PhD to publishing....two Science alumni share their stories

Posted in: For PhDs, Sector Insight

I was recently invited to the Faculty of Science Career Pathways event. These are held regularly, and involve a couple of past Bath Science Graduate School alumni coming back in to talk about their career paths so far.
The theme of this event was scientific publishing. Now of course, this is a subject all PhD students know only too well, from the reader's and also the writer's perspective. So how would it be to get a job in the sector and attain  the perspective of....The Editor?


Darran Yates, Chief Editor, Nature reviews Neuroscience

Darran Yates did both his MBiochem and PhD here, graduating in 2003, and then completed 2 postdocs in neuroscience. Towards the end of his second postdoc he started to lose his love for lab science and, wanting something still in science but more stable, he explored careers in publishing.

He found a job as Associate Editor for Nature Reviews Neuroscience, a clinically-focused journal carrying reviews, editorials, opinion pieces and news stories. After doing that for 2 years, he secured his present job: Chief Editor for Nature Reviews Neuroscience.

His job involves a mix of the following:

  • identifying subjects for future articles, and potential authors for them
  • doing research into current issues and trends to identify potential articles
  • providing feedback on synopses
  • 'macroediting' - does a draft fit the brief, does it make sense, is it brief enough?
  • co-ordinating peer review
  • making decisions on revised manuscripts (focus, clarity, language)
  • signing off articles
  • writing research highlights
  • conferences - he attends at least one a month and there is lots of travel and networking involved
  • projects: themed issues etc
  • staff and publication management responsibilities

So, as you can see, the job is really varied and there is a lot to balance.

How could you get into a similar job?

To get into an Associate Editor's job, you would normally need a PhD at least, although a Masters degree and industry experience might suffice. The rationale behind this is they want their editors to understand the journal process from the writer's side.

He also said that there were a wide variety of roles available within Nature Publishing Group - again, more of that later.


Emily Skinner, Publishing Ethics Specialist, RSC

The second speaker was Emily Skinner, who also did her undergraduate and PhD degrees here, although in Chemistry. She is now a Publishing Ethics Specialist at the Royal Society of Chemistry.

As she progressed through her PhD, as well as experimental science, she published a couple of papers. She found she really enjoyed the challenge of translating the results into a paper and making it read well and of a high enough standard to get published. Other non-lab things she enjoyed were organising conferences and science communication.

So, come the end of her PhD, she realised that a career in lab science was not actually what she wanted, and she explored careers in the things that had drawn her during her PhD. When she came across the RSC as an employer rather than a learned society, she was pleasantly surprised at the breadth of opportunities on offer.

The Publishing Editor role she applied for, and obtained, is a really interesting role and open to graduates, postdocs and career changers, so less strict criteria than NPG - although having the PhD definitely gave her an advantage.

In this role, she was trained in

  • peer review processes
  • technical editing and proofing (how to help authors with poor English, line-by-line editing, working on style, content, 'understandability')
  • journal co-ordination
  • working with Associate Editors and the Editorial Board

She said it is totally different from a PhD - but it is a refreshing change, as at the end of the week there is a feeling that a lot has been achieved!

Following a year as the Editor in charge of training the new intake of Publishing Editors, Emily has now moved into a newly-created role as Publishing Ethics Specialist.

As this is a new role, it is constantly evolving and she is really enjoying the challenge this brings. However, the main tasks she is involved with at the moment are:

  • promoting ethical publishing practices
  • collaborating with Editors to set policy
  • Maintaining integrity of the scientific record
  • Liaising with universities to resolve potential misconduct cases

As with NPG, there are many and diverse roles available for PhD students and research staff looking to move into publishing, including the senior roles of Publisher (who runs the whole Journals department) and Editor-in-chief (responsible for a portfolio of journals).


After their talks, there was a lively Q&A session. I've put summary information, and combined information to avoid repetition, but there were some useful extra points:


What kind of experience is helpful to get into publishing?

For both organisations, a PhD was really helpful although it is possible that a Masters and several years of industrial experience might be useful for some publications. It is, as you would expect, beneficial to have experience of writing. In general this is preferred to be via having written publications, although science writing and/or blogging about related issues is also useful experience.

What are the possibilities like for moving sideways, or for promotion?

Publishing is a very 'fluid' sector and there is a lot of scope for moving between publishing houses or within them. To some extent that is the only way to achieve promotion. It is a fairly 'young' profession, and has an even gender mix, almost tending to be female-dominated. There is definitely the possibility of international moves, or for travel within the job, as different journals can be based at different offices. Additionally, there are lots of maternity cover secondments, which are great for gaining experience in another position for a limited period of time.

What are the hours like, and the work-life balance?

There is definitely pressure, as the journals have fixed deadlines and these cannot be missed. However, the pressure comes from having several tasks that have to be done within a short space of time rather than any culture of having to work long hours. In fact, hours do no tend to be long, except for the senior posts who can find their job extends beyond a regular working day.

Posted in: For PhDs, Sector Insight


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