The secret life of an editor

Hello everyone! I got the great opportunity of spending a week in Springer-Nature, specifically Nature Reviews Chemistry, as a work experience placement. What follows is my journey during those precious 5 days, how I got the opportunity, what I learnt during my time here and my reflection on the experience. In a nutshell, it was great, eye-opening and I would happily do it again! A big thank you to everyone who was part of it.

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May 30, 2019

How I got here? 

Nature! How did this even happen!? It is Friday, I have been an editor (not really) at Nature Reviews Chemistry for 5 days and it is already time to leave and go back to producing results and bringing the goal of obtaining a PhD one step closer… But first things first. How did I end up in Nature? I was given this fantastic opportunity by Steve, Chief Editor of Nature Reviews Chemistry, in order to shadow him — and many other people — and see what editors do. My university (the University of Sheffield) has set up a mentoring scheme, aiming to put PhD researchers and professionals in touch, and enable exploration of potential career pathways. My professional interests do not include pursuing an academic career, so I gave it a chance and I did not regret it. I was paired up with Nonny, who after obtaining his PhD has pursued a career as a patent attorney. As a result of our discussions, he suggested I could try getting some experience in an editorial role, and offered to put me in contact with Steve (a former colleague from his PhD). After a few initial emails, Steve offered me the opportunity to shadow him for a week, and of course I grabbed it. We decided on a time period that suited both, I applied for a bursary to cover my costs and on a sunny (plot twist for us in the UK) Monday, I went to central London, to Springer Nature offices, ready to learn about the secret life of editors. 

What I learnt through this work experience

Dare I say, my experience was very different from my expectations. I was initially given an introductory talk about the publishing house, followed by a tour of the key areas to know (main exits, cafeteria, restaurant). And then, the actual “work” started. I was taken to the Nature Reviews section of the offices, provided with a laptop and guidelines and my editorial journey began. During those 5 days, I was introduced to how to run a publishing house, I understood what “Nature” means and gained experience in many editorial areas. I learnt how to commission reviews — by scouting the area for research topics that had not been collated yet into a review, by trying to identify the experts in the area, figuring out the angle of the proposed review paper, and ultimately drafting a proposal and sending it to the people of interest.  I also learnt how to edit a draft document, why editors make changes, how they master the artistry of words so that the original meaning of a sentence is not lost, but instead gets enhanced and the article becomes more legible. Steve also explained the structure of the journals  — despite the different topics covered, structure is the same across all of them — and allowed me to write a highlight for the next issue! (Spoiler alert) It may be about chocolate, but confidentiality issues prevent me from disclosing more information for now. Furthermore, I had the chance to meet editors from many other journals, learn about the topics they cover, the process of selection and assignment of peer reviewers, how they handle situations where there is a difference of opinions between reviewers, how they try to keep everyone happy.  Last but not least, I was able to speak with the publishing and marketing teams and I was amazed by the amount of work there is behind launching a journal and making sure it goes well. I found it very similar to the commercialisation of a product, where the novelty is assessed, a market research analysis is conducted and the idea is pitched to the senior management team. Overall, a well-rounded tasting experience for someone who is interested in the area of scientific publishing and wants to know what the other floors/buildings of Nature hold, besides editors.

My reflection on the experience

I was amazed by the buzz in the office, the research and the novelty flying around me in precious, confidential manuscripts, the diversity of the roles and the topics, and of course the people. I think I expected something along the lines of grumpy, mature individuals with sole purpose to reject the blood, sweat and tears of researchers. What I saw, was lovely people, having been through the PhD journey themselves, trying to do their job, choose the best of the best, and because, after all, this is Nature — reject submissions in the best possible way and deal with all sorts of situations through their interactions with people. All the editors and publishing staff I met had a passion for research and novelty, even if they were no longer doing research themselves. The majority of the people here coming from a research background, and at some point (rather like myself) they realised that the academic or research route was not for them, despite their love for science. So they moved to the area of looking at other people’s research and “beautifying” it for the eyes of the readers (us!). What I was very pleasantly surprised about was the culture of the company, which promotes collaboration between editors and across journals, cares for the wellbeing of the employees, promotes reasonable working hours and allows people to have fun (OK, not too much fun). Overall I enjoyed the experience very much and I got a good grasp of the professional life of editors and the people behind journals and inside a publishing house. 
Would I do it again? Definitely (but I would aim for longer). Would I advise others to try it? Definitely (especially if you are in research, looking for a way out). Was I wrong about what editors do? Definitely (no further comments).

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Eleni Routoula

PhD researcher, University of Sheffield


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Ruth Milne 27 days ago

Thanks for sharing your experience, Eleni. Glad to hear you enjoyed your time with us :)