From Bench to Scientific Editor
Dr. Chhavi Chauhan
ASIP Scientific Editor
Tell us about your current job as scientific editor for the AJP and JMD.
As the Scientific Editor for The American Journal of Pathology and The Journal of Molecular Diagnostics, the biggest part of my job profile is to closely review every single manuscript for its scientific content (writing, formatting, figure citations, references, plagiarism, etc.) before it goes into final production. I also assist the Director of ASIP Journal CME Programs, Dr. Mark. E. Sobel, in compiling the CME questions for both the AJP and the JMD. In addition, I prepare a monthly write-up in the AJP (This Month in AJP) featuring five articles that are recommended by the reviewers, associate editors, and/ or the Editor-in-Chief for special timeliness and provide the online highlight content for both the Journals. I closely work with the Managing Editor, Dr. Audra E. Cox, and the Editor-in-Chief of each Journal to solicit Reviews and to feature Commentaries for outstanding articles. Also, I assist the Editorial Staff with any questions they might have regarding the submitted manuscripts. Finally, I work with the Elsevier team to prepare a press release for one article for every published issue.
What motivated you to follow this particular career path? Was it your initial goal or did your plans change during your training?
I strongly believe that in today’s evolving professional world, there is no single profession or career for anyone. As we absorb all our responsibilities in a given job profile, start understanding the dynamics of that particular field, and excel in our field of interest, we are constantly exposed to new developments and further made aware of new opportunities and diverse avenues. It is best to evolve with times, realize our strengths and weaknesses, solidify our areas of expertise, and move in the direction that best fits our needs, matches our skill sets, is personally and professionally fulfilling, and at the same time poses new and exciting challenges to broaden our horizons. This has been my career development philosophy and is quite evident from my career path so far.
Since childhood, science always fascinated me. I took various science subjects in high school and finished a Bachelor’s in Chemistry (Honors) from Delhi University, India and a Masters in Biotechnology from Maharaja SayajiRao University, India. It was the fascination for science that made me further pursue a Ph.D. in Molecular Biology from Loyola University of Chicago. Like most scientists, I am highly motivated by the exciting new breakthroughs made in my own laboratory, department, institute, and for that matter worldwide, in various intriguing fields of research. It was with the intention of extending my research boundaries that I joined the National Cancer Institute (NCI, Frederick), National Institutes of Health (NIH) as a Post Doctoral Fellow in 2010.
Within the first couple months of my stay at the NCI, I was exposed to extensive writing, editing, and reviewing of scientific articles, book chapters, and books. I realized that I thoroughly enjoyed scientific writing and editing—so much so that I started exploring resources to enhance my scientific writing and editing skills and seeking resources to explore careers in scientific writing and editing. I attended the segment on scientific writing and editing at one of the NIH Career Fairs. Motivated by the possible career options, I took to writing in the Fellows and Young Investigators (FYI) Newsletter as a contributing writer and editor. I also volunteered as an Editor for the NIH Fellows Editorial Board (FEB), where we met and edited 2-4 manuscripts every week. In addition, I served as a Reviewer on many prominent journals and was ranked among the top 5% Reviewers for PLoS One in 2011. Also, I volunteered to help my colleagues with writing, reviewing, and editing their manuscripts, grants, personal statements, etc.
What specialized training, if any, did your current position require?
My current position demands a strong yet diverse scientific background to understand, appreciate, and comprehend the cutting edge developments in the fields of Pathology and Molecular Diagnostics. However, I did not have any specific training in pathology and molecular diagnostics before starting in my role as Scientific Editor. My training as a scientist in various laboratories provided sufficient background. My position also requires a strong acumen in scientific writing and editing.
My scientific writing and editing background from the FYI Newsletter and the FEB, and serving as a Reviewer for various high profile Journals definitely comes in handy as a Scientific Editor. I am also planning on taking the Board of Editors in the Life Sciences (BELS) exam to further enhance my scientific writing and editing skills.
How did you prepare for the transition from an academic, bench-based career to that of a scientific editor?
