An Insider’s Guide For How PhDs Can Get Science Editor Jobs In Industry

Another day sitting at the bench.

The self-fulfillment I used to get when performing experiments was gone and I was feeling stressed and depressed.

As PhDs, we are forced to focus all our energies on such a narrow subject.

I was the world’s leading expert on a protein that less than 0.001% of the population will ever hear about.

I couldn’t continue down this path.

I needed to leave academia.

When it came time to explore my options for alternative careers, I knew I wanted to be on the leading edge of scientific discovery.

But, at the same time, I was sick and tired of pushing a pipette.

One day, when trolling for journal articles that fell into my tiny niche, I started thinking, “I wonder what it would be like on the other side?”

Could I turn the tables and become the publisher who decided which papers were accepted and which were rejected?

Given my research background, I would be able to be empathetic to academic authors.

I also already had the transferable skills I needed to evaluate the scientific impact of the data these authors submitted.

I knew I would be able to decipher what was novel and what was rubbish.

Here’s the best part—I would be learning about the latest and best research.

The only problem was I had no idea how to tailor my resume for this type of position.

I didn’t have any publishers in my network either.

So, I started to actively meet and network with industry professionals to learn about becoming a scientific editor.

Eventually I was offered an interview and after weeks of preparing for the interview, I was hired.

Why PhDs Should Consider Scientific Editing Positions

Every PhD knows the importance of publishing in academia.

Being a scientific editor allows you to facilitate the communication of scientific advances while continuing to learn new concepts.

According to a recent study by the Max Planck Society, global scientific output will double approximately every nine years.

A recent STM report on scientific and scholarly journal publishing indicates that the publishing industry employs an estimated 110,000 people globally, 40% of which work within the EU alone with revenues estimated to be $10 billion in 2013, up from $8 billion in 2008.

Scientific curiosity is not diminishing.

As a result, distributing scientific information will always be of great importance.

Publishing may not be important in industry, but it is an industry in itself.

5 Must-Know Facts About Being A Scientific Editor

The job titles for science editor position vary widely.

They depend on the journal and may be preceded by the words assistant, associate, senior, deputy, lead or executive.

Regardless of the title, PhDs are ideal candidates for these positions.

However, there are some misconceptions in academia about what scientific editors do.

If you’re interested in transitioning into a scientific editor position, make sure you know these 5 facts…

1. You will be peer reviewing a lot of articles.

Okay, this fact isn’t that surprising.

What is surprising is how few academics actually understand the peer review process.

Peer reviewing scientific articles is an imperfect process but it is absolutely essential to ensure the distribution of science literature worldwide.

As a scientific editor, one of your main goals will be to ensure that this system runs as fairly and efficiently as possible.

This means building positive relationships with authors and reviewers all around the world.

The biggest bonus here is being able to read the latest research before it’s published.

To a scientist, this is like seeing a sneak preview of the latest blockbuster movie before it’s in theaters.

2. You will be involved in the overall production of the journal.

Many scientific editors must also carry out the production of articles that have been accepted for publication.

This includes editing, proofing, and working together with design teams to get journal covers and internal themes just right.

Some publishers outsource these tasks, which means you will be liaising with external typesetters, designers, and other teams around the world.

If you think being a scientific editors means you don’t have to produce or help sell anything, you’re wrong.

Publishing companies are businesses and they need to produce and move product just like any other business.

3. You will be responsible for marketing the journal.

Editors must be able to read, digest and discuss scientific literature across all scientific fields.

The good news here is that you can transition from any research background into a scientific editing position.

But, you will have to ravenously learn about other scientific fields.

You may also commission new content, attend meetings to keep on top of publishing trends, as well as attend scientific conferences to attract new authors.

Your overall goal as a scientific editor is to offer the widest possible dissemination of published research.

These efforts will all be part of a larger business strategy to keep the journal relevant and impactful.

This strategy, in business terms, is called marketing and you will be responsible for it as a scientific editor.

4. You will be asked to write articles.

Surprise—you get to write!

Many scientific editors are asked to write news pieces on published papers.

These pieces are designed to advertise high impact, unique or controversial stories to a lay audience.

You may also be asked to produce blogs or manage social media to further distribute this information.

5. You will have to adapt quickly.

Scientific publishing is a dynamic environment.

External competition and the evolution of open access journals continue to alter the boundaries and workflow of the system.

As a scientific editor, you are on the forefront of these changes. You must be prepared to think creatively and try new things.

Each publisher will have their own strategies to increase journal visibility, accessibility and readership while offering faster times to publication, improved customer interaction, and more flexibility.

Above all, publishers are driven to be the leading authority on their subject area.

These publishers welcome employees who are able to adapt quickly and who value being on the leading edge of their fields.

5 Transferable Skills You Need To Be A Scientific Editor

Now that you know what is required of a scientific editor, you need to understand what is required to become a scientific editor.

There are several transferable skills that every publisher looks for in job candidates.

The good news is most PhDs already have these skills.

All that’s left to do is leverage them appropriately when you network and interview for these positions.

Here are 5 transferable skills every PhD needs in order to successfully transition into a scientific editor position…

1. Detail-oriented organizational skills.

PhDs are meticulous when it comes to performing their experiments and following laboratory protocols.

