The Many Hats of a Managing Editor


I am frequently asked what in my background qualifies me for a job as the managing editor of a scientific journal. For the nonscientist asking me, I can simply answer that I have a Ph.D. in cell biology. But for those who are considering this career path, I would add that I have always been interested in a career in scientific publishing, I can meet deadlines, and I am able to do whatever is necessary to make that happen--qualities that are absolutely essential for a managing editor. As I was wisely told when I came on board at Traffic, everything else you need to know can be learned on the job.

As a graduate student in the mid-1990s we never discussed alternative career paths. It was expected that upon completion of the Ph.D. program we would begin an academic postdoc and continue on to develop an independent research program at an academic institution. So when I began thinking seriously about a career in publishing, I had no idea how to pursue a position, whom to ask, or even if it was considered "acceptable" to my peers. If you had asked me then how to become a journal editor, I would have told you that editors likely had to obtain degrees in "it," although I was not sure what "it" was.

I now know that full-time journal editors do not need to have a degree in "editing." Like me, they have chosen to leave the world of bench science, but to remain an integral part of the scientific community. I truly love science, but I do not have the burning desire to "do" science, which I think is necessary to develop a successful independent research program. As an editor, I get the best of both worlds. I get to think about the science, but I never have an experiment fail.

Traffic was conceived as a journal that would be operated by active scientists to serve the broader community working in the field of intracellular transport. The three editors (Frances Brodsky, University of California, San Francisco), Mark Marsh (University College London), and Sandra Schmid (The Scripps Research Institute)--who retain responsibility for making the scientific decisions--realized that the journal could not be successful without someone with the appropriate scientific background to handle the journal's daily operation.

At the time that the journal was beginning, I was completing my postdoc in Schmid's lab and was looking for a nonbench science job. The fit was right, and I was hired as managing editor of Traffic a little over a year before we published our first issue. Because I was hired before Traffic was even accepting papers, I was involved in all aspects of the development and day-to-day operations of the journal, which makes the job both rewarding and different every day. Together we designed the journal from the ground up. We made decisions about all things large and small, from the layout of the journal to the choice of fonts, the design of our Web site, and the manuscript review procedures.

On a daily basis, my job is twofold, and each part takes approximately half of my time. First, I manage the review of new manuscripts, and second, I manage the production of the journal. This is only possible because we are still relatively small. (We publish approximately 1000 pages in a year, one issue each month.)

In managing the peer-review process for Traffic, I do whatever is necessary. I interface with the editors and associate editors to choose referees, the expert scientists who will review the papers. I then contact the referees and oversee the progress of the manuscript as the authors address the referees' comments. The decision about whether or not to accept the paper is made by one of the editors and I let the authors know if their paper will appear in our journal.

My second set of duties involves overseeing the production of the journal. I check that the manuscripts are complete and suitable for publication. In some instances, this may require that I redraw and/or rearrange figures or help to guide the author in rewriting a manuscript that has language problems. I then pass the manuscript on to the copy editor and printer who create the galley proofs. Once the proofs have been sent out to the authors, I work with them to make corrections and confirm the quality of figure reproduction.

In addition, I work closely with the marketing director to promote the journal. This includes attending several meetings in the areas of cell biology covered by Traffic each year. While at the meetings I try to make new contacts, encourage submission of papers, and keep current in the field to identify areas of growth for the journal.

Traffic is currently beginning to publish its third year of issues and I am still involved in all aspects of the journal. Every day, I read and learn new things in a much broader area of science than I have ever had the time to do before. And every day, I have a new set of challenges ahead of me.

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