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Many young investigators will become leaders in mental health research in the near future. The field would benefit substantially from their partnership and teamwork. To foster collaborations among young researchers from around the world, Eva Alisic designed ‘Paper in a Day’ (Alisic, 2012). The approach of Paper in a Day is to stimulate international connections and the exchange of ideas by conducting a one-day conference workshop with the aim of creating a tangible research product such as a commentary, review paper, or analysis of existing data for a peer-reviewed journal.

Paper in a Day has now been pioneered as a workshop at three separate conferences (ISTSS 2012, ESTSS 2013, and ISTSS 2013), leading to journal articles, conference presentations, and new research projects, as well as uptake of the model in other settings. In this article, we provide a ‘recipe’ for Paper in a Day and recommend that it should become a standing part of ISTSS conferences.

The ‘recipe’

As the name suggests, Paper in a Day is intensively concentrated in one day, usually the day prior to a conference. To ensure the success of the project, Paper in a Day involves activities before and after the conference. The ideal group size appears to be 6 to 8 (although the ESTSS edition successfully included 11 participants; Fodor et al., 2014). Paper in a Day has focused on early career researchers (ECRs) within 5 years post-PhD for the leadership capacity-building reasons described above.


The minimum commitment required from participants is to a) prepare in advance of the meeting, involving eight hours in the two weeks prior; b) be present during the full day of the workshop; and c) contribute to the final editing and referencing after the event. In our experience, the time required to complete a paper is substantial (e.g., the author team of ISTSS 2012 submitted their paper in April 2013). The time commitment could be decreased by focusing on a smaller product such as an opinion piece or commentary. However, at each conference, participants have preferred to put in more time in order to write a more substantial peer-reviewed paper. In addition to the participant commitment, it is essential to have a moderator who manages the assignments for participants and continues to motivate the team until a tangible outcome has been delivered.


After announcement of the event, participants submit their CV, statement of commitment, research interests and whether they have data available (approximate deadline 1 month before the event). The moderator assesses shared interests and generates possibilities for the group to choose from. For example, with the ESTSS edition, the team was exceptionally international, so the project examined the extent to which trauma research represents global populations. Although Paper in a Day is an excellent opportunity to analyze participants’ data that have been ‘collecting dust,’ ECRs sometimes encounter constraints with using existing data (e.g., senior authors having to be involved). Conducting a systematic review or using an open access dataset are good alternatives. The moderator helps the participants to reach consensus on the paper topic. After a decision has been made, the moderator allocates tasks. It has worked well to assign the tasks to pairs so participants get to know each other and have a partner in the process. Ideally, preparations prior to the conference lead to a first draft or outline so the team has a concrete, shared starting point for the day.

Conference Workshop

Our recommendations for the day itself, running from 8.30am to 5pm, are:

1)      Take time for introductions so people get to know each other’s interests and research plans.

2)      Plan sufficient time to have in-depth discussions about the project, such as issues that need to be solved, questions on theoretical frameworks, pros and cons of certain analyses, etc. These discussions are the most interesting and instructive aspect of the process; it is a unique opportunity to spend a few hours together talking intensively about one project. The variety of disciplines and methodological skills ensures rich conversations.

3)      Continue with breakout sessions to work in pairs/small subgroups on sections of the paper.

4)      As needed, alternate between plenary discussions and break-out writing.

5)      Plan to have lunch together to learn more about one another professionally and personally outside of the project.

6)      Finish the day with a wrap-up discussing:

  1. Next steps and tasks (e.g., timeline for the paper, abstract for the next conference)
  2. Responsibilities and author order (note that expectations regarding authorship can be discussed earlier in the day; however, our experience suggests that authorship is often determined by how the day progresses and who volunteers to take on larger responsibilities following the workshop)
  3. Evaluation of the process (ideas for next time, things that people liked, suggestions for improvements)
  4. Conference networking: participants can help each other connect to other colleagues during the conference.

7)      If there is time, plan to meet socially at the end of the day or later during the conference.

The potential of Paper in a Day

We have found Paper in a Day to be a very valuable and productive experience for all involved. The ISTSS edition in 2012 resulted in a meta-analysis of rates of PTSD in children after trauma exposure. The study was presented as part of a symposium at the 2013 ISTSS Annual Meeting in Philadelphia and has been accepted for publication in the British Journal of Psychiatry (Alisic et al., in press). The ESTSS edition in 2013 also led to an article (Fodor et al., 2014); a paper from the 2013 ISTSS meeting is in preparation and two conference abstracts are pending.

Beyond these outcomes, participants have commented that they learned new skills during Paper in a Day; it inspired two of the authors (Sadie Larsen, PhD, and Alyson Zalta, PhD) to start new meta-analyses and consult team members in the process; and it has motivated participants to become more involved with ISTSS (e.g., as abstract reviewers). We believe that Paper in a Day was a more useful “networking” experience than typical conference networking sessions which, in our experience, rarely foster new collaborations and tangible research outcomes, at least not so rapidly. By starting with the outcome – writing a paper – we feel that the connections made through Paper in a Day are much stronger and more likely to promote long-standing partnerships for ECRs.

We believe that Paper in a Day advances many of the goals of the ISTSS Strategic Plan. We strongly encourage ISTSS to make Paper in a Day a standing part of future conferences to promote learning of new skills, deeper involvement with ISTSS, the production of tangible research outcomes, and connections among young researchers.

About the Authors:

Eva Alisic has developed Paper in a Day and organized the first three editions. Sadie Larsen and Alyson Zaltaparticipated in Paper in a Day at the 2012 ISTSS Annual Meeting.


Eva Alisic, PhD, leads the Trauma Recovery Lab at Monash University (Australia) and is affiliated with the Dutch National Psychotrauma Center for Children and Youth. Her research focuses on how children and families’ recover naturally from traumatic events, using innovative methodologies such as sound sampling daily life.

Sadie E. Larsen, PhD, completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the National Center for PTSD at VA Boston and currently works at VA Milwaukee and the Medical College of Wisconsin. Her research interests include gendered violence and recovery from trauma, and she has worked with victims of such violence in various capacities, from crisis hotline work to therapy and research. 

Alyson Zalta, PhD, is a postdoctoral fellow in the Departments of Behavioral Sciences and Psychiatry at Rush University Medical Center. Dr. Zalta's professional interests are focused on identifying psychobiological risk and resilience mechanisms that contribute to or buffer against the development of post-trauma psychopathology. Dr. Zalta participated in the ISTSS 2012 Paper in a Day event.


Alisic, E. (2012). Paper in a day. Retrieved December 9, 2013, from http://www.trauma-recovery.net/paper-in-a-day/.

Alisic, E., Zalta, A.K., Van Wesel, F., Larsen, S.E., Hafstad, G.S., Hassanpour, K., & Smid, G.E. (in press; online 1 May 2014). Rates of post-traumatic stress disorder in trauma-exposed children and adolescents: Meta-analysis. The British Journal of Psychiatry. DOI: 10.1192/bjp.bp.113.131227.

Fodor, K.E., Unterhitzenberger, J., Chou, CY, Kartal, D., Leistner, S., Milosavljevic, M., Nocon, A., Soler, L., White, J.E., Yoo, S., & Alisic, E. (2014). Is traumatic stress research global? A bibliometric analysis. European Journal of Psychotraumatology, 5, 23269. DOI: 10.3402/ejpt.v5.23269.