They constantly assess and reassess hypotheses to ensure they have covered every angle and every possible conclusion.

PhDs are often their own biggest critics and this is very valuable in the publishing industry.

As a scientific editor, you will need to assess manuscripts to decide whether or not they will impact the scientific community.

This requires a meticulous work ethic and an astute character, both of which are found in most PhDs.

2. High-level written and oral communication skills.

Okay, this isn’t really a surprise either.

If you’re going to work for a publisher, you need to know how to communicate.

But, do you know how to leverage your communication skills effectively for scientific editor positions?

As an editor, you will constantly be communicating.

You will spend most your days in conversation, both electronically and in face-to-face meetings, with authors, reviewers, managers and colleagues.

As a PhD student or postdoc, you’re used to presenting sporadically at departmental meetings and international conferences.

You’re used to writing grant proposals and manuscripts for publication.

But you’re not used to presenting in meetings every day, or editing multiple articles every day.

If you want a scientific editor job, you must be ready and willing to communicate constantly (and pleasantly).

Publishing interviewers will look for this skill more than anything else, so be ready.

3. Time-management and project management skills.

Most PhDs have the ability to work under pressure, prioritize and meet tight deadlines.

They face external pressures from supervisors as well as departmental time constraints to complete their thesis and primary publications.

As a scientific editor, many aspects of your work will also be time-sensitive.

You’ll be required to manage many different articles and projects and hit milestones for each on time, every time.

Meeting tight publication deadlines is a key performance indicator and academic authors are anxious to hear decisions, especially in the face of external competition.

Journal issues must be released by specific dates. No exceptions.

If you are unable to hit deadlines now, do not transition into a scientific editor position.

4. Customer service skills (or, patience).

Once you become a scientific editor, academic authors become your customers.

As such, it’s your job to resolve issues and conflicts quickly.

You must ensure that your customers walk away with a positive experience of your publishing process.

When applying to scientific editor positions, you must convey that you are a team player and someone who is willing to hear all points of view before reaching a decision.

This includes being able to resolve conflicts within teams as well as with higher-level staff.

The worst thing you can do is portray yourself as arrogant, argumentative or stubborn.

When interviewing, be ready to give examples of when and where you applied good conflict resolution skills.

Be able to discuss specific examples of how you’ve both given and received difficult feedback in the past.

5. Flexibility and adaptability skills.

Imagine this: you’ve spent weeks perfectly organizing your schedule to complete a project on time.

You feel centered, relaxed, and productive.


You receive a manuscript that requires urgent revisions to be published in days.

Now, you have to rearrange your entire schedule to meet the new challenge ahead.

This is very common in any industry, especially the publishing industry.

Priorities change and you have to be able to adapt without complaining.

The key is to not stress out when fires pop up.

Instead, recognize that you simply need to adapt what you already know to a new environment.

As a PhD, you’re used to experiments not working and having to try new protocols and workflows.

Use these same flexibility and adaptability skills to get the scientific editing position you want and to be successful in that position once you obtain it.

Now that you know the facts behind being a science editor and the skills you need, you can start looking for open positions. Start by perusing the International Scientific Institute, which will provide you with a list of the top publishers. In terms of job postings, you can simply search publisher websites as well as your favorite journal’s website. Above all, don’t forget the value of networking. The time to start setting up informational meetings with other editors is now. Do this and you will transition into the scientific editing position you want.

To learn more about transitioning into industry, including instant access to our exclusive training videos, case studies, industry insider documents, transition plan, and private online network, get on the wait list for the Cheeky Scientist Association.

Join Cheeky Scientist Association
Get Free Job Search Content Weekly
Catherine Sorbara, Ph.D.
Catherine Sorbara, Ph.D.

Cathy has a PhD in Medical Life Science and Technology and is COO of the Cheeky Scientist Association. Cathy is passionate about science communication including translating science to lay audiences and helping PhDs transition into industry positions. She is Chair of Cambridge AWiSE, a regional network for women in science, engineering and technology. She has also been selected to take part in Homeward Bound 2018, an all-female voyage to Antarctica aimed to heighten the influence of women in leadership positions and bring awareness to climate change.

Similar Articles

5 Lucrative Career Options for Any PhD (Even Without A STEM background)

5 Lucrative Career Options for Any PhD (Even Without A STEM background)

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Contributing Author: Maxwell Caughron A year before I got hired, I didn’t even know the career I currently worked in existed. My path to industry success has not been a straight line, so let’s start from the beginning… My PhD is in Asia Pacific Studies, and after about 6 years in academia, I needed a change of pace. I can’t put into words how anxious I was about finding a job but I started looking at various career tracks. I had absolutely no idea what valuable skills I had or where to look for relevant positions.  It was then that…

A PhD In Leadership: 9 Academic Skills That Turn You Into A Boss

A PhD In Leadership: 9 Academic Skills That Turn You Into A Boss

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

How many PhDs miss their calling as leaders because of academic failure?  I remember my own academic education well. Like other PhDs, no one taught me how to develop my leadership skills. Leadership is a core part of real life, of industry. But it’s not a focal point for academia, which is why so many students get their PhDs only to face a harsh reality… Instead of success and recognition, PhDs feel used. They’ve been used by a university system that chewed them up and spit them out. There is no clear path to success or fulfillment, only unanswered questions.…

