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Logo for Dr Anna Clemens PhD who teaches scientific writing courses for researchers

Interview with Dr Jia Ng — Researchers’ Writing Academy Alumni

Interview with Dr Jia Ng — Researchers’ Writing Academy Alumni

I talk to Dr Jia Ng, Assistant Professor at the Zucker School of Medicine in the US, about how her writing and writing process has changed since joining the Researchers’ Writing Academy.

 

Hey Jia! Please tell us about your research field and position. 

I am an Assistant Professor in Medicine. I am a board-certified nephrologist, or kidney doctor. I do about 75% research and 25% clinical work. I’m based in New York at Northwell Health Zucker School of Medicine and my research is on acute kidney injury. My big project right now is trying to improve patient outcome after they get discharged from the hospital by improving doctor to doctor and doctor to patient communication. 

That’s sounds like a great project! You’ve been a member of the Researchers’ Writing Academy for 8 months. What was your motivation to join?

Ok, so here’s a bit of background story. After I’ve completed my Master’s degree in clinical research, I had zero publications. English is not my first language, so I worked on my English grammar and grasp of English sentence structure first. I eventually managed to publish a few papers but only with a lot of guidance. Typically I wasn’t the first author, it was other people writing the papers and I would edit them. 

But I wanted to level up and learn how to actually craft a story, how to write beautifully – and that’s why I joined the Researchers’ Writing Academy. I knew writing is a craft and I needed to find ways to improve it. Before I joined, I knew how to write a basic paper and now I want to get into the higher impact journals and see what the difference is! 

Graphic advertising a free scientific writing training

Fantastic! I’m curious, what has changed for you since joining the Researchers’ Writing Academy?

First, I have started to really enjoy writing. Before, I used to approach academic writing as something tedious that I needed to do. I also now have confidence in writing. Now that I learned the correct strategies and know what to do, I am able to transform my ideas into words much quicker. It’s become so much faster to write a paper! 

Before I never knew when a paragraph was good enough. It used to take me months to even write a paper. Since being a member of the Researchers’ Writing Academy, I can write a draft in four weeks. Of course, I have to be clear on the results first for that to happen and I need to be fully in writing mode for those weeks. 

I have started to really enjoy writing.

Being able to see a year-long project turn into a well-written manuscript is so much fun! I think people tend to like doing something more when they can see progress.

Yes, that’s exactly how I feel about writing too! How great for you to know that you can get a paper written in such a short time. 

Exactly. What became really clear to me through the course was that we often don’t realise that the time it takes to write a paper depends on how clear our mind is. It’s so much more about the step before the writing, how clear our ideas are, how clear our results are. And I think I used to struggle because I didn’t understand my results well enough and what story I wanted to tell. 

Has anything else changed in the way you write? 


Now that I know what to do, I am able to transform my ideas into words much quicker. It’s become so much faster to write a paper!

The other big change since joining the Researchers’ Writing Academy is that when I’m the principal investigator of a study, I no longer let my co-authors simply start writing the paper. Instead, I direct them on how to write it. We discuss all the key point before we start writing the text. If not, it will be a  huge, big mess that usually ends up becoming an editing nightmare. So by guiding people on what to write, it’s become a much smoother process. 

I love that! Have you submitted or published any papers since joining the Researchers’ Writing Academy? 

Yes, I published one and two are on the way. 

You know the one paper that we discussed on a group coaching call, the one that you reviewed the Introduction section of? You really helped me structure it better, remove parts that were repetitive and move sentences around to make the writing flow better. 

Yes, I remember! 

So, that paper got published, and actually just yesterday it was highlighted as a paper of the month. 

Really? Congratulations! 

Thank you, yeah it is a good, good paper! I used to struggle a lot with trying to get people understand what we are trying to say. And it turns out, people understood. So that was awesome!  

I also have several old manuscripts that I’ve had trouble completing. These have been weighing on me for some time. Now, I have the confidence to get those papers done!

I’m sure you’ll get these submitted in no time!

Since being a member of the Researchers’ Writing Academy, I can write a draft in four weeks.

Once you joined the Academy, what did you do first? 

I went through the course step by step but I didn’t follow the modules as it was outlined because I already had a half-written manuscript with different parts that I was struggling with. I think I started with the Results section and then I went back and forth with different parts depending on what I needed. 

