In March of 2021, AIOG had the pleasure of hosting Dr. Fiona Watts who is a Director for Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine at Kings College London. She also happens to serve as the Executive Chair of the Medical Research Council in the UK. Dr. Watt’s research focuses on the interplay between internal and external factors in the regulation of stem cell fate.
In the Spring she spoke on the many scenarios that she uses her expertise in scientific communication to increase the accessibility of science to the public. I was particularly drawn to this talk, as I am always looking for ways to improve how I communicate my research to colleagues and friends. In the past, she has helped to communicate scientific goals and ideas through non-profit organizations such as Versus Arthritis, as well as government agencies seeking advice about the use of human embryonic stem cells. She also described her collaborations with artistic communities to present science in new and exciting ways, which I thought was a particularly innovative approach to increase the accessibility of science to all ages.
As the Director for Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine at Kings College London, Dr. Watts participates in several projects that aim to make basic research fun and inspiring to students of all ages. She promotes public engagement in science through social media avenues (wattlab | home) ,a seminar series called “Stem Cells at Lunch” that encourages colleagues to come together and discuss their work, and she even has a YouTube channel (Watt Lab 1) designed to help scientists improve their communication skills.
In this talk with Beyond the PhD (AIOG), Dr. Watts emphasized the importance of communicating science to the public through networking, which will provide researchers the opportunity to learn new skills and improve how they present their work to the public. She also provides excellent advice on best methods to target your audience including using language that is both collaborative and respectful of audiences without expert level knowledge of science. Overall, this talk is beneficial for anyone interested in pursuing a career in scientific communication or those seeking better ways to present their research in a broader, more relatable context.
To listen to the full interview with Dr. Watts search under the “Interviews and Recordings” section of the website for “The Importance of Scientific Communication with Fiona Watts”.
Nearly three years ago, started with their inaugural networking event to help students and postdocs connect with professionals. While some universities have formal programs to showcase the various careers students can pursue in STEM, founders Giulia Vigone and Robert Pijewski thought their colleagues at UConn would also benefit from such a program. With the assistance and mentorship of Dr. Vaibhav Saini and Giulia Vigone, treasurer of the postdoc association, developed a program that could foster career development for graduate and postdoctoral students at UConn and other universities in the Greater Hartford area. This program became what is now known as AIOG. The goal of AIOG is to both inform students of careers beyond just academics as well as careers in STEM that don’t necessarily require a graduate degree. The hope was that if we could get 4 or 5 students to each seminar, then we would be helping educate the student and postdoc population.
Like most things, the Covid-19 pandemic changed the way we had to approach networking and educating our audience of young STEM professionals. To rise to the challenge AIOG adopted an online format with Zoom seminars and an online networking event. With the increased flexibility of using Zoom, we were able to host and invite speakers from around the globe, as well as reach students and postdocs around the world from other universities (geographic schematic below). We were also able to grow our team to include scientists at other universities. To date, we’ve had over 400 unique individuals join us from around the globe.
Over the past 12 months we have also utilized our website more to provide resources for students. The website features scientist interviews, video interviews through our youtube channel, and editorial articles about our events to help educate students about the spectrum of potential careers (see word cloud below of a summary of careers) they can use their transferable skills learned throughout their scientific training. We have also adopted a name-change Beyond the PhD to promote our brand on social media outlets including twitter, facebook, and linkedIn. We hope this re-branding will help AIOG reach more students furthering our impact.
Compared to our first networking event that featured 12 industry guests and over 35 students and postdocs, our third networking event that was held about a month ago featured 25 professionals and hosted over 70 students. This event was made possible through partnerships with Dimensions Sciences (DS) a nonprofit organization and their science outreach program DS-CAMPUS. Moving forward we plan to continue to collaborate with organizations that share our vision, to share our resources and thus expanding our network of careers and professionals that our student-base may have access to. See below for names of organizations we have hosted or interviewed. In the future, we would like to create a mentoring program that matches students with professionals.
