In the stories we tell ourselves about our lives, life is usually linear. And if that’s true, and at least for simplicity’s sake let’s assume it is, then I’ve been linearly doused in good fortune, which I’ve supplemented with a sprinkling of common sense. The story starts, as we all know, with the fusion of two cells becoming one, but because this is a blog and not my memoirs, I’ll start in the summer of 2014, when my body numbered dozens of trillions of cells.
I was doing an undergraduate research programme at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory where I was introduced, for the first time, to career opportunities outside academia. It was, in the beginning, a faint knocking at the door of my consciousness and gradually, by the end of the summer, a migraine of future possibilities: scientific editing and publishing. That’s when I started my blog and a year later began working for eLife. Next thing I knew I was doing a PhD at the Francis Crick Institute. Then it turned out that the PhD programme offers third-year students the opportunity of a work placement in a science-related field.
So the obvious questions were: would I be suited to becoming an editor? Would I enjoy the job? And the answers might lie only several rail tracks across from the Crick, at Springer Nature, on the other side of King’s Cross/St. Pancras.
I spent (only) one week with the cancer team at Nature Communications, the “open access, multidisciplinary journal dedicated to publishing high-quality research in all areas of the biological, physical, chemical and Earth sciences. Papers published by the journal aim to represent important advances of significance to specialists within each field.”
My main aim, slightly less ambitious maybe, was to find out what a scientific editor does, exactly. All the team members were generous with their time and I got to participate in daily life: I read and assessed the novelty of freshly submitted manuscripts; I collated and integrated reports from reviewers to form a basis for a decision to the authors; I saw what happens when a paper gets accepted (a lot of copy editing and admin); and I attended a couple of team meetings where the editors discussed particularly tricky manuscripts. I loved most about these activities that, at the heart of it all, was always the science, and that there was always something new to read and learn and critically assess.
In addition to “normal scientific editors”, there are also reviews editors. This species of editor commissions reviews from experts in a given field, chases them to actually do the writing and then, often extensively, edits the review.
I also got the chance to speak to the publishers of the Nature research journals. Broadly speaking they need to make sure that the journals operate according to viable business models, but also steer the overall direction of the journals. For example, only this year Springer Nature launched several new journals, including Communications Biology and Communications Physics, which will fill the gap between Nature Communications and Scientific Reports, a journal that requires findings to be technically sounds but not necessarily novel. Publishers also build new platforms to collate, for example, research related to cancer into a new collection, or contextualise content related to the sustainable development goals.
A single week can never be a true representation of life as an editor, especially because I got to talk to so many different people and gain a glimpse into several parts of the whole company. So I’d like to say thank you to everyone for taking the time to talk to me and answer my questions!
Lastly, if this (also) sounds like your dream job, then why not sign up to the “talent pool” and upload your CV and cover letter?