Career Options: Science Publishing

Dr Paul Taylor, staff editor at Portland Press, is perhaps typical of many scientists who are keen to ‘stay in science’ but don’t want to continue in an academic career. 

How did he get into science publishing?

After a PhD and a four-year post-doc in the US, Paul worked in sofware development for a time.  Neither the academic projects, nor the software role, seemed to him to be fulfilling.  But he still loved science, and liked reading about it, and realised that he would be interested in how he could influence the way that science is reported.  Redundancy money from the software role allowed him time to become a freelance copy editor.  Six months of this freelance work allowed him to apply speculatively with more confidence, to a variety of scientific publishers.

What does his role involve?

Initial tasks include copy-editing and proof-reading.  Now in a more senior role, he has to do a quick review of the 3000 papers that are submitted, pass them on to appropriate referees or editors to arrange peer reviews.  In addition, journal development aspects of his role include promoting the journal, choosing the editorial panel, using social media to promote the journal and going to conferences.

A part of his role that Paul particularly enjoys is working with new technologies to make the Journal articles more accessible to students.  For example, glossaries are added, data tables made searchable and diagrams viewed 3-D. The Portland Press is owned by the Biochemical Society and therefore has an educational remit.

What skills do you need?

  • Analytical ability
  • Writing – the ability to construct good English grammar, spot errors and write a good flowing sentence
  • Attention to detail, spotting errors
  • Be self-driven
  • Be able to sustain a project, ie project management skillls
  • Be able to manage small budgets
  • Technical knowledge may be helpful but you do not always work on subjects that you know about, so the ability to be able to learn different subjects quickly is helpful

Other roles in publishing?

Book commissioning editors: where you are researching topics/authors.  Getting a book to press can take up to 18 months whereas journal articles can take just two months.  You have to be very good at networking!

Marketing: one of their team has a PhD

Production: working with suppliers, type-setters, website design

Move into the Society itself: conferences, membership, education (the Head of Education is a PhD)

Freelance: copy-editing, proof-reading.  Use LinkedIn to get leads

How to get into the role

There is no set route.  To get experience you could ask your supervisor if you could review articles for them.  You can send in speculative CVs to companies.  Some firms take on inexperienced people and some firms have a training scheme.  Recruitment agencies such as Attwood Tate help find roles.  Talk to the publisher at any conference that you go to.

There is likely to be a proof-reading test at any interview you go to.  You may start on around £25k and an executive editor may earn around £40k.