For Fall 2021, we are organizing an Ambassador program for students on their campuses across the United States. This program will provide a platform for college upperclassmen and graduate students to lead discussion, help organize events, and disseminate information about AIOG hosted events that aim to educate their peers about careers in STEM. Stay-tuned for more information on how you can become an Ambassador on your campus this coming Fall.
The success of AIOG’s events has demonstrated a prominent interest in learning and networking with scientific professionals in and outside of academia among the upcoming generation of STEM professionals. Looking back, we at AIOG are beyond excited to have hosted a myriad of career topics. It is hard to think back to all the advice these guests have given, but many themes remain prominent (themes represented above). Some themes that have been referenced in all of our seminars is being a team player, being a critical thinker, and being able to adapt.
Written by Rob Pijewski and Britt Knight
Special thanks to the entirety of the AIOG Team for organizing and making the schematics and graphs for this article.
Have you ever gotten tongue-tied trying to explain your research project to your parents? Or heard a scientific talk that was more acronyms than explanations? Well you’re not alone- we all have! Scientists have a way of talking to each other with each field having its own specific jargon, and that’s great because we need that when we’re in scientific spaces, but it’s not very helpful when grandma asks what we do every day. That’s where SciComm comes in. SciComm, which is short for Science Communication is an emerging field that gives spaces for scientists to explain their work in a way that is understandable to everyone, regardless of their prior knowledge on the subject. SciComm is unique and serves a major role in society because it encourages open communication between scientists and the rest of the world so everybody can understand the science that affects our lives and drives our scientific advancements.
To get an insider perspective, we interviewed Kerry Silva McPherson, a PhD candidate studying molecular biology and biochemistry and an active member of the SciComm community on how she got into SciComm and what she hopes to gain from it. Last year Kerry created Bolded Science, a collaborative blog that gives scientists of all career stages a voice and a chance to practice writing for a non-scientific audience. On Bolded Science grad students, research technicians, or undergrads can write about their research, a scientific topic of interest to them, or even about life as a scientist to get published on the site. What a great way to get your writing out there! Plus, it can help other researchers and non-researchers better understand your topic. SciComm is an all- around win-win! Bolded Science has published several blog posts on topics like what a porosome is, the Covid-19 pandemic, and racism in science.
SciComm can become its own career by monetizing blogs, vlogs, or working for a company or it can provide skills heavily emphasized in other roles such as in science policy or medical affairs. It can also be a fun hobby that lets people outside of science see into our little world. SciComm can take any form of communication: from podcasts and video to blogging and art. Anything that turns science from heavy with jargon to light and enjoyable is SciComm. The SciComm mission is simply to make science more accessible to all and show that science isn’t scary. So if you’re currently a scientist, ditch the alphabet soup sometime and try your hand at writing for a general audience. If you’re not a scientist- check out some science blogs and who knows what you may find. Just remember, behind every brilliant scientific discovery there’s the dumb questions we had to ask to reach it. There’s no shame in not knowing and we all have to start somewhere.
So here’s an idea- start with checking out Bolded Science! If you’re interested in writing for Bolded Science or just super into science, head to www.BoldedScience.com and check it out!
Watch the full interview on our ‘Recorded events and interviews’ page.
Recently, the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering (CASE) held their 45th annual meeting online. CASE is a non-profit institution that is patterned after the National Academy of Sciences. The institution identifies and studies issues and technological advancements that are of concern to the state of Connecticut. Since the founding of CASE in 1976, the academy has fostered an environment that promotes collegial collaboration and support through the encouragement of scientific and technological creativity. The theme of meeting was innovation. Although the Covid-19 pandemic has slowed a lot of scientific research, CASE has been involved with the state providing vital research and guidance to promoting Connecticut’s success through the pandemic.
