A behind the scenes peek at BioMed Central publishing roles

As part of our 'Science > Careers' series I asked some of my colleagues about their career paths, how their current role involves science and what advice they would give to those looking for a scientific career.

BMCcareersWhat is your science background?

Ben: My main research interest has always been viruses, which started during my undergraduate degree in virology at the University of Warwick. I then spent four years researching influenza virus for my doctoral research at the University of Reading. After this I moved on to a postdoc position at Imperial College London to test safer smallpox vaccines.

Ripu: I have a PhD in human genetics specializing in human diversity and evolution in sub-Saharan African. I also have a Master’s degree in Medical Parasitology and a Diploma in infectious diseases, and while studying for these two degrees, I worked on malaria with the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, based in the Philippines.

Chris: During my undergraduate education in Pharmacology at the University of Leeds, I studied a number of biological sciences related topics and worked for a contract research organization testing the preclinical safety of novel chemical entities. I then received a PhD in Pharmacology from the University of Surrey, in collaboration with Weill Cornell Medical College.

Kalpana: I have a PhD in Molecular Cellular and Developmental Biology. The focus of my thesis work was to understand the molecular mechanisms which affect motor neuron differentiation using C. elegans as a model system.

Explain what you spend a normal day in your job doing

Ben: My current role is as one of three Associate Publishers in the biological sciences team, reporting into the Editorial Director; prior to this I was an Acquisitions and Development Editor. I have two main roles – firstly I lead a team of 3 acquisitions editors who negotiate with scientific societies and institutes in Shanghai, Seoul and Tokyo, on new journal launches or the transfer of existing journals from other publishers.

This involves supporting my editors in finding leads, assessing journal proposals, deciding on financial agreements and journal contracts and working on the setup of these new launches. I also spend time generating leads myself in countries that are not covered by my editors – especially the USA and Europe.

Secondly, I lead on the overall development strategy for the microbiology and infectious diseases journals, which are developed by two editors in my team – one in London and one in New York. I work with the Editorial Director to set the budgets for the portfolio and approve development plans, agree conference attendance and support my team with their development activities.

My core job is to identify high-quality work within the genomic sciences that would be suitable for publication in the journal.


Ripu Bains
Senior Editor, Genome Biology

Ripu: I am Senior Editor of Genome Biology, and have a varied role. My core job is to identify high-quality work within the genomic sciences that would be suitable for publication in the journal. The journal has a very big scope, and I look after the following subject areas: microbiome research, infectious disease genomics, evolutionary genomics, population genomics, human genomics, and clinical genomics.

To this end, my day-to-day responsibilities mostly involve the handling of primary manuscripts, managing the peer review process, and advising the editorial team on current and up-and-coming topics within these research areas that we should be aware of. My responsibilities also extend to commissioning articles and editing them; this is a different form of editorial work that requires a much more involved process whereby I work with the authors to develop their article so that it is of broad interest and discusses current and important topics on a particular subject.

Additionally, my core responsibilities also include networking on behalf of Genome Biology so that we establish and maintain good relationships with researchers across all areas of genomic science, and so that they think of the journal as a potential home for their work.

Chris: I am a Senior Editor for the BMC series. I am responsible for the management of a team of Editors and Assistant Editors and the success of the journals within my line-management group. I have a leadership role in the BMC series and aim to set an example for performance and support other members of the team through training and guidance.

In addition to the management of my team, I have responsibility for the performance of my own portfolio of journals that includes BMC Health Services Research and BMC Pharmacology and Toxicology. In this capacity, I oversee the peer review of manuscripts from submission to publication, develop journal content, manage the editorial boards and perform advocacy for the journals and BioMed Central at external meetings.

The role of Senior Editor presents a variety of challenges on any given day. A typical day involves prioritizing editorial actions that are required and addressing these accordingly via email or phone. Such tasks might involve providing guidance to authors, external editors or other teams within BioMed Central when obstacles arise during peer review.

On a daily basis, I interact with members of our global team to determine the most appropriate destination for our author’s research. I support my team with any questions they might have regarding editorial policies or processes. I perform editorial board recruitment and advocacy as required, check the progress of submissions, make editorial decision and work to identify content to promote via social media or in collaboration with our Communications team.

The majority of my day is spent interacting with academic Editors, Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs), authors and people within the company with the aim of providing a positive publishing experience.


Kalpana Ramakrishnan
Journal Development Editor

Kalpana: I am Journal Development Editor (JDE) and I have oversight for a number of our open access cancer journals. The majority of my day is spent interacting with academic Editors, Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs), authors and people within the company with the aim of providing a positive publishing experience to authors, identifying marketing opportunities for journal promotion and increasing article submission.

Prioritization is very important in the JDE role, with many projects, deadlines and changing priorities to balance. Other essential skills necessary to succeed in this position include: time management, excellent communication skills (written & oral) and the ability to work co-operatively with an international team. This position involves team work and collaboration within and outside the company on a daily basis.

What skills do you use in your job that you gained from your science experience?

