Each Friday we post a new v i s t a profile, a career beyond the academy story (use the tags at the bottom of the post to find the entire list). These posts accompany our curated events to support post-PhD career transitions, v i s t a mentoring, and also #sheffvista on Twitter.
Approximate salary range for your type of role: Editorial roles start ~£22k, increasing with promotions
I obtained a PhD in yeast molecular biology, looking at DNA replication and gene silencing in yeast mitosis, and then did a postdoc looking at chromosome positioning in yeast meiosis. After three years of the postdoc, I didn’t have any results, so in some sense my reasons for leaving academia were negative – finding another postdoc with no publications wasn’t going to be easy; having spent three years with nothing to show for it was a bit soul-destroying; I realised if I was going to go down that route, at some stage I would have to consider becoming a PI, and I found it hard enough thinking of experiments for me to do without having to come up with experiments for other people to do as well.
But my choice of going into editing was a positive one – I had enjoyed writing up my PhD thesis, and had proofread friends’ theses and found I enjoyed that and was good at it too. I had a friend who worked at a journal, and it sounded like the kind of job that would be good for me. She let me know when a job came up at Genome Biology and I applied for and got it.
Genome Biology has professional editors, so the job is slightly different from at other journals which have academic editors – we have more hands-on experience with manuscripts. The bulk of the job is reading and assessing research manuscripts. If we decide to send for peer review, then we have to find relevant reviewers (this involves a lot of time on Pubmed), and once they have returned reports, we make a decision on the manuscript.
Although the job title is editor, there is no actual editing involved – I don’t sit in the office with a red pen, crossing out words or writing ‘stet’ in the margin. Also, people often expect it to be a writing job, but we do very little writing for external consumption. We occasionally write blog posts about interesting research we have published or other relevant topics, and we have a twitter account which we share responsibility for.
The best bit about the job is reading over a wide range of topics and being able to keep up to date in a fairly broad field. I read much more widely than I ever did as a researcher, although it does mean you have a shallow appreciation of a lot of things, rather than a very detailed knowledge of one topic. Another perk of the job is being able to go to two or three conferences a year.
Depending on the journal, it’s not that necessary to know a lot about a field before you start. Although my background was in molecular biology, so I could follow along with most manuscripts, I really didn’t know much about genomics. And everything I now know about bioinformatics I have picked up on the job. As I mentioned previously, for journals with academic editors, the in-house editors have much less direct interactions with manuscripts, and so you could be working on a journal covering a field very different from your background.
Most journals will take editors straight from a PhD with no formal editing experience. Any relevant experience at all will help your application – science blogging, freelance copyediting, conference organisation, even just having been involved in writing papers. You should be able to demonstrate a broad interest in science, so be prepared to discuss interesting papers you have read recently, particularly outside your own field.
In conclusion, editing is a great job if you want to move away from active research, but still want to keep up to date with developments in science, and you still want to use the knowledge and training you accrued during your academic career.
Where can researchers look for jobs like yours? Standard job websites like Nature Jobs. Also, publishers will have job adverts on their own websites, so check there. And recruitment agencies often carry editorial roles.
What professional/accrediting bodies, or qualifications are relevant to where you work? A PhD in a vaguely relevant subject is required for most editorial jobs. But it doesn’t have to be hugely relevant.