Nick Donofrio , the former vice president of innovation and technology for IBM, and David Ferruci of Elemental Cognition co-presented the keynote address. Nick Donofrio gave great insight on what is needed to be an innovator. Many scientists and engineers seek the answer and find the problem that the answer can be used for, however, Donofrio advised against this. Instead, he suggested that the individual or team must be intimate with the problem; to be a successful innovator, you must know the problem. It is better to start with a problem, rather than an answer for the problem. Ask questions, engage, and most importantly, listen. His words on innovation are not only applicable to the Covid-19 pandemic, but in Donofrio’s words, “the second pandemic of racism in this country”. To truly be collaborative, the team must be inclusive and diverse. No one person will have the answers to everything, and the more perspective you have the better understanding you will gain of the problem and how best to solve the problem. David Ferruci, followed with a presentation about his journey as an innovator. David Ferruci has worked in the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI) for over 25 years. He was the lead on IBM’s Watson project and now, he has his own company Elemental Cognition. David first got interested in AI during a computer programming class where he learned the power of programming and executing commands. He envisioned that this computational control would benefit the world. Starting with a simple command, could he program a computer to answer open-domain questions (i.e. Jeoprady). To create AI that could succeed in open-domain questions had a massive impact potential. Yet, accomplishing this goal could also have substantial risk. Ferruci felt that even though this monumental task had risk, stagnation would feel far worse. Long story short, his AI became the best question-answering AI in history. IBM’s Watson defeated all human contestants on the show Jeopardy. Ferruci said that the Watson project led to 1000s of additional research projects and papers came out of this AI milestone, hundreds of invited talks, billions of impressions, and it led to large scale commercialization efforts at IBM and elsewhere. More importantly, this AI project helped reimagine the art of the possible in AI. Thirty plus years later, David is still inspired from his original work on Watson, and has created a company that is trying to solve the problem in making robots understand things ( I need a better word). Dave was additionally one of the 36 newly inducted members into the academy that evening.
This July, I interviewed Beatrice Zatorska, the co-founder and CEO of Smart Tribe. Beatrice is based in London, but Smart Tribe is a global platform that has users from multiple countries. Smart Tribe is a new online platform that helps connect individuals in academia and industry professionals. The goal of Smart Tribe is to unleash science by matching talent and technology. By making connections between different individuals, Smart Tribe can help with networking, problem solving, job hunting, academic and industry partnerships, launching new technologies, and more.
Can you tell me about yourself and why you started Smart Tribe?
Beatrice co-founded Smart Tribe with Kris Jack. Although they have different backgrounds, they represent both the academics and industry professionals that are using their new platform. Beatrice has 20 years in industry working as a management consultant. She specialized in working with emerging technologies which often came from scientific research. Kris represents the academic side and holds a PhD in computer science. He previously worked as the chief data scientist for Mendeley and Elsevier.
Beatrice and Kris started Smart Tribe to bring together people from different backgrounds and ultimately offer a way to find unique solutions to new problems. Original and outside perspectives from either academia or industry can be extremely beneficial when launching a new project, networking, or developing novel tech. Smart Tribe connects users from across the globe using a specifically designed AI that matches people based on their goals and interests.
Together, Beatrice and Kris developed Smart Tribe to foster communication and collaboration between those in academia and people working in different industry sectors. Their goal is to unleash science, solve problems, and better the world by making meaningful connections.
What is Smart Tribe and how does Smart Tribe work?
Smart Tribe is an online platform which makes smart introductions between academics and industry personnel. People from either sector can join and create a free profile at https://smarttribe.io/. As a user, you can create a bio and share your goals and needs. Each month you can elect to be connected with another user, and Smart Tribe uses an innovative AI to match you with a new connection. Smart Tribe allows you to connect with other users based off your interests. It can be used for networking, learning about different industries, problem solving, consulting, and more.
What can Smart Tribe offer users?
One of the benefits of Smart Tribe is that is has global reach. Currently, many academics and industry professionals work in silos, and their network is usually limited to others in their field. Additionally, their network is often geographically limited to those in their workplace or surrounding area. With Smart Tribe, people from across countries and continents can connect with each other and find a way to tap into the exciting science coming out of different sectors.
