Interested in a career in chemistry publishing? Then see how Bryden Le Bailly, Senior Editor at Nature, navigated the path from academia to science communication.
Tell us about your career path to date.
I am a Senior Editor at Nature magazine, overseeing what we publish at the chemistry/biology interface. I completed a MSci in Chemistry at the University of Bristol, followed by a PhD in Organic Chemistry at the University of Manchester in which I looked at signalling with synthetic systems in membranes. I was always interested in education generally, and a great teacher of mine told me Chemistry would have enough to keep me engaged. She wasn’t wrong.
Bryden Le Bailly, Senior Editor at Nature magazine
A short post-doctoral position let me carry on research for a year, but I became more certain that a career in academia wasn’t for me. I enjoyed the idea of research more than its realities, and academia didn’t really work with other life choices I wanted to make. Editorial work suits this balance far better while staying close to the science.
Coupled with my interest in science communication, it looked like a good fit. To read and discuss exciting, cutting-edge research didn’t seem too bad a way to make a living. I looked into editorial jobs and, after discussions with a former editor in the Bristol Chemistry department, I started applying for positions at Nature journals. A locum position at Nature Nanotechnology led to me applying for the permanent position at Nature, where I’ve been for a little over five years.
What is a typical day like in your job?
The core of the job is deciding which submissions to review and publish. So, I read, a lot. The areas I cover comprise how molecules are made and how they can be used to interrogate biology or as therapeutic leads, as well as biochemistry, membrane protein biology, and a few other bits and pieces.
If that sounds like a wide range of topics, it is! It’s the same for all Nature editors. This keeps the job varied and interesting. The rest of the job stems from the papers I handle: overseeing peer review, taking decisions post-review, and what reviewer requests need addressing before we can proceed.
This all involves discussions with my fellow editors. In addition, I speak to Principal Investigators (PIs) and other lab members about work coming out of their labs that might be suitable for Nature.
After we decide we’ll publish something, I look for other ways we can promote the work. I pitch papers we are publishing for associated coverage in News & Views, features, or to go on the magazine cover.
Finally, Nature editors commission reviews and perspectives on topics we think are important and timely, and we discuss with our magazine editors news or topics that we believe should be covered journalistically.
Which aspects of your job do you enjoy the most?
Travelling for the job has to be one of its best perks. I manage to take around five to six trips a year, locally and internationally, to conferences and labs. Discussing brand new science one-on-one with the foremost experts in that field is a massive privilege.
However, I also enjoy supporting early-career researchers to publish in Nature and guiding them through our selection process and expectations. A longer-term way I have looked to support early career researchers (ECRs) is by delivering writing and publishing Masterclasses.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
Saying no to about 90% of what gets sent to my desk at Nature, despite it being (mostly) great science.
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How do you use the skills you obtained during your PhD/Postdoc in your job?
A good knowledge of organic chemistry and chemical biology is very helpful, not only for assessing manuscripts but also to advise on standards for Nature and the rest of the Nature portfolio. I am glad I chose research projects that required me to learn a range of techniques and delve into lots of different areas. Some of the more tangentially related areas to my studies are core responsibilities for me in my job now.
Which other skills are required in the work you do?
An interest in a breadth of science and willingness to learn are key. You will be exposed to areas you had previously never appreciated or knew existed in this job, and it is important to understand every submission from all its angles, and quickly.
This involves effective communication with other editors. Communication and learning skills also come into play when you’re out and about, where you might discuss 15 different subjects over a poster session at the end of a long day, or during a visit to an institute. Finally, editors need a good eye for detail.
Bryden has used his background in organic chemistry to forge a career in publishing.
Is there any advice you would give to others interested in pursuing a similar career path?
Firstly, the pace of the job and its expectations are very different from research. Looking at a manuscript from a scientific and editorial standpoint are two very different things. Consider if you have a critical eye when reviewing papers for a journal or reading the literature.
If you can explain to your colleagues or friends why a piece of research is exciting or ground-breaking, this is a good starting point. However, my principal advice would be to talk to editors.
We go to conferences and are happy to discuss the job in more detail. When I first applied for editorial roles, it was helpful to discuss the position with a former editor. When I didn’t get the jobs I applied for, one of the interviewers called me to explain and encourage me in the right direction. This experience was invaluable in getting me to where I am today.
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