How to move from academia to publishing
Are you currently an academic that is looking for a change? Maybe you’re tired of the struggle to find funding for your research, or maybe you have just finished your PhD and simply want to spend some time in a 9-5 kinda’ job earning decent money.
Whatever the reason, you might have stumbled upon this blog because you’re looking to transition from a role in academia to publishing, specifically academic publishing.
In that case, welcome! As someone who currently works in academic publishing, I have met, worked with, and even hired many people over the years who jumped headfirst off the PhD diving board into the publishing pool, and you know what? The water is lovely…
But to get here, they needed to climb every rung on that diving board ladder. Essentially, there are a few things you might need to do before you can present yourself as a suitable candidate for a career in publishing. In this article, I’ll be giving you my top tips to be successful in your move from a career in academia, to your first role in academic publishing.
1. Let go of the Ego
If reading that heading gave you a twinge of annoyance, then maybe you need this top tip more than you realise. I’m going to say something you might not like to hear. Your PhD qualification and research papers published, while appreciated, are not as highly valued as your skills and ability to demonstrate a business mindset in a publishing environment. I know you’ve worked on highly interesting research, I know you have proudly published papers, but these don’t really matter as much in publishing, so let it go.
When you make the move to academic publishing, without any previous publishing experience (and I mean from the publisher’s side, not the author/editor/reviewer’s side), you are most likely going to be applying for a junior-level position.
We don’t need people who know how to do scientific research for these roles, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have the “right stuff”. The good news is that you have the skills and experience right there in your PhD years. Some people stumble in their attempt to secure a role in publishing because they haven’t highlighted the skills that publishing employers really care about. If you find yourself talking about the mating rituals of the zebrafish in your interview for a publishing role, stop! Refocus! This is not about your research, it’s about the skills you demonstrated during that period of your life that can be applicable to a role in a business context. #sorrynotsorry
2. Change your mindset (and your CV)
You might think publishers would be over the moon to receive the CV of PhD graduate, and most of the time we are. However, many PhD grads fall into the same traps again and again.
For research positions, I’m sure that employers respond well to a highly detailed CV where the focus is on the subject matter, the papers published and peer review experience, but the same cannot be said for employers in publishing. Unless you’re specifically applying to be an Editor for a journal, most publishing employers are looking for different skills and experiences to be highlighted on your CV. Essentially, you need to change your mindset. So, what skills do publishers look for? For junior positions, we’re looking for evidence of teamwork, collaboration, and the ability to overcome challenges and setbacks as a team to achieve Objectives and Key Results (OKRs).
We’re looking for people who have a good grasp on the corporate mindset: growth, revenue, reputation; as well as an understanding of how publishing high-quality research contributes to these goals. Not only this, but these skills need to be marketed by the potential employee, presented in a certain way in their CV and interview that makes it hard to deny that the candidate (a.k.a you!) is anything other than the perfect person to assume this role.
3. Market yourself like a publishing professional would
Okay academics listen up, if I have to read one more Times New Roman typed CV, I may cry. It’s 2022, so let’s mix it up a little bit. The look and feel of your CV should tell the publisher something about you, are you more of a clean cut, classic type of person, or are you innovative and prepared to experiment with colour?
Publishing professionals are very good at marketing themselves, so make sure that the look and feel of your CV reflects your personal “brand”. Don’t go too far though, it still needs to look professional. Just think of it this way, there are many people applying for the same publishing job you are going for, and some of them just might have some publishing experience on the publisher’s side, so for starters, your CV needs to stand out visually. There are some great free CV templates on websites like Canva.com, so you don’t need to start sweating at the thought of creating something beautiful from scratch.
Buzzwords. They’re important – stick those bad boys in your CV and make that hiring manager happy. Having said that, don’t just stick any old buzzwords in there, they need to be relevant to you and your experience. I recommend having a high-level summary at the very top of your CV that addresses what is so great about you; this is where you put your buzzwords. In publishing, we’re looking for innovative people, super detail-orientated, but also able to see the bigger picture, interested in efficiency and optimisation, target driven and importantly, collaborative. Don’t just copy these, think of your own, but make sure they are skills that translate from a research/academic context into a business one.
4. Prepare for the question: why do you want to move into academic publishing?
This is a tough one and it can sneak up on you in an interview, perhaps disguised as a different question. It could be, why do you want to leave academia? What are your reasons for moving on from research? What are your ambitions for the next 5 years? Hiring managers, if they’re anything like me, are nosey. We want to know why you’re leaving academia, but we also want to ensure that if we hire you, you won’t change your mind in 6 months to a year and high tail it back to your research career when an opportunity comes knocking. So when you’re answering this question, please do be honest. If you’re on the fence about continuing with research or going for a job in publishing, you’re probably not ready to move on. If you’re committed to a change, be clear about this in your interview, but explain specifically what it is about academic publishing that you’re so interested in.
Also, it goes without saying that you need to do your research on the company, but please also do some research on the model of publishing as well. Whether it’s Open Access or Subscription (journal publishing), understand what the benefits and challenges are with these models, not just for the researcher, but also for the publisher as a company. We are a business at the end of the day, and while we’re passionate about publishing high quality research, we also need to generate revenue. So if you’re asked why you want to move into academic publishing, try this…
1) Explain honestly and specifically why you want a change of career
2) Reassure your interviewer that you are committed to the change
3) Flatter the company by describing what it is about the company and publishing model that interests you.
By covering these three key bases, you’re almost guaranteed to give an impressive answer to this question.
5. Top tips for your publishing interview
If I could offer one more top tip for those academics out there interviewing for publishing roles, it would be to keep it brief and KISS (Keep it Simple Stupid). I’ve interviewed many academics for roles in publishing and the worst interviews are the ones where the candidate talks so much, and in so much detail, that they get lost and forget the original question. I recommend the STAR technique:
Situation: Describe the situation and when it took place.
Task: Explain the task and what was the goal.
Action: Provide details about the action you took to attain this.
Result: Conclude with the result of your action.
Essentially, we (I’m talking as a hiring manager myself here) want a response that hits the right buzzwords, includes a simple example and answers our question.
Thank you for taking the time to read this article today. I may have served some home truths, but at least I’m honest. I hope that you found this article helpful and if you would like to see more content from me on transitioning from academia to publishing, contact me on LinkedIn and tell me what you would like to see in my next blog post!
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Thanks for this great post Robyn! I will do my best to apply your insights during my transition towards the publishing world.
Thank you for your lovely comment Filippo!