Scientific conferences are major networking events for scientists at various stages of their careers. Some find collaborators, some find career development opportunities, but nevertheless everyone builds their network. I met Colleen in a Keystone meeting while presenting my poster and it was nice to know that she is an Emory alumnus. We discussed science not only in experimental aspects but also in her career as a scientific editor. Not only did she agree to share her career transition story, she also introduced me to a treasure trove of similar stories from editors at Cell Press with advice for those wanting to be an editor as well as perspectives from different editors who give their background and reasons for becoming an editor. In this Face-to-Face interview with Colleen Brady (CB), we will learn how her editorial career path to Cell Press shaped-up while honing her science communication skills as a bench scientist at Stanford and Harvard universities.- Abhinav Dey (AD)
AD: Please tell us about your academic background?
CB: Before coming to Cell Press, I completed a postdoc at Massachusetts General Hospital and a PhD in Cancer Biology at Stanford University. My training included some breadth beyond one technique or system, which was helpful preparation for academic editing. As a PhD student, I studied the transactivation functions of the tumor suppressor p53 using mouse and cell model systems. As a postdoc, I learned the zebrafish system and studied retinal regeneration using chemical biology screening techniques. I also enjoyed teaching as both a student and a postdoc, which helped build my communication skills.
AD: As an editor at Cell Press, what does a normal day at work look like?
CB: I spend much of my time reading and evaluating science. Our team meets almost every day to have an editorial meeting where we discuss manuscripts under consideration, including newly submitted manuscripts as well as those that have undergone peer review. For new manuscripts, we read them and consider them within the framework of our journal and in the context of previous publications. We consider the strength of the data as well as the level of conceptual advance over previously published work and whether the overall manuscript aligns with our journal’s scope. When we decide to send a paper for peer review, I investigate potential reviewers with expertise in the key areas of the paper. After peer review, I synthesize the reviewer feedback along with our original editorial assessment to determine the best course for the manuscript. I spend a portion of each day writing decision letters and responding to author inquiries and appeals. My job also includes other activities such as going to conferences and visiting labs, where I can learn about the latest research, meet people in our community, and help scientists decide whether or not to submit their paper to our journal. These meetings can also help us identify topics for potential review articles. Editors also work on committees with the aim of improving the way we publish science. For example, a lot of committee work went into our new methods format called STAR methods. I wasn’t part of that committee, but maybe I’ll be involved in our next big project.
AD: What motivated you to transition from laboratory science into scientific editor?
CB: I enjoy thinking and communicating about science, and my original career plan was to be a professor at a small liberal arts school. Partway into my postdoc, curiosity led me to a “meet the experts” session at a conference, where I joined the group of a scientific editor. I didn’t know what to expect, but she planted a seed that this might be an interesting career for me. A year later, when I saw a job opening at Cell Press I decided to apply. The interview process convinced me that I would enjoy the work, and when I got the job I was happy to accept it.
AD: How did you train yourself into science editing? What resources during your Ph.D. or postdoc tenure served useful towards achieving your goals?
CB: The traditional academic training in a PhD and postdoc provides many of the skills needed for editing. Reading and thinking critically about a broad spectrum of science is key to this job. Changing model organisms and topic areas required a significant amount of research reading when I started my postdoc. My lab colleagues had diverse projects, and I tried to ask them critical questions about their work and think of key experiments that might advance their findings. Journal clubs and helping my mentors evaluate papers for journal peer review were other structured ways I worked on these skills. In fact, I always suggest that people interested in editing should try to get some experience by helping his/her mentor with peer review.
AD: Can you share the most important skills that you highlighted in your CV/interview during the job application process?
CB: The interview process for an editorial position always includes some written and verbal exercises intended to both expose the interviewee to editorial-style work as well as to test his or her aptitude for evaluating manuscripts. I took these very seriously, and found them fun. On my CV, I highlighted my strong academic training, prior communication-related work, and publication record.
AD: What are the long-term goals associated with a career in this field?
CB: There are many different trajectories that a career in editing could lead to. The most obvious option is to remain in editing and become a senior editor or even Editor-in-Chief of a journal. Other editors develop an interest in a different role in publishing. I have also seen people leave for jobs in academic science as program managers or to work as grant writers. Scientific expertise, decision making skills, and strong communication skills can lead to many different possibilities. Being an editor can be a great way to stay involved in science without a job at the bench.
We thank Colleen for sharing her experience with us and we wish her success in her upcoming endeavors.
Colleen Brady was interviewed by Abhinav Dey.
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