Character  &  Context

The Science of Who We Are and How We Relate
Editors: Mark Leary, Shira Gabriel, Brett Pelham
Apr 25, 2018

Career Snapshot: On Being an Editor

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As I approached the end of my Ph.D. in cognitive psychology at Vanderbilt University, I knew that an academic career was not what I wanted. I had a strong publication record because I liked the process of connecting dots in the literature, designing experiments and interpreting data in light of that literature, and bringing everything together in a paper that laid out a clear argument, not because I was inherently motivated by specific research questions. It is these skills – critical thinking, argumentation, reasoning, writing – that I now use every day as a professional editor at Nature Research.

I was fortunate to have a fabulous mentor, Isabel Gauthier, who was very supportive and helped me find ways to gain experience that would be relevant to the kind of career I thought might interest me. While continuing to work with her as a post-doc, I was also an associate editor at Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, and I spearheaded an outreach initiative promoting research published in APA’s experimental psychology journals, APA PeePs. When Nature Research (finally) advertised a position for an editor with a background in psychology, I was ready.

Now I am a Senior Editor covering behavioral and social sciences at two Nature Research journals, Nature Climate Change and Nature Energy. The particular scope of an editor’s remit depends on the journal and its needs, but all editors are expected to “spread” beyond their original research area. In my case, I am responsible for papers that span the full gamut of behavioral and social science disciplines including psychology, sociology, political science, economics, and human geography, and that employ a range of quantitative and qualitative methods. It has been fascinating to learn about these different fields and how they approach similar topics and research questions in diverse ways. In my other role as Acting Head of Nature Research Social Sciences, I get to think about how we can better represent and serve these disciplines across all the Nature-branded journals.

Being a professional editor is an incredibly engaging and challenging job. Every new manuscript presents its own unique challenges. A big part of my day involves constructing a rationale for my decisions that I can justify to my editorial colleagues, the authors, and reviewers, and that I can stand behind. It is easy to be critical and find reasons to reject papers; my job when a new paper comes in is to determine what the merits of that paper are, and whether they are sufficient to warrant going out to review. What makes this challenging is that this “editorial threshold” constantly changes as literatures evolve, varies between different disciplines and sub-disciplines, and can be met in a multitude of ways. A paper might provide a new conceptual insight into mechanism, reveal an effect or relationship for the first time, present a dataset unique in geographical or temporal scope, demonstrate real-world policy relevance…How do you weigh these different factors? For papers that I decide to send out for review, I select and invite appropriate reviewers (full disclosure: securing reviewers is the least enjoyable part of the job), and then weigh the arguments in the reviews to come to a post-review decision. Reviewers are invaluable in the feedback they provide, but they often underestimate authors and their potential ability to address concerns. My job is to mediate the conversation between reviewers and authors, and not only assess the criticisms themselves, but whether the authors could potentially address them, and, if they can, whether the resulting paper would still be of interest to the journal. Every decision needs to be explained to the authors so that they have a clear understanding of what issues were critical and what the expectations are for a revision (if one is invited). Finally, I work closely with the authors of accepted manuscript to package the research so that the final paper is as clear, methodologically transparent, and broadly accessible as possible.

Manuscripts are only part of an editorial job. As an editor I need to represent researchers in the areas I’m responsible for, and I spend time connecting with researchers at conferences, lab visits, and via “virtual” phone or skype meetings. These conversations help me stay on top of new and exciting research, identify topics ripe for a Review, Perspective or Commentary (which I commission and edit), and determine where editorial policies (which I play a role in developing) could better serve the research community. And did I mention that I also write Research Highlights, editorials, and press releases? One of the best things I can say about my job is that I am never bored. If you enjoy engaging with research across a wide range of subjects, critical thinking, and science communication, and are interested in using those skills in the service of the broader scientific community, an editor job might be the right fit for you.

By Jennifer Richler

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If you have any questions, you can contact me or our Global Editorial Talent Manager, Katie Ridd

About our Blog

Why is this blog called Character & Context?

Everything that people think, feel, and do is affected by some combination of their personal characteristics and features of the social context they are in at the time. Character & Context explores the latest insights about human behavior from research in personality and social psychology, the scientific field that studies the causes of everyday behaviors.  

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