I Learned These 3 Things, And Then I Got Hired As A Data Scientist

I Learned These 3 Things, And Then I Got Hired As A Data Scientist

By: Shobeir Mazinani, PhD

Data science has changed my life. That’s not an exaggeration. Since becoming a data scientist, recruiters have invited me to apply for positions in their own organization. It wasn’t always like this though… It used to be the academic life for me – lengthy hours, little pay, and even less appreciation. But I made a decision to join Cheeky Scientist and take my career into my own hands. Now, it’s normal to receive multiple job offers, which I negotiate for higher salary and improved signing bonuses. Does this sound like a luxury? Like a distant achievement that you could never…

7 Ways To Keep Your Job Search Alive In A Recession

7 Ways To Keep Your Job Search Alive In A Recession

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

I’ve lost a job. I was offered a contract, and they pulled it back. Everybody is ignoring me on LinkedIn now.  I was communicating with somebody about an upcoming interview, and now they’re not replying to my emails. My postdoc is not going to be renewed.  This is the kind of message I’ve been getting from countless PhDs all over the world. The recession has made things challenging for everyone. A lot of PhDs thought academia was going to take care of them, but they’ve found out the hard way that it isn’t true. For weeks now, I’ve been warning…

How These 3 Leadership Skills Can Protect Your Career During A Recession

How These 3 Leadership Skills Can Protect Your Career During A Recession

By: Sarah Smith, PhD

The current crisis reminds me of something that happened to me years ago. I had an interview with a big company, and it was scheduled to take place on an upper floor of a tall building. I took the elevator, which turned out to be the wrong choice. Normally, I’d have chosen the stairs, but I was feeling nervous and didn’t want to make my heart rate increase – it was already beating fast. The elevator got about halfway up to my floor and abruptly stopped. The doors didn’t open. There were several other people in there with me, and…

5 Ways To Limit PhD Anxiety And Protect Your Career

5 Ways To Limit PhD Anxiety And Protect Your Career

By: Elliott Brecht, PhD

You should have seen my academic CV. It was a total disaster. By academia’s standards, it was fine. But I had a real monster of a CV, over 5 pages long and full of academic jargon. And there was no cover letter either. Can you guess what industry employers did after taking a glimpse at my CV? They probably threw it away – that’s assuming it even reached employers. More likely, it was filtered out of candidacy by application tracking software. You might think that, given the current situation, you should be focusing your time on other things, not career…

Secure PhD Jobs With The 15-Point Coronavirus Career Plan

Secure PhD Jobs With The 15-Point Coronavirus Career Plan

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Isaiah Hankel has your guide to navigating the world of PhD jobs during the coronavirus crisis and using this temporary downtime to your advantage. The financial markets have crashed worldwide.  I can tell you from experience what’s going to happen next. I was a PhD student in 2008 during the financial crisis, and history tells us the hiring market is next to crash. After 2008, I felt like there were no jobs, and I had no industry network to connect with. My PI couldn’t help me – he didn’t know anybody either.  He was in the academic bubble with me. …

5 Ways PhDs Find Successful Careers As Medical Writers

5 Ways PhDs Find Successful Careers As Medical Writers

By: Alejandra Viviescas, PhD

As a PhD, you already have the strong communication skills you need to succeed as a medical writer. You just need to focus them on other audiences besides academics, like doctors, patients, regulatory bodies, and the general public.

3 Huge Benefits Of Being An Industry Research Scientist

3 Huge Benefits Of Being An Industry Research Scientist

By: Aditya Sharma, PhD

The main reason you should be looking for an industry job instead of staying in academia is simple: There are too many academic research scientists. Nature reported that in recent years, the number of academic research scientists jumped by 150% in the U.S. alone. Meanwhile, the number of tenured and other full-time faculty positions has plateaued and, in many places, even declined. Around 10% of all postdocs had been going on for more than 6 years. Imagine doing a postdoc for 6 or more years. A lot of PhDs don’t have to imagine that scenario – they are living it.…

Top Industry Career eBooks

Complete LinkedIn Guide For PhDs

Complete LinkedIn Guide For PhDs

Isaiah Hankel

The LinkedIn tips & strategies within have helped PhDs from every background get hired into top industry careers.

20 Most Popular Industry Career Tracks For PhDs

20 Most Popular Industry Career Tracks For PhDs

Isaiah Hankel, PhD & Arunodoy Sur, PhD

Learn about the top 20 industry careers for PhDs (regardless of your academic background). In this eBook, you will gain insight into the most popular, highest-paying jobs for PhDs – all of which will allow you to do meaningful work AND get paid well for it.

Industry Resume Guide for PhDs

Industry Resume Guide for PhDs

Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Learn how to craft the perfect industry resume to attract employers. In this eBook for PhDs, you will get access to proven resume templates, learn how to structure your bullet points, and discover which keywords industry employers want to see most on PhD resumes.