A Conversation with Sarah Tegen, Ph.D., ACS Publications’ New Chief Publishing Officer

ACS Publications
  • 8 min read

Get to know Dr. Tegen as she discusses her vision for ACS Publications' future and shares her thoughts on equity and integrity in scientific research, the value of peer review and open science, and more.

Two professionals engaged in a conversation at a business event or conference.
In your new role as Chief Publishing Officer, what do you see as the future of ACS Publications and its journals?

Our vision for ACS Publications is to be the first choice of every researcher, whether they are an author, editor, reviewer, or reader. This North Star guides everything that we do at ACS Publications. Chemical professionals—our members, our authors, our readers, our editors, and our reviewers—wear many hats. When I think about them as journal authors, I want them to have the most thorough, reliable, and efficient experience they can so they can get back to the lab, doing what they do best: research.

That means ACS Publications needs to have tools and processes that make manuscript preparation, submission, peer review and publishing easy. It also means that we need a portfolio of journals that serve the needs of all kinds of authors—from flagships like JACS to venerable subject specific journals like Inorganic Chemistry or ACS Nano and fully open access venues including ACS Central Science and ACS Omega. We are committed to helping researchers at all stages of their career. And we’re investing in technology to help this process—from AI tools that match manuscripts to journals to workflow engines that automatically find funding sources to make open-access publishing with ACS simple.

In addition, our beloved magazine Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN), just hit a major milestone: 100 years! I’m beyond proud that our weekly publication remains the world's most comprehensive and authoritative source of news about chemistry. Our global team of journalists are seasoned professionals; and chemists around the world appreciate our breaking-news coverage and award-winning features. I’m excited to celebrate and build on C&EN’s rich legacy of accurate, independent journalism.

Why is advancing equity in scientific research and publication important to you? How has mentorship been part of your path to becoming a leader at ACS Publications?

Throughout my pursuit of a PhD in biology and during my tenure as a business leader, I’ve experienced bias and uncomfortable situations because of my gender. I’ve also had the opportunity to work with researchers from different walks of life, many of whom have faced setbacks I couldn’t even imagine. Science is better when all voices contribute and when all researchers can feel comfortable being their authentic self.

I’ve been fortunate to have had some amazing mentors in my life. My grandmothers each had paying jobs outside the home at a time when that wasn’t common; and my own mom and mother-in-law showed me firsthand how to strive for things that were important. Professionally, I’ve benefited from an impressive circle of publishing executives who got me through some of the darkest pandemic days and amazing bosses who have taught me, challenged me, and supported me as I’ve grown into a leader myself.

For more than 15 years, I’ve spearheaded a multitude of initiatives at ACS Publications aimed at improving equity. We’ve expanded our editorial teams to include earlier career and more diverse researchers. We’re also taking a deeper look at the user-provided demographic data about the people who interact with our journals. The insights we glean will inform meaningful decisions about how to engage broader audiences in both our readership and author community. For example, ACS Publications recently made it easier for authors to change their names on articles when life changes occur. These simple ways to be more inclusive can have a profound impact on science.

What do you see as the value publishers provide throughout the peer review process?

Publishers have an obligation to help protect the integrity of the scholarly record. From manuscript submission through to the final editorial decision, ACS Publications diligently handles more than 200,000 manuscripts each year and ensures a seamless submission experience, multiple verification checks, and the highest quality of peer review.

Conducting rigorous peer review requires time and expertise from a vast network of reviewers around the world, and an incredible effort from ACS Publications’ global editors. This endeavor involves extensive coordination within the editorial team to facilitate the process. For each manuscript, our editors engage the most appropriate reviewers; securely manage feedback, promptly follow up with authors to communicate areas of improvement, and carefully ensure the quality and integrity of the thorough review process. We know time is of the essence, so for most of our journals, authors receive a decision with reviewer comments within four to six weeks. At the conclusion of the editorial and peer review process, authors receive valuable feedback to help guide their journey of scientific discovery and future publication.

With the rise of potential threats to research integrity like paper mills and generative AI, how does ACS Publications combat these challenges to ensure integrity in research?

The explosion in paper mills and new forms of data manipulation are chilling. The need to safeguard the integrity of research publications is paramount to ensuring credibility in the global scientific enterprise. From extensive editor training to integrated software to detect potential fraud, ACS Publications seeks to protect the integrity of the scholarly record. In February 2023, ACS Publications was one of the first publishers to proclaim that generative AI tools did not meet our qualifications as authors. I’m proud to be part of a thought-leading organization.

We also work with other publishers through the STM Association Integrity Hub and the Committee on Publication Ethics to understand emerging threats and explore how publishers can work together to address these challenges. This space is rapidly changing, and ACS Publications will continue to invest in new ways to combat against submitted manuscripts that violate our community norms and undermine the integrity of scientific articles.

How can the publishing community best promote open science and support authors?

ACS Publications has been a longtime supporter of open science providing open access options for the scientific community for well over a decade. Today, we’re working to ensure that all authors have the opportunity to publish open and affordably in an ACS journal. We have a portfolio of open access journals spanning the breadth and depth of chemistry. We provide free, one year embargoed open access to each author to allow them ways to comply with funder directives. We also provide discounts and waivers to broaden the tent to encompass more underrepresented researchers.

Most recently, we surpassed 1,000 read and publish agreements with institutions around the world. These arrangements make it simple and cost-free for authors at participating institutions to publish with us. Overall, more than 20% of content in ACS journals is published open, and for those from certain regions, more than 50% of their articles are openly available.

When you look at the usage of our open access articles, downloads are coming from a wider and more diverse pool of readers than our typical hybrid journal. It’s clear our open science initiatives are successfully making it easier for authors to widely share their research.

As a nonprofit scholarly publisher, how do you think ACS Publications uniquely serves the research community?

As one of the world's largest scientific societies with more than 170,000 members throughout the globe, ACS is the best positioned to serve the chemistry community because we are the community. Our team of nearly 900 editors are practicing scientists with their fingers on the pulse of the latest research. Beyond our editorial team, our staff includes scientists and other highly trained professionals committed to improving all people's lives through the transforming power of chemistry. This expertise and mission-driven passion help us deliver precisely what chemists need today and in the future.

It also means that as Chief Publishing Officer of ACS Publications, I’m beholden to scientists—not shareholders. I’m constantly thinking about how we can invest in our community and improve the author and reader experience. When I was an author and my papers were going through the peer review process, I was so excited to read the reviewer reports because the comments were invaluable in helping my professor and I think differently about the research question we were exploring. One of the tools I'm most proud to have conceived of is the ACS Reviewer Lab, a free training course to help ensure that reviewers are well versed in the critical skills required to complete insightful and useful reports.

One of my main goals is to shift the paradigm around how we operate as publishers to make scientific research more expansive and inclusive and reimagine how ACS Publications can provide the best value to our community. It’s an exciting time in scholarly publishing—filled with new challenges and opportunities—and I’m enthusiastic and optimistic about what’s next at ACS Publications.

Want the latest stories delivered to your inbox each month?