What’s it like to work as an editor for Nature Microbiology?

Ever wondered exactly what it is that we editors do with our time? Here's a brief peak into the hectic world of editing for Nature Microbiology (and an opportunity to come and find out for yourself).
Published in Microbiology
What’s it like to work as an editor for Nature Microbiology?

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Candour from the offset, this post has two purposes, well three actually. It is not solely to inform or entertain the interested reader (although I hope that it does each), and neither is it because I enjoy blogging here on the microbiology community, want to improve transparency in the way that we editors interact with researchers, and think that the topic might generate some interest among members and visitors (although I do, and think that it might). No, with this post I am actually hoping to get something in return from you the reader, probably just a few of you directly, but hopefully the rest of you can help indirectly by sharing this post with colleagues and social media followers. So, if by the end of this blog you like what you have read, and if the chance to work as an editor for our journal might spark a flame of excitement in you (or a friend/coworker) then please give careful consideration to the following.

Nature Microbiology is looking to recruit a Locum Associate or Senior Editor and YOU can apply any time between now and the 18th  of March

This is a Locum position to cover for one of our editors, who is being seconded to Nature for maternity cover. This is not an unpaid internship; this is a full salaried, fixed-term position that provides an opportunity to join, learn from and contribute to the Nature Microbiology team. Locum positions are a common entry point into the world of editing, indeed I myself started as a locum associated editor on the journal Nature Cell Biology way back in 2007. So if you are interested in a research-related career but want to consider alternatives away from the bench, read on.

What does the job entail?

Before I hand you over to my colleagues for their experiences & thoughts on being a member of the Nature Microbiology team, let me give you the basics. We are a small team of professional editors, currently based in Springer Nature’s London and New York offices. Each editor has a research background, always including a PhD and generally including post-doctoral experience as well. Half had previous editorial experience, half did not. Team members join as an associate editor and then progress to become a senior editor after gaining sufficient experience. The main tasks of each role are the same, although senior editors are expected to take on some additional responsibilities for different parts of the journal and deputizing for the Chief Editor on occasion. Primarily, associate and senior editors are responsible for carefully assessing all submissions to the journal, reading material submitted from first page to last (whether a presubmisison enquiry, research article, review, perspective or comment), then using their knowledge of the field and detailed searching of the literature to place the work in the proper context before deciding on a course of action, i.e. whether to send a manuscript for peer review or reject it, or suggest avenues to the authors through which the work could be further developed. Editors write extensive notes for each manuscript and for most files will circulate these comments to another editor for a second opinion. Any file decisions that are borderline, and certainly anything that is published will be read and commented on by at least two but sometimes three or more editors. This is an in-depth and detailed process and workloads are such that an editor will only be able to devote two to three hours to each manuscript, so we have to assimilate information rapidly to keep up with the pace of the role. Once a decision has been made to send a manuscript for review, the editor is then responsible for recruiting a suitable panel of referees to provide a detailed review of the work, carefully assessing the points raised by referees, assimilating this information into a decision (generally after further discussion with other editors in the team) and then communicating with authors and referees about the outcome of the review processes. This is often not the end, even if the decision decided upon is to reject. The editor will frequently discuss points raised in review with the authors (sometimes go back to referees, sometimes overrule them), consider appeals and/or further revision and for 8-10% of articles then steer the manuscript through to publication.

By contrast to some lazy stereotypes of editors, the role is anything BUT just pushing paper, it is detailed, in depth and dedicated work that requires strong analytical and communication skills. On Nature Microbiology we have also developed a particular approach to editing that I summed up in a previous post (‘The very model of a modern science editor’).

In addition to handling research submissions, our editors commission and developmentally edit Reviews, Perspectives and News & Views articles, write blog posts and editorials, travel 4-6 times each year to conferences and lab visits, give talks about publishing in Nature Microbiology or editorial careers and take part in a whole range of other special projects.