Ben: A strong scientific background is helpful for both development and acquisitions, but we also rely on expert knowledge from our academic and in house editors when assessing new journal proposals. A scientific background helps with establishing credibility with academic editors, and understanding the pressures they are under and their goals and aspirations. My scientific expertise in virology became really useful when I was developing journals myself, as I worked on Virology Journal and Microbiome, both of which were relevant to my research background.

Ripu: My scientific background means that I already have research experience in a number of the areas that I look after on the journal. However, as an editor you look at scientific research in a different way than when you are a researcher. Researchers tend to specialize in a particular area, not necessarily taking the bigger picture into account; while as an editor, the bigger picture is the most important part (I would argue) of a particular project. That being said, the ability to critique studies is certainly something that I think my scientific background and training have helped me to do, and this is an essential part of my everyday job.

Problem solving has always intrigued me. To be able to think logically about a problem and offer solutions to unexpected complications is invaluable.


Chris Morrey
Senior Editor, BMC Series

Chris: Communication is important to the management of a portfolio of journals and establishing professional relationships with team members, collaborating with external editors and interacting with authors. Organization is essential to ensure that priorities are clear and achieved in a timely fashion. Problem solving has always intrigued me. To be able to think logically about a problem and offer solutions to unexpected complications is invaluable. Teamwork is always important and working as part of a global team is essential to achieving our goals at BioMed Central. Collaboration is often the most effective and satisfying way to achieve these goals.

Kalpana: Having a strong science background helps to engage Editors and KOLs in discussions relating to journal development to identify research advances and hot topics to commission articles. It also helps to identify and recruit Editorial Board Members who can help with the peer review process. As a former graduate student, I’ve published research papers and that’s given me a lot of awareness about the online publishing process. I find that this experience greatly helps with addressing author queries as well as identifying key drivers required for an efficient and sound peer review process.

What’s your favorite part of your job?

I also enjoy the exposure I get across the biological sciences, which is a big contrast to my research career where I spent four years studying a single protein in a single virus!


Ben Johnson
Associate Publisher

Ben: I really enjoy the travel – and there is a lot of it! I visit China, Japan and Korea every year to meet with my team and our university and society partners, attended conferences in the USA, Canada and Brazil as well as visited potential partner institutions in Europe. I also enjoy the exposure I get across the biological sciences, which is a big contrast to my research career where I spent four years studying a single protein in a single virus!

Ripu: Editorial work provides me with the opportunity to work in science but without needing to do it myself, which suits me very well. When I was a PhD student, I enjoyed thinking about the bigger picture, the writing, and presenting aspect of the job. If I had to pick a favorite aspect of the job, it would be when I go out and talk to researchers, as I have always enjoyed people-facing roles.

Chris: I particularly enjoy sharing useful contributions to medicine and biology with a wider audience and meeting and discussing these advances with researchers. A role in scientific publishing provides the opportunity to meet extraordinary people who work in a wide range of settings. If you have an interest in meeting people and helping to disseminate information then a position with an open access publisher is certainly a role that you should consider.

Kalpana: I enjoy talking to Editors and engaging them in scientific discussions related to journal development. I like attending scientific conferences where I get to represent the company and learn the latest advances in the area of cancer research. In this role, I use my scientific and interpersonal skills to help the research community and that’s exciting for me.

Do you have any advice for current graduate students and postdocs looking to move out of the lab?

Ben: My advice to PhD students and postdocs considering a publishing career would be to find time for other activities in addition to your lab work. A strong set of publications is necessary to get ahead in academia – but in publishing the interpersonal skills are much more important. So find some time to teach, do tutorials, supervise students or organize a journal club.

My advice to others would be to not to assume that editorial work is an easy alternative to research, as it involves a very different skill set.


Ripu Bains
Senior Editor, Genome Biology

Ripu: My advice to others would be to not to assume that editorial work is an easy alternative to research, as it involves a very different skill set that includes excellent interpersonal and communication skills, the ability to think of the bigger picture, and excellent writing skills, among others.

Chris: My advice would be to consider what it is that you really enjoy about your present position and perhaps more importantly what is it about the position that you dislike. The skills you gain and use regularly as a graduate student or postdoc are transferrable to virtually any field. What are your particularly strengths?

Personally, I felt that my strength was interacting with people and communicating new and interesting ideas. Working in a scientific publishing role offers this opportunity without the pipetting. Don’t hesitate to reach out to people working in positions that interest you for advice on their experiences and information on how they came to perform those roles. They will likely be very glad to share their experiences with you.

Kalpana: Most PhD students think that they don’t have the necessary experience while considering careers outside of academia. As a graduate student you’ve often had to collaborate on projects, manage multiple deadlines (writing manuscripts/thesis, presentations, teaching classes ), negotiated with your PI and your lab colleagues and ‘communicated’ your research to scientists, friends and family. These are often the ‘transferrable skills’ that employers are interested in and they should be highlighted in your resume.


Do you have a job in science that you love? Know someone who can’t stop talking about their science career? Comment below or email me at dana.berry@biomedcentral.com if you’re interested in participating in our series. Or participate in the conversation by using the #moretoscience hashtag on twitter.

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