Description: A career in publishing typically encompasses different forms editorial positions. A scientific editor works with an editorial board or within a small editorial group to manage, as his or her core task, the selection process for manuscripts. This task entails reading the initial submissions, managing peer review, and making decisions as to acceptability. Other responsibilities of a scientific editor can include commissioning new content, writing editorials, and contributing content to a website. Exposure to a broad number of topics and networking with the scientific community, for example at scientific meetings, is viewed to be critical. A news editor writes and commissions news pieces for a journal. He or she works closely with scientific writers, whose activities are discussed elsewhere in this website. A managing editor is commonly viewed as someone who helps bridge the acquisition of scientific content with the production process and other elements of a journal’s viability. An acquisition editor generally works for publishers in determining the need and marketability of new content relating to books, identifying authors that can meet that need, and shepherding manuscripts through the review and publication process.
Advantage of an advanced degree: A PhD is almost always required for entry and advancement in scientific publishing. Editors must understand scientific thought and process in detail, be able to keep up with rapid developments in diverse areas, and maintain a high level of credibility in all facets of communication.
Key competencies: The selection process for editors employed by one group of scientific journals (see Cho below in Additional Resources) provides the best insight into the skills required: a strong research background (PhD; postdoc experience helpful); breadth of scientific interests; manuscript test (relating presumably to layout, strength of evidence, and writing); interest in science communication; writing ability (desirable but not essential); and fit as a good ambassador for journal. One might also read into this facility with scientific networking.
On-campus student organizations: There are no specific BGS- or Penn-wide student organizations that tackle editorial activities per se, however there are many that can be used to sustain breadth in scientific interests. These include the Penn Science Diplomacy Group, the Penn Science Policy Group, and the Penn Graduate Women in Science and Engineering. Students within some graduate groups actively exchange manuscripts with the intent of editorial-like review prior to submission, something akin to what the Biomedical Postdoctoral Council’s Editors Association does.
First steps: It makes sense to know that you like to read and review manuscripts. Offers to do something along these lines for those in your laboratory or fellow students as they relate to manuscripts or grant applications prior to submission would likely be welcomed. Helping to review manuscripts that your advisor receives from journals can be useful as well, subject of course to ethical considerations worked out in advance. A most practical step beyond evaluation of printed and web-based resources relating to scientific editing as a career is, as almost always, contacting alumni who work in the field. Many journals offer internships.
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