One thing Smart Tribe can be used for is networking and job hunting. Currently, there are not enough academic jobs for the amount of PhDs academia produces. Smart Tribe is a useful tool for those PhDs looking to transition into industry. Most people find jobs through their network, so Smart Tribe can help academics increase their professional network. It is also a great tool for academics who want to learn more about different industry positions and roles.
Smart Tribe can be useful for industry professionals looking for expert consultants or academic scientists. Industry personnel can find academic experts in specific topics, hire them as consultants, and build partnerships. Expert consultants can provide valuable skills and assist with different projects. With this platform, consultants can come from all over the globe from different fields. Academics can offer unique insight and guidance to different problems. Additionally, using Smart Tribe is a great way to tap into the exciting and novel science coming out of academia. People are no longer bound to their local networks, and can discover new science coming out of different parts of the world.
On the other hand, academics may be able to find industry partners. This can help academics looking to find outside funding, commercialize tech, or launch new products. Scientists within the university setting may not have access to proper resources or have their own business or become entrepreneurs. They can use Smart Tribe to find industry professionals to assist them with things such as finding investors, launching new technology, management, and more.
What are the goals of the company going forward?
Since Smart Tribe is a relatively new platform, it is still expanding. Each month, the platform grows by thousands of users from the Unites States, United Kingdom, Europe, and more. There will also be new features coming out in the near future. Going forward, the company wants to understand more about the interactions and connections taking place on Smart Tribe and what users are getting out of these. Additionally, Smart Tribe is putting out some free webinars on different topics such as the importance of social skills in industry and entrepreneurship.
Smart Tribe is already a great resource for keeping on top of the latest research and can allow you to meet experts in different fields. The global reach of the platform also enables you to expand your network and meet people from across the globe. Despite being relatively new, people are already making connections and transforming the way we talk about science with Smart Tribe. By using an innovative approach to connect individuals, Smart Tribe is not just an algorithm, but instead a passionate and innovative community.
On June 30, the midpoint of 2020, I interviewed Dr. Spencer Keilich, a UConn Health alumni, about his transition from academia into industry during COVID-19 and any advice he may have for those going through a similar transition.
Spencer studied immunology at the UConn Health Center. His research focused on influenza-induced muscle atrophy. Spencer graduated from UConn Health in 2020, and now he is a research scientist at QCDx. His company develops a liquid biopsy system that helps to provide personalized medicine for breast cancer patients. QCDx is a biotech startup located in Farmington, CT and is part of the UConn Technology Incubator Program (TIP). Spencer says he applied for this job because he wants to work on an interesting project in the biotech industry.
Spencer says he was lucky that he started to search for jobs before the COVID shutdown reached Connecticut. He found his current position through a UConn job forum that shares job postings from BioCT, a bioscience industry voice for the state of Connecticut. He cold-mailed QCDx’s CEO for his current job and was interviewed immediately: he emailed the CEO on Friday and was interviewed on the next Monday. He was hired immediately and was able to finish all the paperwork before the COVID shutdown. He mentioned that had he looked for jobs later, finding a job could be much more difficult.
Spencer thinks the training he received during his Ph.D. is helpful for him to transition into his new job. He was able to use his bench skills developed during his Ph.D. training, such as running different assays and literature searching, in his new role. Unlike academic research, there is more regulatory compliance in the industry. This means more paperwork. The lab is also more organized: there is more experimental documentation, notes, and annotation, as well as a better reagent tracking system.
When I asked Spencer what advice he could offer for graduate students, for example, how to talk to their PIs about graduation, he laughed. He says the key is managing expectations and to know where to cut [your dissertation research] off. He says students should pitch their complete story to their PIs to essentially argue that their PhD training is complete and that it’s time for them to move on. Spencer also mentioned that he thinks that training successors to take over the current [unfinished] projects could help with this transition out of the lab. In this way, the projects do not die when students graduate. I recall hearing similar advice on the Harvard Business Review podcast. If people want their supervisors to help them to move to their next career position, they should train their successors.