I didn’t want to just watch a video and then not not do anything. I wanted to watch a lesson and then immediately apply it. So, then on the next group coaching call, I could check whether the way I applied the concepts from the lessons was correct. That was my approach. 

Graphic inviting scientists to register for a free training on academic writing

I think that’s an excellent approach! You made the material work for you where you were at and made sure to get the most out of the time you spent with the course!

And for me, it’s not a one-time thing, I go back and rewatch lessons because the second time, you don’t see the same things as the first time round. For my next paper, I will rewatch all lessons. 

I’m also wondering, which aspect of the Researcher’ Writing Academy are you enjoying the most? 

I think my favourite part from the course is how you talk about flow. I really love that. I never knew how to connect paragraphs together, my writing always seemed kind of chunky, didn’t connect to each other. I knew it was a problem but I didn’t know what to do about it. And when you broke it down showing us how to make writing flow by putting certain words here and there and how to structure paragraphs, it really clicked for me. This helped me structure papers as a whole, and the papers I write now read so much better and people can follow them more easily. 

What became really clear to me through the course was that we often don’t realise that the time it takes us to write a paper depends on how clear our mind is.

In general, I like your focus on strategy, how you teach us in detail how to write each section. For example, I don’t like when people just say “you have to be clear” but then don’t tell you how to do that. I appreciate that you always show us examples and different versions. 

I also really like the group coaching calls where you review and edit our work. Through them, I can see the issues with my own writing. 

I love hosting the group coaching calls too! It’s so much fun diving into so many different areas of research. 

And you are very patient with your students. We all come in at different levels, some are experienced writers, some are not so experienced. Some have English as their first language, some do not. And there are also various fields. You are always very calm and collected on the group coaching calls and are able to pick up the key messages of different papers very quickly – even outside your own field!

For me, it’s not a one-time thing, I go back and rewatch lessons because the second time, you don’t see the same things as the first time round.

I remember one call where one paper was about engineering, the next one about soil and a third one about whales. So, I was listening with a lot of interest but had trouble understanding the research. But you were able to pick it up quickly, you were a translator for the science! Once you talked about the research, I understood it. I thought that was a very special thing that you were able to translate the science so quickly. 

Thank you! I’m glad you felt that way. 

Now that you experienced the course, whom would you recommend to join the Researchers’ Writing Academy? 

I think two groups of people who write research papers would really benefit from the course: 1) Those who can’t get the writing done and 2) those whose papers keep getting rejected. I sometimes hear researchers complain that their papers get rejected because editors or reviewers are biased against papers from certain countries or certain institutions. But when you read their paper, you realise that the paper isn’t actually very good. So, if you’re getting papers rejected frequently, you really need to assess your writing skills and maybe get a writing coach!

Yes, I agree. While of course, bias does exist in the publication process, many researchers tend to overestimate their own writing skills… 

And what would you say to someone who’s on the fence about joining the course? 

Oh, very simple. If you are uncertain, I would say, go for it! When you feel uncertain about a decision, it’s because you are lacking something, so you should go ahead and do the uncomfortable thing. Because the first step is just making the decision, that itself will transform you. 


My favourite part from the course is how you talk about flow.

If you are investing a lot of time into deciding whether or not the course is right for you, you are wasting a lot of energy that would be better spent learning something new and improving your writing skill. And finally, don’t go in thinking “will I get something out of it?” because you decide that you’re going to get something out of it! 

That’s actually really good life advice in general! 

Yeah, for me anything I purchase – it doesn’t matter if it’s a $5 book, an $800 program or a $5000 bootcamp – I go in deciding that I’m gonna get a return on investment. I will make it worth it! 

I love your strategy for implementing professional development! I also think it’s important that once you join a program you trust it and commit to it. 

Thank you very much for the interview, Jia! 

Anna talked to Researchers’ Writing Academy member Dr Jia Ng who is an Assistant Professor in Medicine and a board-certified nephrologist at Northwell Health Zucker School of Medicine in New York, United States. As a side business, she offers a course helping academic clinicians publish papers who are new to research. Her course covers research study design, data analysis, statistics, academic writing, critical reading of the medical literature and other essential research skills.

