Day in the life of a senior Careers editor

Karen Kaplan, senior Careers editor

I joined Nature’s Careers desk in 2008 as assistant editor of the section, was promoted to Careers editor in 2014, and now, as part of the Careers team that was created in 2016, am senior Careers editor.

In July 2019, I also became Nature’s new Back Page editor. In October, this new section will launch with a weekly photo-led profile of a scientist (who could be at any career stage) or a scientific-community stakeholder (such as a high-profile national scientific adviser or funding-agency head), to be loosely titled “Where I Work”.

Here’s a rundown of how I spend my working hours.

What’s a typical day like for a Careers and Back Page editor at Nature?

Busy. Very, very busy. In my role, I produce both print (-to-online) and online-only content each week for Careers. As we head toward the late-October launch of our new Back Page, which will run online in Careers, I’m also commissioning short (300-word) mini-profiles of each subject and liaising with the art team to coordinate procuring new images of them in their workspace, whether lab, office or field.

I commission, edit and finalize the weekly three-page print (-to-online) edition of Nature Careers. I also commission and edit up to three online-first (or online-only) articles every week, which range from ‘community’ columns by working scientists to news stories or Q&As by one of my freelance writers.

Careers produces service-based content for the global scientific workforce (particularly early-career researchers, such as PhD students, postdocs and those in unstable or impermanent jobs) and for stakeholders in the scientific community. So a feature might be about managing fieldwork as a scientist–parent, launching a start-up, writing a first-class paper or maximizing the value of your institution’s press office. Most weeks (for print-to-online) I run a feature of 2,000 or 2,200 words, and one or two other articles, which might be a Q&A, a news story or a community column, depending on the space available in the print issue.

News stories are almost always about a study or new development that will interest our readers. For example, we might be reporting on how a US-based consortium of graduate schools is developing a scheme to examine and boost support for graduate students experiencing mental-health struggles; how conference attendance can boost productivity; how some US universities are creating lactation spaces for breastfeeding scientists (and others) who are mums; or how online anti-bias workplace training has had little effect on US men. Columns help readers to understand from the scientist–writer’s perspective how they might resolve a work-based quandary or obstacle, while Q&As feature an early-career scientist who is making headlines (perhaps for winning an important award or publishing a major finding), who has an interesting ‘back story’ to a recently published study, or who has switched to a fab non-academic career.

On any given day I’m juggling eight or nine print issues of Careers in various stages of production, in addition to online-first/only content at similar levels of disarray.

After I finish my first edit of a feature, I send it on for feedback to David Payne, managing editor for Careers and Supplements; Helen Pearson, chief magazine editor; and Stephen Pincock, vice-president, Editorial, Community and Partnership Editorial.

Meanwhile, I’m working on other content: perhaps a revised feature has come back from a writer after first reads, and it needs massaging before it’s ready for David to top-read. Or another feature revision might have come back from a writer after top-read, and need further editing before I file it with front-half subeditors.

Any of the secondary or online-first/only content might also have come back from a writer or from the subs desk, and be in need of attention.

I’m in contact many times daily, by e-mail, with several members of the subs desk, any of whom on any given day might be subbing the feature that’s due to pass that week for the next week’s issue, or working on the secondary content for that issue (whether a column, news story or Q&A), or subbing at least one of my online-first/only articles.

When a sub routes an article back to me, I try to answer some of the inevitable queries, review their changes to the text (and maybe push back) and send a copy of the subbed article to the writer. Once the writer gets back to me, often later that day, I’ll enter their query answers and our agreed changes to that article file, and route it back to the sub for further review.

I’m also in frequent daily contact with the art team, who do picture research for all my content, and we review available images together (through an intranet platform) and decide which ones might work best for print and/or online.

I’m also in touch with writers daily by phone or e-mail. I might be discussing a community-column pitch, for example, with a scientist, or liaising with a freelancer about a pitch or an edited story; or I might be talking to various stakeholders about forthcoming features, such as our biennial surveys on pay and job satisfaction for scientists, or PhD students’ graduate-school experiences, concerns and joys.

For Back Page, which will launch in the print in the 24 October issue (and online in Careers a day or two earlier), I’ve commissioned about 20 profiles so far; the section will trial for a year. I’m editing the first handful and preparing them for top reads. Once that’s done and we have corresponding images, I’ll file with subs, and a team of us will choose the ones that should run first.

E-mail is a topic unto itself, as we all know only too well. I’ll stop here …

What do you enjoy most about your day?

It’s never boring! If I feel stuck editing a knotty feature or community column, there’s always something else to turn to. Then I can return to the article with renewed vigour.

And because I am a total word nerd and am passionate about working with the written language, I love finessing and refining a piece of content (whether a Back Page profile or Careers feature, news story, column or Q&A) so that it speaks its message as clearly and engagingly as possible.

What has been your most memorable experience working at Nature?

As an American from Connecticut (part of the New England region), I’ve always been fascinated by the influence of British English on US English. When I lived for a year in South Carolina (before coming to Nature in 2008), my neighbours, who were from western North Carolina and had heavy ‘Southern’ accents, pronounced certain words in ways that sounded quite British. Was it possible, I wondered, that these pronunciations had remained intact from their journey across the pond several centuries earlier?

During my first trip to I’s London offices the following year, I was talking with a London colleague who chanced to say those same words — and pronounced them exactly as my former neighbours had. Bingo! Utterly and totally fascinating to a language and linguistics nerd like me.

How many other Careers editors work on Nature?

Since October 2016, we’ve had a team of four: David Payne; Spotlight and Careers editor Jack Leeming (both in London); Technology and Toolbox editor Jeff Perkel (in Idaho); and me (in Washington DC). Jack, sometimes David, and I duke it out weekly about which community pitches we’ll each take on (and which should be rejected); but beyond that, there's not much overlap among our roles.

Still, it’s fab to have a team. For more than a year and a half, I was working almost completely solo.

What do you find most challenging about your job?

Keeping all the balls in the air. Subbed copy needs immediate attention. First-read or top-read copy needs immediate attention. Team or front-half meetings that are late in the day for London folks are in my morning, which is jammed with multiple must-dos.

It can feel a bit like a juggling act: I’m racing to route files back to the subs desk; write table-of-contents teasers for the print issue; craft print/online heds, standfirsts and picture captions; answer crucial e-mails; talk with a panicking writer. Meanwhile, I’m blazing through feature stories that need first reads or a top read; editing content that must be filed in InCopy; finalizing print and online-first content for publishing; whipping edits or final versions back and forth with the writer; coordinating image selection with the art desk; writing social-media teasers for all my content. It’s a whirlwind!

None of this is meant to suggest at all that my workday is the least bit unusual within Nature and the larger Springer Nature organization. I know that we all work extremely hard and that all our plates are piled high.

What do you find most rewarding about your job?

I like to think that the content I commission and produce might help a junior researcher in some way — to win a grant, for example; to give a better talk; to start forming a network; to feel comfortable seeking help for anxiety or depression.

And it’s also satisfying to know that other stakeholders in the scientific community — university administrators, policymakers, funders — might get some useful takeaways, even eye-openers, from the section.

Happy to get any and all feedback, including article ideas! Feel free to e-mail me at k.kaplan@us.nature.com.

doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d42859-019-00112-1

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