My name is Robert Pijewski and I am the co-founder of the Academia-Industry Opportunities Group (AIOG). Read more about me below!
Hey all, I’m Rob. I’ve never written a blog post before so let’s give this a try. I am currently a 4th year PhD candidate in Biomedical Science in the Department of Neuroscience at UConn Health in Farmington, CT. My research is on the role of cellular aging in neurodegenerative disease and healthy aging. However, my research is not the reason why I am here. During my studies, I found that there was a lack of education regarding careers beyond the traditional academic setting, i.e. becoming a tenure-track professor at a research institution. I’ve also heard dozens of PhD candidates just sayin “I think I am more of an industry person”, but my question to them is “what kind of industry?”. With that question in mind, I started a group…I did a thing. The sole purpose of the group is to provide education to students about the vast number and types of careers outside of academia. As a group, we are breaking the phrase “alternative careers” because in fact, these are the majority of careers and academia is the minority.
When I am not in the lab or writing blog posts (see what I did there), I find myself exploring new recipes in the kitchen as well as working out (have to stay healthy if I am preaching about cellular aging and disease!). As I continue to grow as a person, I will hopefully continue to update my introduction section. I hope you all read the content that we post!
This month, AIOG had the pleasure of hosting Dr. Clifford J. Woolf who is presently the F. M. Kirby Neurobiology Center Director, Boston Children’s Hospital, and a Neurology/Neurobiology Professor at Harvard Medical School. In addition to these positions, Dr. Woolf is the co-founder of two precision medicine companies, QurAlis and Nocion Therapeutics. His current research focuses on adaptive and maladaptive plasticity of the nervous system. Dr. Woolf joined us for an informal discussion seminar where he gave valuable personal advice to attendees based on their research and intended career path, as well as his outlook on the current shift in career trends of science PhDs out of academia and into industry and what that means for mentoring and job searches.
As a mentor to many graduate students with his position at Harvard Medical School, Dr. Woolf has witnessed the collective shift in his students from wanting to pursue a career in academia to a career in industry as well as how this shift is reflected in the current trend of science PhDs at other institutes as well. While there are many differences between academia and industry, Dr. Woolf discussed the need for balance between scientists pursuing either direction as well as the intrinsic value of academia and industry collaborations. Pursuing academia is often perceived as a higher risk career in science. One has a hypothesis and pursues the experiments that will lead to answering these questions which is the basis of scientific experimentation and academic exploration for the pursuit of understanding the world around us. On the other hand, industry is driven not necessarily by questions but by products that provide a service or function in society and thus are likely commercialized. These products are however based on hypothesis driven scientific experimentation and industry allows for the execution of translated scientific discoveries in the world.
How do you take your basic science idea and create a company from it?
Dr. Woolf pulls from his own experience in founding two companies to guide us in the basic steps of the process. The first step is to have an innovative idea and understand where the application can be profitable. He gives the story of the founding of Nocion Therapeutics as an example: waiting with a colleague in the valet line after a department dinner presented the perfect opportunity to discuss the problem of local anesthetics non-specifically blocking all nerves in the area and to come up with a way to only block pain fibers. This conversation proved fruitful because after a few experiments to test their theory, along came the founding of Nocion to implement this research. Next, you have to undertake the process of protecting the intellectual property through patenting to ensure ownership of the innovation. Finally, you must present the work to draw in investors to fund the research and development of your company. This final step is one of the harder aspects for academics, Dr. Woolf points out, due to the nature of the presentations being less focused on theoretical science and more on how the science can translate into profit.
Advice to students interested in industry
One of the most important aspects of graduate school is receiving mentorship from those that can help lead you onto the correct paths for your career. When asked about how he mentors students interested in industry, Dr. Woolf says that he maintains the same style toward all students in his lab regardless of career path. His reasoning behind this is that industry utilizes the same tools as academia but in different ways. However, he did suggest to students that they should reach out to those currently working in industry to advise them as secondary mentors, using them as a more direct resource for entering industry. Dr. Woolf also emphasizes the importance of attending groups and seminars that provide insight into industry and a platform to build a network (like AIOG!).
