Diary of a British Scientist, Part 7: Office Life


I am proud to say that I have survived 6 months out of the lab and feel well acclimatised to the seasons of office life.

My "probation" period as managing editor of a scientific journal has been challenging to say the very least, but the good news is that it is summer and I still have a job! To be honest I didn't really draw breath in the first few months and I'm only now beginning to feel that I have surfaced from the depths of the dark unknown.

In the space of 6 months I have got to grips with running and revamping a journal, managing a newsletter, and all the while keeping an eye on any relevant science communication and PR issues. In fact, for good measure I'm currently running an additional journal while the editor is on holiday! I would surely have been reduced to tears if faced with all this responsibility early after exiting from my cosy little lab existence.

The major challenge has been developing those crucial people skills, something which was severely lacking from my lab training. I'm sure that I am not the only one who has left the lab to discover that they have no real experience of properly managing or simply dealing with their colleagues. Diplomacy is now my middle name. There have been lots of interesting situations where my diplomatic edge has been compromised. On one occasion I had to fight to retain a particular image in one publication. This image represented the scientific content of an article very well, but I had to consider the complaints of others who felt that it just didn't "look nice." Having the final say can be tough, and can mean that egos are dented, but there is no way round it. This highlights the difficulties that can arise when working with a range of people from very different backgrounds, some with no scientific knowledge. I have to be able to appreciate all points of view.

Of course colleagues who have more publishing or management experience than me have exposed my naïveté in other ways. It seems unthinkable to publish an article without crediting the author, but believe me when the pressure is on it can be easy to overlook crucial points. Thankfully having several safety nets in place means that huge blunders are a rarity. I still have to be told off about my spelling, and there is an ongoing battle between me and my spellchecker! On the whole I hope that diplomacy reigns in my various tricky situations and that I'm able to deliver with a smile--even if it is a virtual smile by e-mail!

I'm well and truly embedded in the electronic world. Back in the old lab days I used e-mail mostly to sort out my social life, but now I am faced with an onslaught of demanding requests every day. It's relentless. Some training in breathing techniques would have been ideal for preparing me for that "inbox insecurity," but now the gasps and panic attacks are much less frequent. Of course the e-world has its major advantages, but there are a lot of times when I crave face-to-face meetings. I suppose there is a fun element to imagining what all your authors and reviewers look like!?

Stress has played a major part in my adjustment from lab to office. To be honest, I don't think I knew what stress was until I joined the publishing world. I wasn't quite prepared for the amount of material I would be handling each day. Manuscripts literally fly in and out of my office and I have to keep them all under control. Associated with each article is an array of correspondence with editors, authors, reviewers for the peer review system, and finally the production team. Somehow I have to keep them all up to date, which is exhausting but also very challenging. Early on I suffered many sleepless nights, and counting manuscript numbers and acceptance targets just wouldn't send me off. But thankfully these days are gone. I am now able to switch off in the evenings (only just!) and the sinking feeling I used to get around 3 p.m. every Sunday afternoon soon vanished. I actually enjoy my work.

Now that I am on the other side of the fence, I can really see the gaps that exist between scientists and the outside world, and I hope that with my experience in this position I'll be fortunate enough to meet everyone concerned in a happy half-way place. I find that work is a lot more rewarding and that I am making a much better contribution to science than I ever did as a scientist. It really is fantastic, if slightly angst-ridden, to see all the hard effort go to print and even more important to get great feedback from the readers. I feel much more in control, not only of the job but of my career and future prospects. It has taken a very long time but all I need to do now is pass my Diploma in Science Communication and I'll be a fully rounded (from sitting at a PC all day!) and experienced science communicator!

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