Skip to main content

Opportunities in science editing

Published on: Sep 26, 2019

In George RR Martin's unfinished set of novels collectively entitled A Song of Ice and Fire, the source material for the popular HBO series Game of Thrones (GoT), members of the Night's Watch have sworn an oath to defend the people of Westeros against what lies beyond an ancient fortification known as The Wall. Here's an excerpt of their pledge: I shall wear no crowns and win no glory. I shall live and die at my post. I am the sword in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am…the shield that guards the realms of men (Martin 1996). Dramatic? Yes. Nerdy? Arguably. But the concept of the Night's Watch may serve as a metaphor for the brotherhood and sisterhood of science editors, who help defend authors. Defend authors from what, precisely? From “tropic” cascades, taxonomic “breath”, “pubic” engagement, additional “sexamples”, environmental “polices”, natural resource “mangers”, and “casual” mechanisms. Misspelled scientific names or incorrect taxonomy. Missing figures. Mathematical errors. In‐text citations without references and vice versa. Ambiguity. Inconsistencies. I've personally observed such terrors and more during my time on “The Wall”, in this case a line of defense between manuscript acceptance and publication. And if a science editor has done his or her job, then readers haven't noticed such things, or perhaps not as many of them.

For ecology students exploring nontraditional career options, I'd ask you to consider “taking the black” (or joining the Night's Watch in GoT parlance; Figure 1) and becoming a science editor. While in academia, you have carefully honed your writing abilities, perfected time management skills, and learned to think critically. There's a good chance that you've performed field research or worked as a lab technician; if so, then you've already mastered one attribute – attention to detail – that's directly transferable to and invaluable in publishing. You have likely also contributed to science publications somewhere along a spectrum of responsibility, from data collection to primary authorship, and are sure to have at least a passing familiarity with the peer‐review process. Moreover, if you possess or are working toward a Bachelor or Master of Science, then you've been introduced to important concepts in other disciplines such as chemistry, calculus, and statistics. As such, you are well‐rounded and eminently qualified to succeed in the scholarly publishing world. That being said, this career may not be for everyone. Editing favors those with somewhat obsessive tendencies (do you find yourself involuntarily correcting grammar or spelling in news articles?) and, in the end, it's a desk job (your days in the field are basically over). Granted, it's a sacrifice, but you get to combine your background in ecology with your interest in publishing, live in or near the city, and still have your weekends to go hiking in the woods.

To read the rest of this article in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, please click here.