Personally, I have found an editorial career to date to be highly interesting, challenging and rewarding. It has allowed me to establish a life living in London (well in the suburbs surrounding the city) and put down roots for my family as it has grown. I work with super smart people who keep me on my toes every day, lest they find out that I am an imposter (it never fully goes away, that feeling). The Nature Microbiology team in particular are a dynamic, outspoken, interesting and interested bunch of colleagues who bring a passion and energy to the journal that makes the job what it is.


Views from the team

You don’t have to just take my word for things; I asked the rest of the team to (quickly) answer exactly the same question that I posed at the top of this blog post “What’s it like to work as an editor for Nature Microbiology?” Below are their thoughts (minus Emily White, who is travelling at the time of posting).


Claudio Nunes Alves (Senior Editor, London)

It depends on what you like, but if you’re into constant learning, it’s great – my favourite aspect of the job is that I get paid to read really interesting stuff every day across a huge range of topics that I’m not always familiar with. So it can sometimes require some digging and a lot of PubMed (and can I say Wikipedia) searches, and in essence you spend your days sitting at a desk in front of a computer reading stuff (and drinking tea) but there’s not a week in which you don’t learn something new, cool and exciting. Another great aspect is that you get to travel to great conferences many times a year and to interact one-on-one with scientists doing cutting-edge research that are willing to give you their undivided attention for a while – not everyone gets that type of attention. Sure there are tricky files to handle, the work load can be demanding, you effectively spend most of your time sharing negative news and you need to grow a tough skin because there are occasionally unpleasant interactions, but most of the time it’s all about the science, so if you like to read and love to learn, it’s a tough gig to beat. Now I think this is pretty much true across the board for the Nature Research journals, but at NMicro more specifically I also love that I’m part of a great and diverse team where I feel that my voice matters and where different personalities really think about what their job entails, aren’t afraid to voice their opinions and are truly pulling together to make the journal a great tool for our authors and readers. Being a somewhat new journal, we also get to experiment with doing things a bit differently from other journals and that’s great. On a more personal note, I also love that this job brought me to London (which I love even with all the snow these days), and the flexibility in working hours and locations that make for a great work-life balance and allow me to support science advancement in a different way (i.e., by helping my partner advance her career without having to worry exclusively about the kid :)


Nonia Pariente (Senior Editor, London)

Never a dull moment! One of the nice things about it –while also a big source of stress-  is the variety of content types and special projects that we handle, which decreases the routine of the job, while keeping you on your toes and juggling many balls.

I personally like the constant contact with researchers and the honour of being able to consider their work for publication, reading exciting science and trying to make the publishing process a fair and transparent one. My aim is that, regardless of the outcome, authors are satisfied with the experience and consider us again. By making Nature Microbiology the best that it can be, we provide a quality venue for publication of great microbiology and a forum for discussion of the topics that interest the community.

The best of all, the team of goofballs that make it all possible behind the scenes (Sally Monella, Mac O’Phage and all)! [Ed: this stems from an in joke on the team about using a fictional Dr Mike Robe as a mystery author to test our systems]


Michael Chao (Senior Editor, New York)

It’s been a rollercoaster for sure. 

The highs include launching a new journal that has put out some really great microbial science. I’m proud of the papers I’ve (we’ve) published and continually amazed that I have such a unique front row seat in helping these cool papers wind their way through peer review and out into the public consciousness. I’m also very grateful the community has been so willing to engage with me, and the real highlights of the job are being able to meet and talk with researchers across the field at conferences and site visits.

 But there are also stresses. The steep learning curve of getting to know new emerging fields and even just follow established ones undergoing rapid changes is challenging. You can’t help but worry if you can keep up and if you’ll be an effective advocate for these new corners of microbiology. And, at the heart, I see editing as part of a service career; as such, it can be stressful to juggle the responsibilities of so many peoples’ work on a daily basis.  Research output doesn’t wane and there’s a surprising amount of human capital that’s really required to guide papers through the publication gauntlet. Sometimes, it makes for sleepless nights.


Apply now (or encourage a friend to)

So if having made it this far that flame of interest has been kindled, take a look at the job advert and feel free to get in touch if you have any questions, either here in the community or directly with me by email: a.jermy@nature.com

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