Book editing and publishing: A scientific book worm’s dream job
May25

Book editing and publishing: A scientific book worm’s dream job

There is no such thing as a typical day for Merlin Fox, books commissioning editor for the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC). His primary responsibilities include finding authors and editors to write new academic books and book series, managing the portfolio of already published works and seeking out opportunities for new publishing products. I met Merlin at PittCon 2011 this past March, where he was scoping out potential new book opportunities, and I soon found out he was a chemist-turned-book editor. Fascinating, I thought to myself, tell me more! Merlin’s background is in biology (B.Sc.), applied environmental science (M.Sc.), and agricultural sciences (Ph.D.). His graduate research and ensuing post-doctoral work were focused on environmental/analytical chemistry and biogeochemistry. So, how did the transition into publishing happen? Well, after his post-doc, Merlin landed a spot in the RSC graduate programme, where his job was to handle the peer review process for journal articles. After 18 months in that position, an opportunity to work in books came along and he took it. Since he was always interested in books and had research experience, he felt the two viable career paths for him after his Ph.D. were publishing or working in a lab. He chose the former and says he doesn't regret that decision. Although the graduate and post-graduate work weren’t required to get into publishing, he said he is glad to have gotten the additional training in teamwork, keeping to budgets, and working on a set timeframe-- all transferable skills that he carries on with him as he pursues his non-traditional science career path. “A book can take two years to write and needs dedication and focus – much like a long project or Ph.D., so yes, I think having a Ph.D. lends some empathy to what authors are doing – as well as a better understanding of what academic life is like,” he said. What Merlin likes most about his job is being able to travel and meet new people, as well as having the security of a permanent job. But he occasionally misses being in the lab, especially when he visits a chemistry department. Merlin’s environmental and biogeochemistry graduate work was largely composed of fieldwork in the great outdoors. While he doesn’t do this type of research anymore, he finds other ways to satisfy his craving to explore nature. “I grow vegetables at home and do voluntary conservation work most weekends, so I’m still getting outdoors,” he said. Merlin said it is satisfying to see a book he worked on finally come out in print and to see it on the shelf at a bookstore. He also loves learning about...

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A chemist’s journey through academia, government, industry, and into medical writing
Apr25

A chemist’s journey through academia, government, industry, and into medical writing

You may have been told at some point in your life that if you want to get a steady job in the future you should go into science, because that’s where the money is. With this line of thinking, Kelly Keating, who was just as interested in creative writing as she was science and math, opted for the “sure thing” in college and chose to major in chemistry. After a B.S., Ph.D., and several jobs that took her through academia, government and industry, she is now an Editor and Medical Writer for the Pharmaceutical Research Institute (PRI), a non-profit organization within the Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences in Albany, NY. Go figure, huh? While you couldn’t call Kelly’s path into medical writing “traditional”, I think all the twists and turns along the way make her story so interesting. And it turns out that it wasn’t a waste to have taken the long windy road to where she has ended up, because along the way she was picking up all kinds of skills, the transferrable kind I wrote about in my last post. Some people know what they want to do from the get-go and go after that. But most of us, I think, navigate and jump around from one thing to another until we figure out what we want. And that’s perfectly okay. So, as I was saying, Kelly’s story just goes to show that there’s no one way to break into a non-traditional science career. In a nutshell, here’s her career path leading up to medical writing: B.S. in chemistry (U.W. Madison, 1983) A few years of basic research Ph.D. in chemistry (U.C. Davis, 1991) Post-doc in NMR spectroscopy One year at small biotech company Visiting Scientist in an NMR group at a national lab NMR spectroscopist and lab manager for a larger pharmaceutical company Then, when she and her husband moved to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) for his job, she started a freelance medical writing business and taught part-time at a local college. The toughest thing for Kelly initially was having no medical writing experience. It’s one of those Catch-22 things: you can’t get hired if you don’t have experience, but you can’t get experience if you never get a job! By being willing to be flexible, Kelly got the experience she needed by doing some freelance grant and manuscript editing for the science departments at UIUC. When her husband received a great job opportunity in Albany, NY, they moved. Shortly after, she landed her current medical writing job. “And simply by luck the month we moved here the job I have...

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