Graphic advertising the free training class for researchers who want to learn how to write clear and concise papers

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Interview with Dr Jia Ng — Researchers’ Writing Academy Alumni

I talk to Dr Jia Ng, Assistant Professor at the Zucker School of Medicine in the US, about how her writing and writing process has changed since joining the Researchers’ Writing Academy.

 

Hey Jia! Please tell us about your research field and position. 

I am an Assistant Professor in Medicine. I am a board-certified nephrologist, or kidney doctor. I do about 75% research and 25% clinical work. I’m based in New York at Northwell Health Zucker School of Medicine and my research is on acute kidney injury. My big project right now is trying to improve patient outcome after they get discharged from the hospital by improving doctor to doctor and doctor to patient communication. 

That’s sounds like a great project! You’ve been a member of the Researchers’ Writing Academy for 8 months. What was your motivation to join?

Ok, so here’s a bit of background story. After I’ve completed my Master’s degree in clinical research, I had zero publications. English is not my first language, so I worked on my English grammar and grasp of English sentence structure first. I eventually managed to publish a few papers but only with a lot of guidance. Typically I wasn’t the first author, it was other people writing the papers and I would edit them. 

But I wanted to level up and learn how to actually craft a story, how to write beautifully – and that’s why I joined the Researchers’ Writing Academy. I knew writing is a craft and I needed to find ways to improve it. Before I joined, I knew how to write a basic paper and now I want to get into the higher impact journals and see what the difference is! 

Graphic advertising a free scientific writing training

Fantastic! I’m curious, what has changed for you since joining the Researchers’ Writing Academy?

First, I have started to really enjoy writing. Before, I used to approach academic writing as something tedious that I needed to do. I also now have confidence in writing. Now that I learned the correct strategies and know what to do, I am able to transform my ideas into words much quicker. It’s become so much faster to write a paper! 

Before I never knew when a paragraph was good enough. It used to take me months to even write a paper. Since being a member of the Researchers’ Writing Academy, I can write a draft in four weeks. Of course, I have to be clear on the results first for that to happen and I need to be fully in writing mode for those weeks. 

I have started to really enjoy writing.

Being able to see a year-long project turn into a well-written manuscript is so much fun! I think people tend to like doing something more when they can see progress.

Yes, that’s exactly how I feel about writing too! How great for you to know that you can get a paper written in such a short time. 

Exactly. What became really clear to me through the course was that we often don’t realise that the time it takes to write a paper depends on how clear our mind is. It’s so much more about the step before the writing, how clear our ideas are, how clear our results are. And I think I used to struggle because I didn’t understand my results well enough and what story I wanted to tell. 

Has anything else changed in the way you write? 


Now that I know what to do, I am able to transform my ideas into words much quicker. It’s become so much faster to write a paper!

The other big change since joining the Researchers’ Writing Academy is that when I’m the principal investigator of a study, I no longer let my co-authors simply start writing the paper. Instead, I direct them on how to write it. We discuss all the key point before we start writing the text. If not, it will be a  huge, big mess that usually ends up becoming an editing nightmare. So by guiding people on what to write, it’s become a much smoother process. 

I love that! Have you submitted or published any papers since joining the Researchers’ Writing Academy? 

Yes, I published one and two are on the way. 

You know the one paper that we discussed on a group coaching call, the one that you reviewed the Introduction section of? You really helped me structure it better, remove parts that were repetitive and move sentences around to make the writing flow better. 

Yes, I remember! 

So, that paper got published, and actually just yesterday it was highlighted as a paper of the month. 

Really? Congratulations! 

Thank you, yeah it is a good, good paper! I used to struggle a lot with trying to get people understand what we are trying to say. And it turns out, people understood. So that was awesome!  

I also have several old manuscripts that I’ve had trouble completing. These have been weighing on me for some time. Now, I have the confidence to get those papers done!

I’m sure you’ll get these submitted in no time!

Since being a member of the Researchers’ Writing Academy, I can write a draft in four weeks.

Once you joined the Academy, what did you do first? 

I went through the course step by step but I didn’t follow the modules as it was outlined because I already had a half-written manuscript with different parts that I was struggling with. I think I started with the Results section and then I went back and forth with different parts depending on what I needed. 

