By Sally Burn, PhD
Scizzle’s post-PhD career series is back this week with an interview with Cathy Sorbara about her career as a Publishing Editor for the Royal Society of Chemistry. Dr Sorbara also acts as a consultant for the Cheeky Scientist Association (check out their great PhD industry transition articles here) and can be contacted via her LinkedIn page.
Hi Cathy! So, what exactly does a publishing editor do?
As a publishing editor, I assess submitted articles and guide them through the peer review process including reviewer selection, review evaluation and making the final decision to accept, reject or transfer the manuscript with our portfolio. I also carry out production of accepted manuscripts including editing, proof reading and issue make up. Other responsibilities include coordinating themed issues, commissioning cover art work and acting as a point of contact for associate editors (an international team of experts in various chemical sciences who handle submissions for various journals).
How did you get to where you are now?
I am Canadian and received my undergraduate degree at the University of Western Ontario in Medical Science and my Master of Science at the University of Ottawa. I then moved to Munich, Germany where I did my PhD in Medical Life Science and Technology. At that point I decided I was better suited for a communication-based role and wanted to move away from bench research. I move to Cambridge, UK and came across this opening and thought it would be a great opportunity for me to further develop these communication skills.
What are the key skills needed for this job, and did you develop any of them during your PhD?
PhDs gain a wealth of transferable skills that I feel they often underestimate. I too suffered from imposter syndrome through graduate school and left feeling I had little skills to offer beyond my technical expertise. I soon realized however, that I had developed effective communication skills, time and project management, ability to work independently as well as in a collaborative environment, to name a few. All of these skills were beneficial in my current role.
What would be your advice to a PhD wanting a job similar to yours?
A job advertisement is a wish list. Even if your skills do not match 100% the job description, do not let that intimate you. If you are interested in a job in editing or other communication-based roles, reach out to employees in the company and have a chat with them. See if the company and the role is something that would be of interest to you and learn how to translate your skills into professional business experience.
What are the top three things on your To Do list right now?
Assess the latest manuscripts that have been submitted to the journal, check up on previous manuscripts that are under peer review (can a decision be made, do I need to invite more reviewers, etc.) and tackle the production to-do list to ensure everything is completed as quickly/accurately as possible to maintain low times to publication.
What are your favorite – and least favorite – parts of the job?
As I assess each manuscript that is submitted to the journal, it gives me the opportunity to read a lot of fascinating science and stay up-to-date with the latest breakthroughs in the field. As a science nerd, this is a dream come true. Sometimes we have to make decisions on manuscripts that are difficult and not well-received by authors. It is never easy to tell someone who has worked for years on a manuscript that it has been rejected. I definitely empathize with them as I have been on the receiving end of these rejection emails before. I am sure this has made me an enemy of some but I hope they understand that this is all part of the peer-review process which we strive to maintain as fair and unbiased as possible.
Is there anything you miss about academia?
I do miss bench work from time-to-time. There was a sense of pride and honor associated with doing research, especially disease-related as I had done. Now, however, I have time to pursue other passions and have more time for travelling and spending time with family. My life is not defined by the number of hours I am chained to the bench and this was important to me.
How do you see your field developing over the next ten years?
As many academics are aware, publish or perish is a theme to their success and accordingly the peer review/publication process has received a lot of flak about how it contributes to the plight of academic research labs. I think we will see a lot of changes in the future as publishing houses adapt and deal with this growing concern of how research should be disseminated, evaluated and rewarded. Already we see more journals becoming open access, changing their peer review process (double or triple blinded) or allowing for raw data to be published. There is also the argument of why negative data or repeated experiments should not be equally as rewarded. It will be fascinating to see how things evolve.
What kind of positions does someone in your position move on to?
Publishing editors can move into managerial roles or higher executive roles where they deal more with commissioning of articles, competitor intelligence, attending conferences and the overall management of the journal and its goals. Many people who move out of publishing move on to other communication based roles such as medical writing, policy, marketing and more. It is a good stepping stone for many other roles.
And finally, the big question: In the event of a zombie apocalypse, what skills would a publishing editor bring to the table?
A publishing editor would draft a well-written article to the zombies, detailed how we can work together to live in harmony. Of course this article would be reviewed by experts in the field of zombie apocalypses before it was sent.