A career in academic publishing

I would not have guessed when I finished my degree that 15 years later I would be working as the Editorial Director of an STM publishing company. But on completing a BSc in Genetics, I was sure of one thing – I didn’t want to work in the lab. But what did I want to do?

I wasn’t too sure at that stage, but there were a few things I knew I was drawn to; although science had been my primary area of study since my A Levels, I had also always enjoyed literature and communication. In my final year at university, I had also taken the decision to complete a non-lab-based final project – in my case, the creation and design of a website to educate first-year university students on the topic of stem cells (a reasonably newly-emerging subject area at the time). This involved amalgamating and editing information into an engaging format, with a particular audience in mind.

As my graduation drew near, I started looking into various different career options, although at that point I was by no means set on publishing. I looked into genetic counselling as a serious possibility, but didn’t feel that it was quite the right fit for me. Then, on looking through New Scientist magazine at my local library (on my lunch break from my job in a book shop – another leaning towards publishing!), I came across an advert for a Commissioning Editor position at Future Drugs (later Expert Reviews). At that point I wasn’t sure what a Commissioning Editor was exactly, but the skills the advert mentioned appealed to me – a good academic background in the life sciences, a good eye for detail and a committed approach to work. On further investigation, a great deal about an Editorial role appealed to me, particularly the fact that it would allow me to keep abreast of science but without working in a lab environment (a sentiment I have since heard many times during the recruitment process for new Editors).

My first role at Future Drugs was as the in-house Commissioning Editor on two review-based journals – one focused on cardiology, and one on infectious diseases. My responsibilities allowed me to gain a wide variety of skills – commissioning content, overseeing the peer review process, proof-reading, and working with the journals’ prestigious Editorial Boards. As time went on, I was lucky enough to progress into the role of Launch Editor, which allowed me to work on the launch of many new titles which are now part of the Future Science Group portfolio, ranging from microbiology to cancer research. I was also able to get involved in coaching and people management – a very different skill to my editorial responsibilities, but equally challenging and enjoyable.

My choice of company for my first role was also fortuitous – although I have been at the same company since starting my first ‘proper’ job as Commissioning Editor back in 2003, the fact that it has continually evolved, launching new projects and initiatives, has meant I have always had something new to do – including now, in my current role as Editorial Director. Working for a smaller publishing company has also allowed me to have experience of publishing from the beginning to the end of the process. There are certainly pros and cons of working for smaller, independent companies versus larger organizations, and different places will suit different people, at different times in their career. This is worth considering when thinking about where you want to work.

One of my current responsibilities is recruiting new Editors to join our team. Some people we speak to are strongly set on a publishing career, while others are in a similar situation to me back when I graduated – keen on science, but not quite sure what to do with it! An Editorial role is one that demands attention to detail and genuine passion for the subject matter. In recent years, the industry has also evolved rapidly, with many new challenges and opportunities presenting themselves, such as a move to digital publishing from the traditional paper-based system, and initiatives such as Open Access. These changes are continuing rapidly, and the STM publishing industry will likely look very different in another 5 years. Because of this, I find publishing to be a fulfilling career, as there’s always something new to learn. I would certainly recommend it to anyone who has a passion for science, and a desire to communicate it.

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  1. Hi Laura,
    I’ve just read your article with great interest! I am a recent Masters graduate (MSc Microbiology and Infection) but before that I was a Biology teacher for eight years. I am very interested in the academic publishing world and would really appreciate any advice you could give!
    Like you experienced, I really don’t know what editorial roles involve and sometimes I’m not sure I have the experience that they desire, but what are your thoughts? As someone who recruits editors I get the impression you’re in a great position to offer insight into the skills and attributes people going for the role should have!
    Very much look forward to hearing from you,

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