of having to produce their own publications. I was glad to be given the opportunity to join SRHM; for me, its ethical approach to publishing, focus on building capacity and importance placed on featuring articles from people who are perhaps less ‘visible’ in the scientific community, means that the journal has a special value.

What is the focus of the SRHM journal and what are the most important research areas for the journal?

The rights, public health, policy and practice focus of the journal is probably already widely known. I do not feel that there are especially important areas of research within sexual and reproductive health and rights – it is an incredibly broad field and there are many priority areas. Interest in certain subject areas may wax and wane over the course of time and depend on social and political events.  What I believe is of merit is the exploration and examination of any subject from multiple viewpoints, so I see the journal as playing an important part in publishing research from multiple disciplines which can appeal to a readership with diverse interests.

Which research areas would you like to see published more?

Given my own background and research interests, I would like to see much more on the intersections between health systems and sexual and reproductive health care, and implementation research on how we can make health systems work for better care in resource constrained settings. We know a lot about what to do and why, but less on the ‘how’, so I would like to see more published on ‘how to implement’ and ‘how to change’.

How has SRHR research/publications changed over your career?

Maternal health and family planning used to dominate the global public health picture and it is good to see that the agenda has broadened over the years to encompass sexual and reproductive health and rights. The boundaries are being pushed forward all the time, with more and more overlooked topics coming to the forefront – menstruation, sexual pleasure, gender identity, reproductive cancers and so on. The list is long and ever-growing.

How do you, as Editor-in-Chief, maintain the high quality of SRHM’s publications?

I could respond by saying that I look for papers that have scientific merit, originality and relevance. In reality, it isn’t as simple as that, especially given our journal’s priorities on capacity building and being inclusive in representing work from different disciplines, perspectives and levels of experience. I read every paper that comes in, sometimes several times, putting it aside and coming back to it later, before deciding on the next step. Time constraints mean there are trade-offs, and I spend much more time on papers where the authors seem less fluent or experienced, and confess I get impatient with carelessly written articles from authors who should know better. I try to look beyond what is written to understand what the authors intend to convey and whether there is potential to deepen the insights emerging from the paper. Writing that is balanced and fair-minded, and the dispassionate use of evidence, are attributes I feel are important. The contributions of reviewers are crucial, and I am constantly surprised by their generosity and dedication in providing substantive and painstakingly detailed comments. The opinions of the other editors at SRHM are also key and we find that internal consultations can be helpful in dealing with difficult decisions.

SRHM claims to be ‘more than a journal’. What does that mean to you? 

For me, the implication is that engaging with SRHM gives ‘added value’ – beyond what most academic journals do. For example, the importance we place on capacity building means we go the extra mile to help guide a paper to publication standard – whether in one to one interaction, or through a mentorship programme. The interconnectedness between our journal and wider organisational activities as a platform for promoting sexual and reproductive health and rights makes it vital that we actively seek support for convening consultations and technical meetings to share knowledge and to foster the generation of evidence. In addition to their aim of promoting evidence to boost ‘know-how’ for policy and practice, these activities are also designed to stimulate publications on emerging and neglected topics – not only from academic perspectives, but from the viewpoints of activists, policy-makers, programme implementers, service providers and others. Publishing evidence and research isn’t enough – we want knowledge transfer to go both ways, evidence to inform policy and practice, and the experience of policy-making and practice to influence the evidence that is published.

What advice would you offer to young researchers if they are looking to publish their research in quality journals like SRHM?

As you prepare to write your paper, look up and read other papers similar in approach and topic area to yours, noting how the various sections are written and ensuring you incorporate the same level of detail in your paper, in your own words. Make sure you read papers from the journal to which you intend to submit, and note the scope of the journal, their target audience, the types of papers published and the style in which the papers are written. Consult widely when writing your paper, discuss drafts with colleagues, supervisors, friends and family. SRHM is a multidisciplinary journal and getting advice and opinions from different people can help to deepen your insights, sharpen your writing and make your writing understandable and accessible to a diverse audience. When you submit your paper to the journal, follow the instructions for authors meticulously. Editors and reviewers find it irritating to assess a paper that is carelessly and hurriedly written. When you receive reviewers’ comments, analyse them carefully and try to understand the reasons behind the comments so that you can address their concerns fully. Respond to the comments honestly and systematically. It is surprising how often authors make responses to the reviewer in detail, but do not actually include the explanation in the revisions. Editors can easily identify when authors have not taken review comments seriously. In a nutshell: prepare carefully, be meticulous and think deep.