Lastly, Dr. Woolf touched on the more logistical aspects of entering industry, such as whether to pursue a postdoctoral position and differences in the timeline for hiring. On the subject of pursuing a postdoc, Dr. Woolf suggests that it may not be necessary for the work you want to do and to consider it on a case-by-case basis. He valued the hands-on experience of entering the job rather than continuing in the academic field to learn the skills necessary to the specific job. In simple terms and the main takeaway of his advice regarding this topic: once you are in the job, you don’t need a course because you’ll learn quickly what is needed for the tasks at hand. The last piece of advice given by Dr. Woolf is to consider the difference in the timeline of the hiring process between a postdoc and a company. When hired for a postdoc, it is usually months in advance of when you would start in the new lab and gives plenty of time to wrap up your current graduate work. For industry, the company will want you to start right away. All of this information should be taken into consideration as you move to look for jobs post-graduation.
This winter, AIOG has had the pleasure of hosting two science policy professionals for separate seminars: Dr. Zubin Master, an Associate Professor of Biomedical Ethics at the Mayo Clinic, and Dr. Kirstin R.W. Matthews, a fellow in science and technology policy at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy. Both shared their unique career paths through science policy and offered insights as to how to make the transition from PhD to Policy.
If you’re wondering whether or not a future career in science policy may be for you, a good starting point is understanding what science policy is and what some of the responsibilities individuals working in science policy undertake. Master described “policy” as the attempt to alter or guide human behavior through guidelines, standards, laws, and regulations. Matthews noted that understanding science policy also means understanding what impact policy has on science, for example regulations and funding, and the impact science has on policy, such as the way climate change, weapon technology, or COVID-19 changed the policies governing our country. Individuals working in science policy may be seen as a “middle-man” between scientists and government officials, helping to translate scientific experiments and results to policymakers. Science policy is a place for bench scientists to transform into “civic scientists,” focusing on providing science advice to the government in hopes that the policies created will more accurately reflect current scientific knowledge.
Some careers in science policy include a governmental relations officer at a corporation or university, being a lobbyist, working as a part of an advocate group, or employment through either federal, state, or local government. Science policy careers can require various responsibilities depending on the position. Matthews made reference to the “many hats” she wears as a fellow in science and technology policy; she conducts research, teaches, plans events, mentors students, manages programs, and fundraises. Master, having worked for Health Canada (a regulator equivalent to the FDA in the United States), described potential benefits to working in policy for the government compared to academia – a “9-5” schedule with flexible hours, work-life balance, great pay & benefits, generous vacation time, chance to learn a diversity of topics, and lots of training opportunities. However, when comparing science to science policy, there are some aspects that can be seen as disadvantages. Science policy is process driven instead of product driven, its bureaucratic nature allows upper management to shelve projects or cut budgets, knowledge is “brokeraged” as described by Master instead of generated, and there is no ownership for intellectual property outputs.
Avenues for getting into policy post-PhD mainly include policy internships, post-doctoral fellowships, and jobs. To make you more marketable for these positions, Matthews recommends attending public science & policy events, participating in outreach programs, keeping up with current policy topics by reading policy blogs, honing writing skills, and contacting congressmen or staffers. Master also emphasized the importance of developing writing skills outside the scope of purely scientific content. Finding online grammar courses or developing a personal blog can be actionable ways to get back into touch with a less scientific writing style. There is the student-run Journal of Science Policy & Governance (https://www.sciencepolicyjournal.org/) where you can stay up-to-date on policy topics or even submit your own writing piece, which could make you stand out in a pool of job applicants for a policy position. The key that Matthews stressed is being a good listener, so that you can understand what the public views are and appropriately address concerns.
