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My story as a scientific editor

PostPosted: Fri Apr 20, 2012 3:35 pm
Hi all,
I have been a regular reader of the forum since I started looking for a job a few years ago. I've never posted before, but I thought maybe I could pay it forward and see if my experience can help anyone else.

When I decided a few years into my postdoc that I did not want to stay in the lab, the career track that I was most interested in was in the nonprofit sector. I spent a lot of time looking for and applying for these types of jobs, but without any luck. I didn't have a network in this area, and no idea where to begin. My application, although excellent from a scientific standpoint, I don't think was appealing outside of lab jobs, because I had never done anything else.

I never did get the nonprofit job. Instead, I started applying for and found a job as a scientific editor for a journal. The job I found was looking specifically for people fresh out of postdocs. It's giving me a lot of experience and skills to add to my CV. I think it will open up a lot of doors for me in the future, as I will be able to point to a set of new skills, especially writing and communication skills, that might appeal to a future employer if I decide to continue to look for that elusive nonprofit job. As it turns out, I also really like my new job, so I'm not sure if that will happen. I guess I would say that your first job out of the lab doesn't necessarily have to be your dream job, if it moves you in the right direction. I'm much happier now than I was at this time last year.

So if you have any questions about my experience looking for a job, or about working as a scientific editor, I look forward to hearing them!

Re: My story as a scientific editor

PostPosted: Sun Apr 22, 2012 3:17 pm
by Ana

Great story, welcome to the forum.

If you have some free time you could always get into the non-profit world through volunteering. Many non-profits are run by volunteers.

Your story made me remember the talk that Steve Jobs gave at Stanford where he commented on the difficulty of connecting the dots looking forward. He was referring to experiences as the one you are now describing now that you might look back in 10-20 years from now and say "and then I got that editorial position and it turned out to be key for being in the right place at the right time and with the right writing experience to get me to this other position that happens to be my dream job". Some times you can only connect the dots looking backwards.

Great to head you are are happy with the job.

Re: My story as a scientific editor

PostPosted: Sun Apr 22, 2012 10:51 pm
by Priya.S

I am working a an as editor too. I would like to hear how you made the transition. Do you have a flair for writing, or were you given some on-job-training.

I like writing, but I am working on improving my grammar. Did you have to work on improving the content too or do you mostly do copy editing?

Thanks for the post. Great to hear that you really like your job. Sometime you just have to take the plunge and see things roll.

Re: My story as a scientific editor

PostPosted: Mon Apr 23, 2012 8:28 am
by David Taylor
For those of you interested in scientific writing career paths, do not miss the opportunity to get volunteer experience with the communications or public relations departments at your current institutions. More often than not, they're willing to pull in solid writers with scientific backgrounds to assist/participate in small projects, such as pulling together a news story or editing a Web site. It's a wonderful way to get a CV boost, a reference, and very useful experience.

Re: My story as a scientific editor

PostPosted: Mon Apr 23, 2012 11:37 am
by AGG

I'd very much like to hear about what you are doing, how you got into it, and where you think it might lead (or where it has led you).

There's a small (and, I fear, receding) possibility of a year or so's editing work coming my way and as it's not something I've done before I'd like to know more about where it could take me... I've actually had better advice here than from people I know in the flesh already doing it who want to know more than I can tell them. Nowt so queer as folk...

Thanks for putting your head up and volunteering!


Re: My story as a scientific editor

PostPosted: Mon Apr 23, 2012 4:12 pm
As for how I made the transition, I would say writing has been a strength of mine but I didn't have any formal training. I've had a lot of on the job training, but I'm not a copy editor. I did have to focus more on grammar and structure in terms of the communications coming out of my office, and I proofread our decision letters, front matter material, and that type of thing, but its not the majority of my time. Most of my time is spent communicating with our editors and authors and evaluating new submissions.

As I mentioned, I didn't have any formal training or experience beyond the writing I had done as a postdoc/graduate student. I think the hiring manager probably read some of my publications to get a feel for how well I could write, and part of the interview process involved a writing evaluation. I think the biggest draw to my application was my breadth of experience. It's a very broad interest journal, and I've done a lot of interdisciplinary research, which I think was appealing.

I'm not sure yet where it will lead for me. But I can tell you that people that held my job or a similar job now have job titles like Medical Writer, Project Manager, Lobbyist, and Grants Manager. I think a little outside-the-lab experience can go a long way.

Thanks PACN

PostPosted: Mon Apr 23, 2012 9:43 pm
by RGM
This is interesting. Thanks for the information.

PACN, I'm curious when you were hired, as in, what year?

Your field is something I had thought about too. I know 2 PhDs who have gone into medical writing straight from their academic PDs. One as recently as November, during this jobless "recovery".

The person who is doing it the longest, said to me "if you are going to do it, you really have to appreciate the English language"

Re: My story as a scientific editor

PostPosted: Tue Apr 24, 2012 7:45 am
by AGG

Do you think you need a thesis and some papers under your belt, or is being able to write enough? The market where I am is skewed by an inexhaustible supply of PhDs, so everything is advertised as "must have PhD plus 25 years experience whilst still being under 30", so it's hard to get a feel for where someone without the PhD might start. As it happens, I've got quite a bit of essay writing (for an esseay-assessed diploma course), and a paper in a peer reviewed journal on a hobby, so I have some experience, but in weird places.

The cynic in me, having read a few papers in my time, is tempted to ask why you have to appreciate the language - a desire to mangle it sometimes seems more apt!


Re: My story as a scientific editor

PostPosted: Tue Apr 24, 2012 8:11 am
by Michael J.

I'm currently a postdoc and I just interviewed for a freelance scientific editor position. I'm waiting to hear what they thought about my "preliminary assessments" of two scientific manuscripts. I've also been doing copy-editing on the side. There are definitely opportunities in this field, but it seems to me you have to; (1) have a keen sense of what's hot in science (mostly in your field, but you also need to be able to stretch into neighboring fields); (2) really enjoy and excel at reading and writing; (3) always meet tight deadlines. For a scientific editor, grammar is not as important as your understanding of what constitutes a high-impact manuscript. Fingers crossed for everyone.

Re: My story as a scientific editor

PostPosted: Tue Apr 24, 2012 9:07 am
RGM- I was hired in the summer of 2011. Opportunities do arise, although the number of positions are limited. This particular job was advertised on Science Careers website, that's where I saw it.

Adrian,I think you need a thesis and a few papers under your belt. It definitely helps to be already familiar with the process of scientific publishing. All the science editors and writers here have PhDs. I think that will be true at the majority of journals, although only having worked at one, I can't say for sure.

I also agree with Michael J. that being able to recognize what is hot in science is essential. I'll add that, depending on your position and journal, you might have to stretch a lot beyond your field. I think having a breadth of knowledge beyond your field really helps.