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

how to be come an editor for science | Cheeky Scientist | scientific editing
Written by Catherine Sorbara, Ph.D.

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.

jobs in publishing for scientific journals | Cheeky Scientist | publishing career

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.

Then—BAM!

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.

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Cathy Sorbara, Ph.D.

Cathy 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.
Cathy Sorbara, Ph.D.
  • Harvey Delano

    This is right on. I think it’s amazing that you thought of this idea, but yes, PhD’s are perfect for this kind of position. After working for years and years on research and data compilation, this would not be a stretch.

    • Cathy Sorbara

      Thank you Harvey! Its great you gleamed some ideas from the article. It is definitely not a stretch for anyone coming from academia.

  • Winona Petit

    So true! There are so many jobs for us academics out there. Sales is great, and so are many of the jobs in communications and research fields. You’ve really hit upon a formula that could be replicated in other industries. Kudos for pointing this out.

    • Cathy Sorbara

      Thank you Winona! Possibilities are awaiting us – just have look beyond academia and see what is out there.

  • Kathy Azalea

    Boy, I’m definitely going to start making a list of my skills and cross-reference it with things I like to do. The reason this article meant so much to me is that I enjoy reading and writing. Yes, I’m one of those boneheads who actually does all the required reading.

    • Cathy Sorbara

      Lol! I am right there with you Kathy!! Thats an excellent idea to start working towards your next career step. I am happy this article has helped you 🙂

  • Marvin D’Esprit

    This is great information. Time to start thinking of some ideas for after graduation. Thanks.

    • Cathy Sorbara

      You’re welcome Marvin. I am glad it has given you some food for thought. Best of luck!

  • Matthew Smithson PhD

    Hey, this is a great post. You won’t get anywhere if you think your whole job in life is to impress someone else. Instead, use your potential.

  • Carlie Stevenson, PhD

    I like this. I think there are many jobs in industry that we’re overlooking. This is just one. I hope that everyone out there doesn’t think that the only good job you can get is college professor. The ones I know don’t get enough pay differential to have made the extra costs worthwhile.

    • Cathy Sorbara

      I completely agree Carlie. There are endless possibilities so there is no need to feel stuck and settly for low paying work. Thanks for your comment!

  • Matthew Smithson PhD

    This is a very thorough post and tells you exactly what you need to know to get this kind of job. Thank you very much.

    • Cathy Sorbara

      You’re welcome Matthew. Thanks for the positive feedback!

  • Madeline Rosemary

    This is great food for thought. With all the skills we go through to get our PhD, we should be able to get some really good jobs. We’re willing to work and have good minds.

    • Cathy Sorbara

      Exactly Madeline! I completely agree – sometimes as PhDs we forget how many doors we have open as career paths.

  • Julian Holst

    Always great info on this site! Thank you.

    • Cathy Sorbara

      Thanks Julian! Happy you thought it was helpful 🙂

  • Sissy MacDougall

    The ideas of working around the peer review process, writing news articles about various advances, and learning new scientific fields is especially enticing to me. I’d love to have an opportunity to do this kind of work.

    • Cathy Sorbara

      It is within your reach Sissy. All Phds have what it takes to get started in this field. Let us know if you have any other questions beyond the article for getting started.

  • Sonja Luther

    Sounds great to me. It’s good to know how much work there is out there for PhD’s, and how interesting it can be.

    • Cathy Sorbara

      Definitely Sonja – we have proven ourselves as adaptable and highly employable people – time to take the work force by storm! 😉

  • Valeria Daniele

    Great article, Cathy! Love so detailed information. Being in charge of ravenously learning is a really nice responsibility 😉

    • Cathy Sorbara

      Lol! Thank you Valeria! You are spot on – a job where I get paid to learn is pretty awesome in my books 🙂

  • Jeremy Theisen

    Hello,
    I’m just getting ready to start a PhD program and I’m curious if there are things I can start doing NOW, i.e. skills, connections, experience, that could be useful (and practical, seeing as the PhD will keep me fairly busy).

    • Cathy Sorbara

      Hi Jeremy – absolutely! It is never too early to start building your network. I would set a goal to attend one networking event per month for example, that involves people outside your PhD program. If you are interested in getting into scientific editing, I would think about building your writing skills – offer to write papers, grants and also start your own blog outside of the lab. Little things like this show employers that you are interested in the writing process and not just using it as a means to get published.