The Biochemist: student editing experience

Every year The Biochemistry Society’s magazine, The Biochemist, holds a competition. This competition invites early career researchers to try their hand at editing an edition of The Biochemist. Interested teams submit a proposal on a theme that they would be interested to see an edition based around. This year’s winning proposal came from the John Innes Centre, and a team comprised of Tom Vincent, Leonie Luginbuehl and Guru Radhakrishnan. Their winning theme was ‘Communication in Plants and Microbes’. I sat down with Tom (as well as a brief email exchange with Guru) to find out what the competition involved and how the team felt about their experiences.

Leonie, Tom and Guru, the brilliant editing team

What attracted you to apply to edit the Biochemist?

T: Having little experience in science communication, this looked like a great way to try something new in a new area. New experiences may even have an influence on what I choose to do with my future. Getting to see the editing process from the publishing end, rather than being a potential contributor seemed like something really exciting.

G: I wanted to take part to experience the process on the other side of science – scientific publishing.

What did the process of editing involve?

T: After coming up with a theme our next task was to suggest potential authors for 6-8 articles. We sent out invitations to these authors to write, and then if we had rejections, would move on to a list of additional authors. Luckily, a lot of authors said yes on first ask, and those that didn’t gave us feedback of other potential authors. The articles needed to be about 2000 words, plus figures, that were appropriate for a general audience. The authors had a couple of months to write their articles, whilst we needed to write our own guest editor introduction to the magazine. We wanted to be able to use our articles to show people that plants and animals have complex signalling just as animals do. Our aim was to build up from organelle-organelle signalling all the way to whole-organism signalling, hoping that the variety of articles will appeal to non-plant scientists.

Why did you choose the theme ‘Communication in Plants and Microbes’?

T: Our first thought was to do something to do with plants and microbes, since we all have experience in the field. Narrowing down the field further drove us towards the idea of signalling and communication. Most people think of signalling as something to do with humans or animals, rather than plants and bacteria.

What was the hardest part of the process?

G: Selecting authors for the various topics. There were a lot of people doing some really fascinating work in all of the fields that we chose

T: We were lucky to have a small team of only three. Everything throughout the process needed to be agreed. It was often tough to get a consensus even with a small group – such as agreeing on our cover letter after many revisions. The editing was also tough, since we didn’t want to change the message or meaning of the articles.

What about your favourite part?

T: I enjoyed when the articles came in from the various authors – they were really interesting to read. It was exciting to see the email come through with the attachment there and ready to read.

G: My favourite part was coming up with ideas for articles after we had decided on a topic.

Would you recommend the experience to other PhD students?

T: Definitely! Initially we had a larger group of editors, but a couple of people dropped out due to fears about it taking up too much time. In the end, it was easier and less time consuming than we thought. You get great support from the Biochemist, and the articles were well written, so our editing wasn’t too tough. You get more out of the experience than the time that you put in, especially if you can come up with an exciting topic.

G: I would definitely recommend the experience to other people, as it gave us an idea to think critically about the writing process than just about the work.

The finished product

What do you think of the finished product?

T: The final magazine looks great, thanks to the hard work of The Biochemist’s editorial team in laying out and formatting the articles. It is extremely satisfying to see the final product, almost a year after first deciding to enter the competition – it was impossible to think back then that we would secure such high-calibre and varied articles for the issue.

If you are interested to see the finished result, keep an eye out for The Biochemist magazine this month. And keep your eyes peeled – the same opportunity could come around next year, and it sounds like an experience not to be missed! There are often many other science communication opportunities provided by societies such as the Biochemical Society, and lots of chances to get involved in publishing and editing.

Biochemical Society Members can see the edition online here: http://www.biochemist.org/bio/

All photos from biochemistry.org

Interview and article by Izzy Webb, a 3rd year student in the lab of Prof Phil Poole

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