NPG – is it for me?

[This is a guest post from Heather Powell, a second year undergraduate student at The University of York, who has spent the week seeing what we do in the Nature Chemistry office]

After starting my degree, it didn’t take me long to realise that being trussed up in a white coat and goggles for the rest of my scientific career was not for me. And so I began to wonder what other possibilities lay beyond the end of university, because as crazy as it seems right now, there will come a day when there won’t be lectures to attend, a tutorial to hand in, or a lab script to polish off. I had always had some interest in writing, and so a week with the Nature Chemistry team seemed like the ideal opportunity to discover the ins and outs of scientific publishing.

Having expected an office bustling with briefcase-carrying, tie-adorning, earpiece-wearing commuters, it came as a welcome surprise when I saw the periodic table fighting for space on the wall with the football match schedule and tea rota. Stuart – the editor of Nature Chemistry – introduced me to the London-based team, namely Neil and Gavin, and talked me through the entire process from submitted manuscripts to printed journal. Throughout the week I got to probe the people involved in selecting the manuscripts for publication, sending them out for peer review, professionalising the images and diagrams, formatting the pages to Nature Chemistry’s specific layout, and ultimately sending the journal to the printers.

Interesting and informative though it was to talk to the team in action, the best way to get a feel for something is by doing it. And that’s exactly what I got the chance to do! I discussed some manuscripts and their suitability for Nature Chemistry, as well as researching potential referees for peer review.

Furthermore, I will have the honour of seeing my name in print in an upcoming edition of Nature Chemistry. Research Highlights are 250 word summaries of some of the most exciting papers recently published, whether in Nature itself or elsewhere, and I wrote two of them this week. The idea is to bring across the benefits of the research and why it means so much to the scientific world – but it seems often the biggest challenge in this task is choosing an appropriately witty title!

Although thoroughly enjoyable, it felt a little strange editing a News and Views piece – a 1000-word article written about a recent paper by an expert in the appropriate field. What business did I have in effectively “marking” a piece of work by a qualified scientist? The purpose is to make a paper understandable to a non-specialist scientific audience, and allow the experts to give their opinion on the subject, so the trick, as far as editing goes, is to make the article clear and logical without detracting from the author’s content. And so I suppose being a mere undergraduate was actually an advantage here – not being a specialist, I had a pretty good idea of the level of detail to be understood!

But the story doesn’t stop there. As well as the journals, you’ll also find a press team within this warren of an office – these are the guys who organise press conferences and accumulate the press coverage that Nature receives from the papers and the web. Not to mention the Nature News team who report the latest scientific developments outside the world of manuscripts, and the floor of people who work on Scientific Reports, the open access online journal of research from all areas of science. I was lucky enough to spend some time with each of these groups, experiencing the vast range of elements associated with Nature Publishing Group.

So what did I get out of the week, besides the keepsake branded pens, and possibly a wider understanding of the company than even some of the employees here!? Well, I learnt how bench results can ultimately find their way to my computer screen upon a Google search, and more importantly, that a job in scientific publishing is a highly stimulating alternative to becoming one of the white-coated professors that front our science departments.

Massive thanks to everyone who made this such an enjoyable and certainly worthwhile week!