Recently, I attended a conference where the hosts kindly organised a meet-the-editor session. To my surprise, a significant proportion of the questioners were not authors who wanted to talk about their work, but rather PhD students and post-docs with questions about how to get my job.
Usually, my blog posts in this channel are geared towards providing help and assistance for authors and reviewers. This time, however, my words go out to those that would like to join us editors. For them, I provide answers to the four most frequent questions I get about the job:
1) Which skills do I need?
On the side of the hard skills: Scientific editors have to hold a PhD. Post-doc experience is not required but desirable.
On the side of the soft skills, there is more to bring to the table: Most importantly, editors have to be passionate about science. Since the job involves a lot of reading (for instance, at Nature Communications we read every manuscript we handle from top to bottom), a strong interest in new findings and thirst for knowledge is essential to do and enjoy this job. Also, they need the confidence to make difficult decisions, as well as the ability to defend their point and be flexible convincing arguments are brought forward. Apart from that, the ability to reading fast and being able to quickly extract the most important parts from a text are necessary to get the job done. Since editors also write on occasion, good writing skills will come in handy, too.
2) What are the biggest challenges?
While working in research, scientists try to keep on top of the publications in their immediate area of research. As an editor, the area to cover will be much broader (e.g., instead of reading up on the protein under investigation, the new field to be knowledgeable in is “protein chemistry”). It will take months to fill in the gaps and peak that far over the existing horizon. That said, for everyone who loves science, this overwhelming learning experience will be a very satisfying one. Another early-days challenge is learning the editorial bar of the journal, meaning: What makes a paper good enough to be sent out to review? At Nature Communications, editors learn this during their six-month probation period, and it will continuously change as the respective scientific field develops.
Once the initial steep learning curve is mastered, one of the most difficult parts of the job is finding suitable reviewers and to chase after pending review reports in order to release authors from the state of suspense as quickly as possible.
3) What are the benefits of being an editor?
On a very practical level, editors typically have normal working hours and permanent contracts. Also, being an editor means being probably as close to academia as it gets without actually being part of the system. Editors might not get to do research, but they get to read the latest discoveries and go to conferences, thus keeping their fingers on the pulse of science.
4) How do I apply?
At Springer Nature, vacant jobs are advertised online. A fair warning: The application process can be tough. It varies slightly from journal to journal: Along with an interview, the process may involve completing some test exercises in advance. That said, the tests give an insight into what you will do in the role of an editor, so they will actually inform the applicants – to some degree – whether or not they will enjoy this job.
These were the short answers to some frequent questions editors hear about their job. For more information, ask me or any other editor at the next conference you go to.