Day in the life of the editor in chief of Nature

Magdalena Skipper, editor in chief

Stimulating and unpredictable are possibly the first two words I’d use to describe what it’s like to work as editor-in-chief of Nature. This is a role in which there is no such thing as a typical day — or perhaps what makes a day typical is that it is unlike most others.

My work is characterized by interactions with many people — colleagues and members of the research community, as well as many others. Publishing Nature would never be possible without the very smart and dedicated colleagues who make it happen every week, and I often think of my role as akin to that of a conductor of an orchestra — making a greater whole out of the combined efforts of a variety of expert and accomplished professionals. It is one of my daily joys to come together with different groups of colleagues to discuss forthcoming issues, or our future strategy, or how we could better serve our authors, contributors and readers.

Although there is no typical day, there is some pattern to my week. Take Tuesdays, for example: the mornings vary and usually involve meetings with a variety of colleagues or hosting visitors, but Tuesday afternoons are quite structured. Just after lunch, there is Nature’s weekly News & Views meeting, at which manuscript editors pitch the most interesting of their recently accepted papers to the News & Views editors. These will then commission News & Views pieces on selected recommendations. The meeting provides an excellent overview of what will soon be appearing in the pages of Nature; it is also a forum for discussing implications of those recently accepted papers with the whole team, and for identifying how they might complement other content that we have in the pipeline. It is also at this meeting that decisions are made on what will appear on the cover or be featured by our multimedia team.

Immediately after the News & Views meeting, I rush across the street to another of our office buildings to join the magazine meeting. Here, in rapid-fire exchanges, our reporters and news editors share ideas for forthcoming stories and discuss what's going to appear online over the next few days, and in the pages of the following week’s issue. Straight after that, I have a meeting with two colleagues to plan editorials for the next few weeks. We go over what we heard earlier that day, and over other things that we know are in the pipeline, not just in Nature but in other Nature Research journals. We also look to see whether any news has broken, or any announcements been made, that are relevant to research; and we consider whether there are any key events or anniversaries that we want to mark in our editorials section.

Some days are spent entirely in meetings, making plans or discussing science with colleagues. Others are dedicated to researching and writing; this might involve drafting proposals for new directions for the journal, or new way of working together, or putting together a presentation for a forthcoming talk. Other days are spent on the road: visiting researchers, or heads of universities or institutes; talking with students; or attending conferences. Or I might be doing interviews with radio or newspaper journalists.

It is hard to say what brings me the most satisfaction — the incredible discoveries that I get to read and hear about daily, or the people I work with and meet.

My work involves a lot of travel, and I feel that I get so much out it for Nature. Not only am I exposed to fantastic research, and presented with face-to-face feedback on what we could improve, but I also get a chance to explain more about us at Nature and how we work to the people I meet. Editorial roles are often not well understood. The incorrect assumption, sometimes, is that editors make decisions without appreciating the papers or even reading them, and that they simply act as messengers between the reviewers and the authors. This is far from the truth. Editors are passionate about the papers they handle and feel part of the communities they serve. They will often champion the papers with the reviewers — and when I travel, I love to tell people about the tremendous effort and enthusiasm our editors put into their work. Moreover, they increasingly support researchers in other ways, for example by helping them to showcase the rigour of their methodologies.

Making connections between people is another highly rewarding aspect of my job. Introducing editors or journalists to researchers from different communities might not yield immediate results, but it can pay rich dividends in the future.

The early years of my editorial career focused on the genetics and genomics communities, in line with my own research expertise. Today, there isn’t an aspect of research or discovery that is not of significance and relevance to me — Nature is a multidisciplinary journal with continually expanding interests. Being exposed to the latest and most exciting lines of investigation in fields as varied as materials science, ecology, sustainable development, social science and clinical medicine is a true privilege. This exposure comes from interacting every day with experienced scientific editors and reporters who keep a close eye on the disciplines they follow. Of course, it also comes from connecting with members of the research community, established and early-career researchers alike. All of these have their own perspective, which combines high-level synthesis and overview with a granular, and at times very technical, focus to provide a full picture.

It is an incredible honour to be at the helm of Nature — a journal which over its 150-year history has published some of the most influential, as well as most elegant, science. We’ve published findings that have changed how we think about the evolution of our own species, about the dynamics and origins of the universe and about the beginnings of life and matter itself. Our pages have carried discoveries that in due course have transformed disciplines such as genetics, materials sciences and geology, to choose just three examples. It was Nature that published the first paper establishing a link between chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and the destruction of atmospheric ozone, followed by the evidence linking CFCs with the depletion of ozone over Antarctica. Of course, all these discoveries are not published in one day, but the beauty of working at Nature is that any one day can bring an incredibly exciting new submission or the breaking of an exclusive news story. And, of course, none of this is possible without a talented and highly professional team.

It really does take a village to produce Nature. The Nature team comprises around 120 people, including scientific editors, commissioning editors, science reporters, news editors, art editors, multimedia editors, subeditors and production and support staff. The key feature of ‘my team’ is that it is so diverse and combines such a varied set of skills and expertise.

Inviting that very special paper to be submitted and seeing it published; commissioning a review that spurs on new collaborations and opens up original directions of research; discovering a topic that is ripe for some top-notch, in-depth news reporting; opening a call for nominations for one of our Nature Research prizes and evaluating the many outstanding submissions; advising young researchers on how they might make decisions about their careers; working with the research community to devise ways to showcase the rigour with which their research is done, or to better acknowledge the contribution of all authors — it really is tough to say what I enjoy the most.

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