If it’s possible, there are even internships available that can be completed during a PhD. Matthews recommended inquiring about policy positions in whichever societies you affiliate with or noted that positions through the National Academies will help get you into the DC policy scene. Other easy steps to take during your PhD to prepare for a policy career is practicing an “elevator pitch” of your research to those who may not understand science as thoroughly and continually encouraging science literacy. Additionally, PhD students take transferable skills with them into any job market. Ones that transfer well to science policy are communication and teamwork. While some positions prefer to see Masters level training in areas such as public health, bioethics, public policy, or public admin, seeking job experience or an internship in those areas may alleviate that.
You may be thinking, so how does bioethics relate to this? Master poignantly noted how much policy is really rooted in ethics, and thus, how much science policy is rooted in bioethics. He defined bioethics as the study of what’s right and wrong in medicine. Bioethics covers major research conduct policies like biobanking, stem cell research, research involving human subjects, animal use ethics, and clinical practice. It is a multi-disciplinary field and uses conceptual, theoretical, quantitative, and qualitative research methods. Broadly speaking, bioethicists teach, conduct & present research, participate in consultations, sit on committees, and make/evaluate healthcare policies.
Whether you are interested in science policy, bioethics, or both the take home message is that you need to compliment your biomedical science background in skills in health policy, ethics, public health, and/or law. Finally, there are many careers and several career paths to obtain them – there is no single way to earn a job in bioethics or policy. If you are interested in the specific path Dr. Master or Dr. Matthews took or resources they provided, please feel free to check out the video recordings of their seminars on our website (https://ctaiog.com/recorded-seminar-events-workshops-and-interviews/).
Recently, AIOG hosted Dr. Tim Spencer, who is the current Executive Editor for the Journal of Cell Biology. Dr. Spencer received his PhD from the City University of New York where his dissertation focused on signaling mechanisms that underly growth and regeneration following injury. He then completed a post-doc at Columbia University studying molecular markers of post-natal motor neuron maturation. After finishing his post-doc, he started a career at Nature Publishing Group and later moved on to become Executive Editor at the Journal of Cell Biology. Dr. Spencer shared his insights and experiences working in scientific editing and publishing. He provided useful information about the industry and answered student questions about what it is like working as a journal editor.
What is the career outlook like for a person interested in scientific writing or editing and what positions are available?
There has been an increase in scientific publishing as well as an information explosion in science fields. The number of papers published doubles about every 9 years and the numbers of journals double around every 15 years. Therefore, the need for scientific editors and publishers is continuing to rise. Although, this is a field that often has job openings, but they can be somewhat competitive. Scientific editors often hold PhDs and have some post-doctoral experience. Other positions at scientific journals include review journal editors, publishing editors, specialized editors for News and Feature sections, production staff, and copy editors. Copy editors and production staff often do not require a PhD, but it is helpful to have a scientific background for these roles. Other related science career options included book editing and acquisitions, medical writing, and science journalism. Dr. Spencer also discussed editorial career paths if you start as a scientific editor. With this position, you have the ability to be promoted within the journal or company or switch journals/publishers. Some people transition to the business arm of the company, go on to work with funding agencies, move to the pharmaceutical industry, or work in academic administrations. Certain individuals decide to pursue freelance science journalism/ writing or move into science policy.
How do you get a job as a scientific editor and what skills are good to have as a scientific editor?
Dr. Spencer relayed that most editors have PhD’s and post-doctoral experience. Although it is possible to start as a scientific editor right after completing your PhD, it is helpful to have a post-doc since it exposes you to further research and publishing. During the interview process, most publishing companies will have a manuscript test. Essentially, this is a ‘trial by fire’ that has a candidate assess an unpublished paper and give their feedback about the strengths and weaknesses of the manuscript. Scientific editors are immersed in the cutting edge of primary scientific research. They need to have good critical scientific thinking and writing abilities. Additionally, they should be able to network within the scientific community. Scientific editors are exposed to a broader number and range of topics, so having interest and understanding of a number of different disciplines is beneficial. Additionally, having an understanding of the publishing and peer review process as well as having experience publishing in scientific journals is encouraged. Dr. Spencer also covered how most journals select editors. He stated that many journals are looking for scientists with a strong research background with broad scientific interests. It is also important to have an interest in science communication and an enthusiasm for science and publishing. In this field, journals are often looking for someone who will be a good ambassador for the journal with strong writing and communication skills.
