We are now accepting applications for our Associate Editor Mentoring Opportunity, a chance for early career researchers to gain experience of working on a journal Editorial Board. Annabel Smith (Marie Skłodowska-Curie Research Fellow, Trinity College Dublin) began her Mentoring Opportunity role in January 2018. Here she explains why she decided to apply and what she hopes to gain from the experience.
We’re often thrown in the deep end when it comes to learning new professional skills in a research career. Experience is a great teacher in the long term but it can take a lot of time to master new skills like reviewing papers and applying for grants. And the path can by windy, to put it lightly.
So I jumped at the chance to apply for the Associate Editor Mentoring Opportunity with Journal of Applied Ecology when I saw it advertised in 2017. I was drawn to the idea of working closely with a Senior Editor who would guide me on a hopefully less windy path than I’d experienced with learning other skills. I was delighted that my application was successful and I joined the Editorial Board in January 2018 for a two-year position.
It was an easy decision to apply for two reasons. First, the journal is one of my favourites. Almost all of my work has an applied focus and I am passionate about producing science that can have an impact in environmental policy and management. I read and cite Journal of Applied Ecology a lot in my own work: a good indication that I might be well-suited to starting my editor experience there. My experience of publishing my own work in the journal has been very positive; I had been impressed with the professionalism of the editors and the Editorial Office. I also liked the very strong focus on the management message. For example, after acceptance of my first paper in Journal of Applied Ecology, we had in-depth discussions with the editor about the title to make sure it would reach the right audience. That paper is the most highly cited of my first-author papers.
The second reason I applied was timing. I was about five years out from my PhD, I had reviewed over 25 papers for international journals and published 25 of my own papers. Like most things when you have little experience and limited support, my early reviews were not easy and they were not as constructive as the reviews I write these days. But the years taught me well and I was at a stage where I felt confident in writing a focussed, well-balanced and professional review. I had a ‘stable’ two-year research post with which the editor role coincided so I would have enough energy to bring to the job. I had also seen enough editorial decisions on my own papers to start noticing the difference between a helpful editor and a less helpful one. For example, I could see that a good editor thought deeply about the reviews and made their own independent judgement, incorporating the expertise of the reviewers. This was a skill that I was keen to develop myself and bring to the to the research community. Taking on an Associate Editor mentee position therefore seemed like a natural next step in my career.
In my first five months I handled three assignments, with two Senior Editors, one of whom is my official mentor: A/Prof. Michael Bode. The Senior Editors offer great support and they do not bombard you with assignments when you first begin. Early on, I was actually able to meet with Mike. We used this opportunity to discuss the process and he gave me some great tips on contacting reviewers and assessing reviews. We had a lot of discussion on our first assignment together to make sure it was not a ‘box-ticking exercise’ but rather a well-thought-out decision-making process. I’ve really enjoyed the discussions with the Senior Editors. Kirsty Lucas in the Editorial Office has also given great support and the job has opened my eyes to how much work goes on behind the scenes when a paper is submitted. It’s a privilege to be in a position where you consolidate a range of opinions on a new piece of science before it makes it way to the public domain. I feel positive that this role will adequately prepare me to be a good independent editor.
Overall, I can recommend the mentoring programme to early career researchers. There is no reason to rush into the position if you don’t have time to give the job the energy it deserves. But if you are a passionate applied ecologist with a strong track record and confidence in the reviews you’re currently writing, then best of luck with applying to the editorial board!
*Update 2019 – the closing date for 2020-2021 mentoring applications is 31 July 2019. To apply, complete this online form.
Find out more about the opportunity and meet some previous mentees here.
Marc Cadotte (Executive Editor)