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Careers for Scientists – Operations Director

It’s time for another interview with a scientist to see what careers are out there waiting for you.  A few Bitesize Bio readers have asked for more information on jobs within the editorial or publishing industries, so this week I spoke with Laura Stemmle of American Journal Experts.  Here’s Laura’s low-down on what she does every day…

Hi Laura,

You describe yourself as an Operations Director. And what exactly is it that you do?

I currently direct the new services team at American Journal Experts (AJE). As a language editing company working primarily with non-native English speaking researchers, we quickly found that authors wanted help navigating other aspects of the publication process, such as selecting the most appropriate journal for their work, formatting their paper for a particular journal, or getting feedback from a private peer review before submission. Our new services team addresses these problems, and my job is to help ensure that the services we create are scalable, profitable and of high quality. This means that I think a lot about building tools to streamline our processes, work with the marketing team to spread the word about our newest services, find the best model to staff each service, and constantly look for new ways to help authors succeed in their publication goals.

Would you tell us a bit about your background?

I went to Duke for graduate school in Biochemistry because I originally wanted a career in teaching. During my postdoc, I started working as a contract editor for AJE. I had always enjoyed writing and language, and this was a great way to earn extra money while reading papers in my field. When a full-time Managing Editor position opened up at AJE, I pounced on it. The company was still very small at the time, and I didn’t know what I was getting into, but it turned out to be a great choice. As part of a rapidly growing start-up company, I’ve had many hats to wear and learned tons of new skills. Over the past three and a half years, I’ve been involved in editing, recruitment, marketing, management and the development of new services.

What do you like about your job?

I love my job for many reasons. Employees at AJE share a real sense of mission and connection to our customers. Many of us have first-hand experience with the challenges of publishing a paper, so we get great satisfaction from helping researchers around the world communicate the importance of their work. I also really enjoy the fast-paced environment of a start-up company. AJE’s rapid growth has stretched its employees into adaptable and creative problem solvers, and I’m thrilled to be surrounded by very bright people who are excited to learn new things. I also feel completely spoiled by the flexibility of our workplace. We use our office regularly for meetings, training and interviews, but most employees work primarily from home and have autonomy over their schedules.

The editorial/publishing industry is a hot career choice for many scientists who are looking to move away from the bench. What advice would you give to someone who is looking to make this move?

Most of our full-time employees with science backgrounds come into AJE as Managing Editors and move into other roles from there. My advice to someone looking into this career path would be to get as much editing experience as possible – either as a contract editor with a company like ours, or by informally editing for their colleagues. This experience is vital to both honing your editing skills and to figuring out whether this is something you would enjoy doing full-time. If you want to move into a leadership role, there are great ways to practice: volunteer to manage or train a new student in the lab and participate in organizing professional events, such as a departmental poster session or maybe a student session at a larger conference.  Another great way is to analyse the leadership skills of your own advisor and other members of the department.

Hone your communication skills – pay close attention to everything you write (even casual emails), and look for opportunities to work as part of a team.

Fine-tune your time-management skills – this often happens naturally as part of the dissertation-writing process.

Looking back on what you have done in your career, which bits help you most in your job now?

Graduate school was great training for the job I’m in now. Bench work taught me how to solve problems and made me unafraid to fail and try again. Lab meetings taught me to take criticism and hold myself accountable for completing tasks. Writing my dissertation and the related manuscripts familiarized me with the publication process, and having my work edited by my advisors taught me the conventions of technical writing. During my time at AJE, I’ve been given many opportunities to learn and improve upon some of the other skills I use every day, such as interviewing new applicants, running meetings, and communicating clearly and diplomatically with my co-workers.

If I asked you for a favourite quote, what would it be?

“Leap and the net will appear.” — Zen Saying

I wouldn’t describe myself as a huge risk-taker, but I have found that whenever I choose a non-traditional path, I am pleasantly surprised by the results.

And to sum up – what three pieces of advice would you give a scientist who is looking to move into the editorial/publishing industry?

1. Give yourself plenty of opportunity to develop your own leadership style. Read books on the topic, involve yourself in teams, look for role models, or teach.

2. Hone your communication skills, especially the written ones. Get into the habit of reading and editing everything you write before you hit “send”.

3. Once you start working in a start-up company, don’t be shy – get involved! Volunteer to help with the things that interest you. Don’t be afraid to try projects that might fail. Learn about as many things as you can by doing them, and enjoy the ride.

If you want to know about a particular person’s work experience, or a profession that appeals to you, I’d love to find out for you. Just let me know…

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