The Chemistry of Editing


When meeting someone, it is not uncommon for the conversation to begin with the following questions: Where do you work? What do you do? How did you get that job? How do you use your collegiate training in that position? Quite often, my answers are very surprising to people, and they often require a long explanation, which I am more than happy to provide.

Having a nontraditional science career is very rewarding as it gives me the opportunity to express myself in a manner that may not be acceptable in a traditional career. With a background in chemistry, most people would assume that I spend my day conducting research and discovering new things in a laboratory setting.

Well ... in a sense, I do discover new things and conduct research; however, my work is done through editing and soliciting articles for the American Chemical Society's (ACS's) Student Affiliates career magazine, in Chemistry .

in Chemistry magazine highlights careers for chemists, experiential opportunities for undergraduates, graduate programs, ACS Student Affiliates chapters, ACS meetings, and other topics. As the managing editor of this publication, I am responsible for article acquisition, organizing each issue, and managing the editing, designing, printing, and budget for each issue. But what, you ask, does this have to do with chemistry?

Published by Chemists for Chemists

For starters, in Chemistry's readership consists of undergraduate chemical science majors and faculty members. As a former chemistry student, I am able to use my experiences and thoughts on what would have been interesting reading as an undergraduate. When soliciting articles, I try to go back 6 to 8 years and recall the days of sitting in organic lecture, working in the instrumental lab, etc. and think about questions that I had about careers in chemistry. Often undergraduate chemical science students are not introduced to nontraditional science-related careers. So we try to introduce students to both traditional and nontraditional careers in chemistry. For example, the February/March 2002 issue of in Chemistry will highlight the career of a museum scientist as well as a science writer. We have also covered the careers of pharmaceutical chemists and forensic scientists, among many others.

Acquiring articles is one of the major components of my position. Finding authors willing to write an article for the magazine without receiving any compensation can be a difficult task. To accomplish this goal, I must network with scientists at conferences, during workshops, and in passing. Anyone could be a potential author and have some interesting thoughts to share with undergraduates. Networking is a skill that I acquired while completing my undergraduate degree and one that I continue to build upon on a regular basis. Having a degree in chemistry assists with this networking process as I am able to relate to other chemists and their areas of specialty.

Professional chemists are often eager to share their experiences with undergraduates. Once they learn the mission of in Chemistry and the audience, most are ready to give students advice and/or to introduce students to their career.

Issue After Issue

One may assume that it is challenging to continue to find fresh material for the magazine. To a certain extent, it's true. However, with the rapid turnover of students, we are able to find new students to write articles about their summer work experiences and Student Affiliates chapter activities. In addition, having a new audience every year allows us to repeat some topics every 2 to 3 years.

Because in Chemistry is housed within ACS, we are able to reprint material from other ACS publications, which opens up new topics for our readers. The reprints give students an opportunity to read articles that appear in some of the technical journals as well as the society's weekly newsmagazine Chemical & Engineering News . ACS departments also contribute material to in Chemistry that may be of interest to undergraduates. For example, the ACS Department of Career Services often contributes articles about the latest trends in the chemical workforce.

At the end of production each issue has an individual flavor. From cover to cover, the issue is like no other. Using sharp covers and vibrant colors throughout the magazine, we are able to capture our audience's attention from front to back. The online edition opens our readership up to the entire world. Online readers can browse each print edition as well as a few additional feature articles.

Lessons Learned

As with any job, each day brings new challenges and obstacles. Publishing a magazine is no different. In the beginning, I worked extremely hard to learn about the design, print, and editing processes. Fortunately, I worked directly with an editor who had been in the business for several years and was able to show me the ropes. In addition, I worked as an editorial secretary for Chemical & Engineering News while in college and followed its weekly production schedule. I used every opportunity to review other magazines and to ask questions of those in the business.

The two most important things to remember for a successful publication are deadlines and audience! The entire production staff must work together to meet the deadlines and to ensure that the material is what our audience wants to read. Therefore, we are always seeking the opinion of our readers to ensure that we are meeting their needs.

If you have an interest in writing or editing, I encourage you to enroll in a technical writing course. My undergraduate scientific technical writing course was one of the most interesting courses in my curriculum. Use this class to explore your writing abilities. Then, consider submitting articles to various publications about your research, interests, etc. Just because you are training to be a scientist doesn't mean you have to limit your options. Why not write about science, or better yet, why not aim for becoming the editor of a scientific publication? There is always room for a good scientific writer!

* LaTrease E. Garrison is the program manager of the ACS Undergraduate Programs Office and is managing editor of in Chemistry magazine.

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