The transition from benchwork to scientific editor was rather smooth and swift for me. Within a short duration of my stay at the NCI (2 years), I had already started strengthening my CV to showcase my scientific editing background. I conducted several informational interviews for the FYI Newsletter to explore alternative careers in science writing. I also highlighted some of the outstanding research that was performed at the NCI. I served as a contributing writer and editor on the FYI Newsletter and as an editor on the FEB. I literally took each and every opportunity that was thrown my way to polish my skills that included editing the personal statements and resume for my colleagues and their grant applications, abstracts, posters, manuscripts, etc. I also joined the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA), subscribed to various writing and editing listserves, and attended several seminars to learn more about the profession.
It is no secret that female scientists often encounter obstacles not experienced by their male counterparts. Have you faced any significant challenges as a woman in science, and how have you overcome them.
I have often heard so myself. But I have been extremely fortunate in my career not to have come across any such obstacles. I strongly believe that having a supportive, encouraging, and understanding partner/ family can make a lot of difference in the life of any professional, whether man or woman. I have had the constant support of my husband to choose any career path and the ability to relocate to fulfill my dreams, which has made every single transition smooth. I have been fortunate with extremely understanding and encouraging colleagues as well.
I strongly believe that it is essential to be happy at your place of work and to pursue a career that is personally gratifying so that there is not much room for any obstacles.
What advice would you offer a trainee interested in pursuing a non-academic career? Please comment on strategies for diversifying a CV to increase appeal to a potential employer.
To begin with, I think it is extremely necessary for everyone to identify the field that fascinates them the most. Once you know what is most motivating, you need to attend career fairs to know more options in your field of interest, be it consulting, writing, editing, patent law, research in industry, teaching, etc. I would strongly recommend exploiting every single resource you can find to gather more information about your career interest. The biggest tool is networking and the current mantra to success is: “network, network, network.” You might not secure a job by networking, but it will definitely help you in broadening your mind. Networking will expose you to professionals with diverse backgrounds and varied job profiles in the existing as well as new and emerging fields.
Once you have identified the problem/ field that motivates you and seems personally and professionally fulfilling, start building your CV towards getting there. Look at diverse job opportunities to identify the openings, the job requirements, the desired skill set, and then work towards incorporating those into your CV to strengthen it further. Also, whenever applying for a job, make sure you carefully look at the job profile, identify the needs and the desired requirements of the potential employer, and tailor your CV highlighting the needs listed in the job profile, highlight your strengths and achievements (no matter how minor) catering to the advertised job listing. I personally believe that tailor-made CVs surpass any generic CV (no matter how polished). With enormous competition and ever evolving job choices and demands, it is not easy for everyone to get his/her dream job at the first trial. But, it you are hard-working, persistent, and determined to focus and stay abreast with the latest developments in the field, no goal is unreachable.
What types of starting-level positions are available in the field of scientific writing?
It is surprising how many and diverse job opportunities are available in the field of scientific writing. Besides scientific writing and editing for scientific journals, one can pursue science journalism (newspapers, media, etc.), technical writing (for big corporations, government, not for profit organizations, academic institutions, etc.), medical writing and editing (for journals, individuals, clinics, medical institutions, etc.), freelance writing for newsletters, newspapers, scientific magazines, blog posts, etc. to name a few.
Were you involved in ASIP before accepting this position? If so, how was your membership in the society beneficial to your new career path?
Despite the fact that I was not involved with ASIP directly before starting my position, I was familiar with the Society and the Journals published by the Society. I already realize the benefits that are offered by ASIP membership, specifically to budding scientists and especially in their career development. ASIP motivates and encourages several undergraduates, graduate students, Post Doctoral Fellows, and young investigators in their career development by offering platforms at various scientific meetings, travel and performance awards, informing and offering courses, etc. In fact, at ASIP’s annual meeting at Experimental Biology in April, ASIP is presenting a Career Development Workshop and Breakfast titled, “Non-Traditional Career Opportunities in Pathology.” ASIP is also offering its 13th Annual Career Development Program and Lunch: “Dancing with Journals: A Guide to Manuscript Submission and Review.” Both of these events will provide a wealth of information to ASIP’s trainee members.
I would strongly encourage all the readers to follow their dreams, not to get disheartened by the apparent lack of opportunities, but to use every single opportunity as a learning experience and keep a positive outlook. Nothing compares to perseverance, and there is no substitute for hard work. Last but not the least, network, network, network!