Career: As a Chemist in An Editorial Office

Career: As a Chemist in An Editorial Office

Author: Antonia Niedobitek, Richard Threlfall

Dr. Richard Threlfall is Managing Editor of Asian Journal of Organic Chemistry (AsianJOC). He talks to Antonia Niedobitek for about why he chose the editorial office over the lab, what aspects he enjoys in his job and what he would advise anyone who wants to become an editor.


Tell us a bit about how your career has developed, please.

I studied chemistry in the UK at the University of Liverpool, and did my PhD there, too. After that, I worked briefly as a medical writer where I was mainly producing medical information material for pharmaceutical companies. But that didn’t last for very long, I didn’t really like that type of work, to be honest. After that, I worked as a post-doc in the US at the University of Colorado Boulder. I was involved with the post-doc association, and I enjoyed organizing career and research communication events, and all kinds of different activities with people. That was one of the reasons why I decided I wanted to do more on the communication side. So, I started as Assistant Editor with AngewandteChemie, and then when the AsianJOC was launched in 2012 I moved across to Managing Editor.


What are your main tasks in your current position?

The main tasks as a Managing Editor are, for example, assessing manuscripts, inviting peer reviewers and soliciting contents for the journal, that means inviting authors to write articles. Then I also do some promotional work for articles in the journal. And then I also do quite a lot of copy editing and language polishing.

I also do things like write articles for blogs, e.g. Wiley Asia Blog or Wiley Exchanges. In fact, I am doing some writing for ChemistryViews. I recently started writing a series of articles giving tips for presentations and posters and how to write better science papers.


How much is your job related to chemistry?

It is obviously completely chemistry related. The nice thing about my job is that I get to learn a lot of new things about chemistry. I get to see a huge overview of organic chemistry, and also not strictly organic chemistry.


Other than a chemistry background, what other skills would you say do you need to work as a Managing Editor?

One thing I would say is important is diplomacy. You need this skill because sometimes you’ll have to tell people who have put a lot of effort into their work unpleasant things. Sometimes the authors are unhappy and they want to understand why, e.g. their manuscript wasn’t accepted. You have to be able to tell people things they don’t want to hear in a way that won’t upset them.

It also helps if you’re a bit of a psychologist. It’s really helpful if you are able to understand how other people see things from their point of view. If you understand how to use diplomatic skills, you can anticipate how another person will react to things, and what and what not to say in certain situations.


Please tell us something about your daily routine.

The first thing I do in the morning is look at the new submissions for the day, and then send them out to the reviewers as appropriate. Then I look at the referee reports we’ve got for the existing manuscripts and I then make the decisions on those. Then of course there are the galley proofs to do. This is when an article has been edited and is basically ready for publication, and you send it to the author for final approval. If the author has small corrections, we incorporate those corrections into the text. After that, the article is sent on to the typesetter for final online publication.


What do you enjoy most about your job?

That would definitely be interacting with people, going to conferences, seeing authors, board members and society representatives, for example, from the Asian Chemical Editorial Society, which co-owns the AsianJOC. As I already mentioned earlier, this is something I have enjoyed ever since my post-doc time.


Is there anything you miss from your time in the lab?

I do sometimes miss doing silly experiments like playing with liquid nitrogen, rotovapping cups of coffee and doing all that kind of bizarre stuff. Sometimes my colleagues in the lab and I would joke around and wonder what would happen if you stick your lunch in liquid nitrogen … I also miss doing outreach work with school pupils in the lab, that was a lot of fun.


What advice would you give to students who are interested in working in an editorial office?

First of all, I would recommend to start writing, for example, for a blog or some kind of students’ newspaper or trade magazine. Using social media like twitter and so on is also a good exercise. You should also start reading a lot, because this job is a lot about being up-to-date about what is going on in the field of chemistry. By doing this, you will get an idea of where to look for certain information and which sources are good. Writing and editing skills are also important. The more you read the writing of others and do your own writing, the better you will eventually become at writing about science.

Another thing that is always very helpful is doing an internship or contacting people that work in the field. You can go and talk to editors at conferences and ask them what they’re doing. I did the same thing. I met some editors during my post-doc and simply asked them what they do. This can be good because you have a very different view as a scientist than someone on the other end.


Why did you start writing the presentation and writing tips for scientists on how to give presentations and write scientific articles?

I myself experienced that at university you’re taught very little of things like science communication skills, nobody shows you how to write scientific papers or present your results in poster presentations. You don’t practice that very much but you’re expected to know how to do all of these things.

It’s difficult for anyone to write about science, especially if it’s in a different language, it’s a big challenge. So I hope the articles are useful to researchers of all kinds.


Do you think a PhD is necessary to work in a publishing house?

Not really, but it can be helpful to get insight in the way research works. Of course, you can get an idea of research work when doing any other degree, so I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary to do a PhD. A lot of people do a PhD and then realize, although they really liked the work in a lab, they don’t want to do that for the rest of their career. Working in a publishing group is one way of still staying involved in science without doing active research work in a lab.


Thank you very much for your time.


Richard Threlfall studied chemistry at the University of Liverpool, UK, and also earned his PhD there. Afterwards, he briefly worked as a medical writer. He then went on to work as a post-doc at the University of Colorado Boulder, USA.

He eventually started working as an assistant editor for AngewandteChemie. From 2012 up to now, he is Managing Editor for the Asian Journal of Chemistry. He is also an author for ChemistryViews and writes articles for scientists on how to write better science papers and how to present posters.

All interviews of the series “Chemists Talk About Their Jobs


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