We are happy to introduce and welcome Professor Craig Smith of Monash University as the new co-Editor in Chief of Sexual Development , to work alongside Professor Anu Bashamboo and Professor Manfred Schartl. The journal will benefit from Craig`s leading expertise and research interests in Evo-Devo and the evolution of sex-determining mechanisms, including embryonic gonadal sex differentiation, using the chicken embryo to study morphogenesis of the ovary, testis and Müllerian ducts.

Could you please tell us about yourself?
I am a developmental biologist with a long-standing interest in vertebrate sex determination and gonadal sex differentiation. I am based at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, in a teaching and research position. I head the Comparative Development and Evo-Devo group in the Department of Anatomy and Developmental Biology, Monash Biomedical Discovery Institute. My primary animal model is the avian embryo. We use this model to shed light on the genetic and celluar mechanisms underpinning gonadal sex differentiation. The chicken is a useful model for human sex development, and is also of great interest in its own right, as the poultry industry seeks methods of modulating sex. (All female are required by the egg industry, for example). Our group has provided much of our current knowledge on the molecular genetic regulation of gonad development in the chicken embryo, including discovery of the master testis gene in birds, DMRT1. Most recently, our group has been exploring avian gonad development at the single cell level. An over-arching interest in my lab is the evo-devo of gonadal sex determination, and how the genetic regulation of sexual differentiation has evolved among animals.

How did you become interested in your field?
I have always had a great love of zoology. After I finished my science degree, I worked as a research assistant in various labs for a few years, mainly human-focused endocrinology labs. I always wanted to get back into zoology. One day I read about the intriguing phenomenon of temperature-dependent sex determination (TSD) in reptiles. My Honours mentor, Professor Jean Joss at Macquarie University in Sydney, had done some work on that topic. So, I returned to her lab to undertake a PhD on TSD in alligator and crocodile embryos. We did a lot of work on the cell biology and endocrinology of crocodilian gonadal development and developed an hypothesis around how TSD might operate. It was the early 1990’s. Very little was known at all about the genetics of vertebrate gonadal development at the time, and indeed the mammalian SRY gene had only just been identified. The field was ripe for being opened by the great advances in molecular genetics that were being made. After completing my PhD, I joined Professor Andrew Sinclair’s lab as a postdoc at the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, at the Royal Children’s Hosptial in Melbourne. Andrew had established the chicken embryo as a very nice model for gonadal development. I eventually became head of my own group there, spending some 20 years detailing gonadal sex differentiation in the chicken model. I shifted to Monash University in 2015, and I still use the avian model today, nowadays working not only on chicken, but also quail, emu and other avian systems. So, I have been studying vertebrate sex determination since my PhD years.

What advice would you give to researchers writing their first article?
If you are writing your first article – and it’s a primary research paper – start by asking the right question. This is very important, as you need to frame a good question and then be able to the address it with the correct experimental approaches. Also, aim for novelty. Look for where there are gaps in our current understanding of a topic. Thoroughly read the literature. Invite a collaborator onto the study, where their contribution will be of value to the work. This is also an important networking strategy and collaborations are a win-win for all participants. As for writing the paper, some people write them backwards, starting with results. I write them the way they are read, beginning with the introduction, and this puts me in the mindset for laying out the results and covering the discussion in the context of the original question. Send your manuscript to an expert in the field, get feedback from colleagues. Lastly, write in precise, pithy, scientific language. No one likes to read a long, rambling paper where ideas are cloudy! Some researchers can do this effortlessly, for others, it takes practice. People reading your paper will thank for you for it.
I will always remember the thrill of seeing my first paper published in 1992. Once you start publishing papers, the process snowballs and you have become a scientist!

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