How is working in scientific editing different than working in academia?
Dr. Spencer talked about the main differences between working as a researcher in academia versus working in the scientific publishing industry. An important fact to keep in mind as an editor is that you become a scientific generalist, essentially sacrificing depth of knowledge for breadth of knowledge. This career allows you to learn about various topics, but you are no longer conducting primary research in a very specific area. Another difference is that deadlines and schedules are comparatively short in publishing, so that there can be faster turn-around. The working hours are generally shorter but the time-related pressures are often greater. Additionally, the focus of this career is on clear communication of ideas to a wide and/or broad-scope audience. Dr. Spencer concluded by saying that the work/life balance is generally better as an editor, but this is at the cost of constant and persistent deadlines.
What is the role of a scientific editor in the publishing process?
Broadly, Scientific Editors are involved in the manuscript handling and selection process. They often participate in core tasks such as reading and evaluating new manuscript submissions, leading discussions with both editorial teams and academic editors to reach an initial decision about article review, choosing and assigning peer reviewers, analyzing and discussing reviewer reports, making a final decision about a paper, crafting decision letters, and checking accepted manuscripts pre-publication. Editors may also be involved in commissioning reviews, perspectives, preview, or coordinating special projects. Editors often attend or organize scientific conferences and meetings, or they may visit scientific institutions to talk to researchers and experts in different disciplines. Editors are essential for choosing how the journal looks, picking cover images, and deciding the layout. Finally, sometimes scientific editors may be asked to write editorials and other content or be involved in developmental editing.
Types of editorial models that are used today
There are three main types of editorial models currently used for publishing academic papers. One type of editorial model is one that employs professional editors only. This includes publishing groups such as Nature, Science, and Cell Press journals. There are also journals that use academic editors only. These include journals such as eLife, PNAS, and various Society journals. The final type uses a ‘hybrid’ editorial model that uses both professional and academic editors. The Journal of Cell Biology where Dr. Spencer is employed uses this model when publishing scientific content. It is important to have an understanding of different editorial models as well as the publishing and peer review process if you are interested in a career as a scientific editor.
AIOG recently held their first virtual career seminar with special guest Andrew Levitt, an associate patent counsel at Cantor Colburn LLP. He summarized the key aspects of patent law and provided some background as to the transition from academia to law. Britt Knight, the post-doc liaison for AIOG, has written prior articles regarding these topics; for more information on patent law, please check those out (search “patent”)! A key piece of information that Levitt had to offer was that regarding the Hatch-Waxman Amendments. This is more formally known as the “Drug Price Competition and Patent Term Restoration Act of 1984” and established the approval pathway for generic drug products. Applicants are able to submit an abbreviated new drug application (ANDA) under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, contained within these Amendments. Other provisions in these Amendments include patents related to new drug applications and 180-day exclusivity for certain AANDA applicants. Levitt expressed that patent lawyers who are well versed in this area are in high demand in the field.
Yet there are other channels for generic drugs being produced. For example, the current coronavirus pandemic is pushing governments to issue compulsory licenses to boost the production of generic drugs that treat COVID-19. A compulsory license is a license issued by a government to a public agency or generic drug marker allowing it to copy a patented medicine without the consent of the patent holder. In the past, countries had granted compulsory licenses to boost the production of drugs that treat HIV.
Levitt also mentioned some helpful tips to individuals interested in transitioning from academia into patent law. What he cited as helping him make the jump were the services offered by the PLI, or Practicing Law Institute. This is a nonprofit organization that aids in enhancing legal knowledge and expertise. PLI offers educational programs and a patent office exam course, among other opportunities. Additionally, what Levitt found to be helpful was networking with other legal professionals.