I didn’t want to just watch a video and then not not do anything. I wanted to watch a lesson and then immediately apply it. So, then on the next group coaching call, I could check whether the way I applied the concepts from the lessons was correct. That was my approach. 

Graphic inviting scientists to register for a free training on academic writing

I think that’s an excellent approach! You made the material work for you where you were at and made sure to get the most out of the time you spent with the course!

And for me, it’s not a one-time thing, I go back and rewatch lessons because the second time, you don’t see the same things as the first time round. For my next paper, I will rewatch all lessons. 

I’m also wondering, which aspect of the Researcher’ Writing Academy are you enjoying the most? 

I think my favourite part from the course is how you talk about flow. I really love that. I never knew how to connect paragraphs together, my writing always seemed kind of chunky, didn’t connect to each other. I knew it was a problem but I didn’t know what to do about it. And when you broke it down showing us how to make writing flow by putting certain words here and there and how to structure paragraphs, it really clicked for me. This helped me structure papers as a whole, and the papers I write now read so much better and people can follow them more easily. 

What became really clear to me through the course was that we often don’t realise that the time it takes us to write a paper depends on how clear our mind is.

In general, I like your focus on strategy, how you teach us in detail how to write each section. For example, I don’t like when people just say “you have to be clear” but then don’t tell you how to do that. I appreciate that you always show us examples and different versions. 

I also really like the group coaching calls where you review and edit our work. Through them, I can see the issues with my own writing. 

I love hosting the group coaching calls too! It’s so much fun diving into so many different areas of research. 

And you are very patient with your students. We all come in at different levels, some are experienced writers, some are not so experienced. Some have English as their first language, some do not. And there are also various fields. You are always very calm and collected on the group coaching calls and are able to pick up the key messages of different papers very quickly – even outside your own field!

For me, it’s not a one-time thing, I go back and rewatch lessons because the second time, you don’t see the same things as the first time round.

I remember one call where one paper was about engineering, the next one about soil and a third one about whales. So, I was listening with a lot of interest but had trouble understanding the research. But you were able to pick it up quickly, you were a translator for the science! Once you talked about the research, I understood it. I thought that was a very special thing that you were able to translate the science so quickly. 

Thank you! I’m glad you felt that way. 

Now that you experienced the course, whom would you recommend to join the Researchers’ Writing Academy? 

I think two groups of people who write research papers would really benefit from the course: 1) Those who can’t get the writing done and 2) those whose papers keep getting rejected. I sometimes hear researchers complain that their papers get rejected because editors or reviewers are biased against papers from certain countries or certain institutions. But when you read their paper, you realise that the paper isn’t actually very good. So, if you’re getting papers rejected frequently, you really need to assess your writing skills and maybe get a writing coach!

Yes, I agree. While of course, bias does exist in the publication process, many researchers tend to overestimate their own writing skills… 

And what would you say to someone who’s on the fence about joining the course? 

Oh, very simple. If you are uncertain, I would say, go for it! When you feel uncertain about a decision, it’s because you are lacking something, so you should go ahead and do the uncomfortable thing. Because the first step is just making the decision, that itself will transform you. 


My favourite part from the course is how you talk about flow.

If you are investing a lot of time into deciding whether or not the course is right for you, you are wasting a lot of energy that would be better spent learning something new and improving your writing skill. And finally, don’t go in thinking “will I get something out of it?” because you decide that you’re going to get something out of it! 

That’s actually really good life advice in general! 

Yeah, for me anything I purchase – it doesn’t matter if it’s a $5 book, an $800 program or a $5000 bootcamp – I go in deciding that I’m gonna get a return on investment. I will make it worth it! 

I love your strategy for implementing professional development! I also think it’s important that once you join a program you trust it and commit to it. 

Thank you very much for the interview, Jia! 

Anna talked to Researchers’ Writing Academy member Dr Jia Ng who is an Assistant Professor in Medicine and a board-certified nephrologist at Northwell Health Zucker School of Medicine in New York, United States. As a side business, she offers a course helping academic clinicians publish papers who are new to research. Her course covers research study design, data analysis, statistics, academic writing, critical reading of the medical literature and other essential research skills.

Graphic advertising the free training class for researchers who want to learn how to write clear and concise papers

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Photography by Alice Dix