Day in the Life of a Picture Editor

My walk to the station in the morning gives me a chance to gather myself together and make the transition from my home life--packed lunch and clean school uniform--to my work life. By the time I sit down on the train I am thinking about what the day has in store for me, what the priorities are, and what to look forward to.

Working in central London as I do, I am very lucky to have a relatively short journey of 15 minutes to Euston; the Wellcome Photo Library is only yards from the station. I still find it odd after more than 3 years in the job to say "I'm going to the office" rather than "I'm going to the lab". Even though I am now working with images, contracts and digital files rather than test tubes, experimental protocols and microscopes, I don't consider myself anything but a scientist. For me I find I am using a wider range of my skills as a picture editor than I did in the lab, which makes it more satisfying and less stressful.

This job still provides many opportunities to use my scientific background and knowledge. I talk to scientists about their work and see their most exciting results and the great images they generate. I can talk sensibly to them about what they are doing and I find that because I am one of them they take me, and the job I am doing, seriously.

As soon as I get to my desk I'm always keen to check my mail (both e-mail and snail mail) in case anyone has sent me new images to look at. This morning there are various internal memos but one message catches my attention. It's from an existing contributor sending me some of his more recent images--some nice scanning electron micrographs of organelles--unlike anything else we have in the collection. This is the fundamental reason for me being here in the Photo Library--to collect new biomedical images to expand the collection. The images I acquire come mainly from research scientists and microscopy units and go out to a wide range of media and academics. This is an ideal way for pictures generated in the course of research to see the light of day in books, magazines, posters and museums and it communicates the power and wonder of biomedical science to a much wider audience.

I phone the contributor of the organelle images and we discuss them in more detail so I can write a good description when I catalogue them. There is also some cataloguing I started yesterday, which I now want to finish off. These images have come in from an image competition that the Photo Library sponsored at a recent conference. This proved to be a great way to acquire some spectacular images and generated a lot of enthusiasm among the delegates. I had publicized it in advance and went to the meeting to run the competition. It was extremely popular, with lots of excellent entries--judging was very difficult but I managed to make a decision and presented the prizes at the conference dinner. It was a really enjoyable few days and it enabled me to catch up with a few people I hadn't seen for a while, and to make some new friends and contacts.

Cataloguing the images involves entering their details into our database and writing captions that detail some of the relevant scientific information, while making it moderately comprehensible to the non-scientist--this is easier for some images than for others! The competition images were all sent to me as digital files, as are the majority of pictures nowadays. However most of our clients still want them as transparencies. This is not a problem as we have excellent digital imaging facilities and can easily write slides from our digital files. All I need to do now is to label the slides and they can go into our system, ready for use. It is always very satisfying when our clients use the images I acquire. I feel I am helping the contributor because they are earning a royalty and because a wider audience sees their images. It is also good to see how those images bring different ideas and concepts to life--a picture really is worth a thousand words!

Jenny's Career Tips

Entry qualifications: This job is rather unusual--someone with a PhD in a relevant subject and substantial post-doctoral experience is required. This experience should provide a basis for a network of contacts and an understanding of a wide range of research areas. An interest in images and their ability to communicate science, as well as some experience of photography, microscopy and digital image manipulation is also useful.

Training: The Wellcome Trust will provide training related to your post, e.g. computer training at your desk or part-time external courses. There are also occasional opportunities for secondments to different departments around the Trust, which can broaden your experience.

Salary: This varies but for a Picture Editor it falls within a band between £21400 and £31900 (full time). There are also the benefits of a non-contributory pension scheme and health insurance.

My calendar has just reminded me that I have a panel update meeting in 15minutes. These meetings are a way for the science funding panels to spread the word about newly awarded grants to our in-house press and publicity people and to me. This is a great way to find out which newly funded scientists are generating research with picture potential and it allows me to specifically target Wellcome-funded scientists when they are in a particularly positive frame of mind. A couple from this round look interesting and are worth following up.

After lunch I make some phone calls to contributors who have promised to send me images and remind them that I am still waiting. This is something that I need to do a lot. Peoples' intentions are always very good but, quite understandably, we are not always on the top of their priority list. Having spent so many years in a lab I know the pressures on the scientists and I don't push them too hard--just the occasional gentle reminder, which they usually take pretty well.

Institutes and large university departments often have lots of people producing very visual research and it is a good idea to give a presentation to these people to explain how we operate and what we want. I need to start thinking about arranging one of these visits now. The institute in question is so big that it is worth both myself and my colleague staying for a couple of days and doing a 'complete blitz'. The role of Picture Editor at the Wellcome Trust is split into two part-time posts--mine and my colleague Jill's. We tend to operate separately with our own contacts but sometimes, as for this visit, we combine forces. I arrange to get together with her to discuss some more details of the proposed trip. Travelling around the country is something we do from time to time although with the increasing prevalence of e-mail and people having their own web sites, we need to do it less than in years past. I stay overnight on about three or four trips per year and have many more day trips to institutions in or around London. The Wellcome Trust does look after us well when we travel. They make the arrangements for tickets and accommodation and put us up in good-quality hotels. I notice the difference now when I go to academic conferences and stay in student accommodation!

Although most of the images I collect for the Photo Library are already digital, the older material is generally not and we are in the middle of a huge digitization project, which will allow clients to search and order images online as well as making our image searching much easier. As part of this project we need to plan how our web site will work to incorporate these facilities. I have been involved in this planning process and this afternoon I have a meeting with other members of the team to review progress. It is very exciting to be in at the beginning of a process like this and to feel that you can have some real input into how developments take place.

That's it for today; after switching off my computer I switch off from work and start thinking about dinner and how my son's swimming lesson went today. My work never really goes away completely (and I'm glad it doesn't)--images are all around us and contacts are never far away. I can end up in the park with friends talking to a photographer or scientist who creates great pictures; I don't want to let opportunities pass by. Anyway, tonight I sit down and relax in front of the telly and there is one of 'my' images illustrating a story on genetics--very satisfying.

* Jenny joined the Wellcome Trust in 1998 after doing post-doctoral and independent research on the molecular biology of embryonic development at the National Institute for Medical Research in Mill Hill, the Institute of Child Health and the United Medical and Dental Schools of Guy's and St Thomas' Hospitals. Before coming to Britain she had completed her BSc and PhD in Molecular Biology in the Biochemistry Department at the University of Adelaide.

Reprinted with permission from The Biochemist 23 (5), 39-40. The Biochemist is the magazine of the Biochemical Society, a learned society serving the molecular life-science community in the UK and worldwide. The Biochemist is available to members, non-members and libraries

Follow Science Careers

Search Jobs

Enter keywords, locations or job types to start searching for your new science career.

Top articles in Careers