Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

Career profile: Journal editor

JournalScientific journals are where the latest research is revealed to the world. An editor’s job is to decide what’s worth publishing.

What does it involve?

Journal editors are responsible for reading the papers submitted by researchers and deciding which ones should be published. This is a lot of work and requires a strong understanding of the area the journal covers, but it also means that you’ll be one of the first to read about the latest developments in your field.

You’ll also need excellent communication skills when it comes to informing people that you have decided not to publish their work, as some might take the news badly..

The potential for anger is a sign of how much responsibility the job involves: acceptance or rejection from a journal can change the course of a scientist’s career. And a bad decision has consequences: the editor of Remote Sensing resigned after the journal published a paper about climate change that was based on science already known to be wrong.

But the job isn’t done once the papers have been accepted. Many papers will need rewriting to be more readable, as the researchers will not be professional writers or may be writing in a second language.

There’s also plenty of work outside the day-to-day editing tasks. Journal editors spend a lot of time at conferences around the world, as well as dealing with the politics of the journal world in discussions of issues like free access and publishing ethics.

What qualifications and experience do I need?

  • A solid research background: at least a PhD and ideally some post-doctoral research work.
  • Experience of peer-reviewing or co-authoring scientific papers * You’ll need to be up to date with the latest developments in your field
    • In particular, you’ll need to be very familiar with the particular journal you apply for a job with. For example, you’ll need to know what the most important papers the journal published in the last year were.

Finding a position

Editing jobs are likely to be advertised in the journals themselves, on specialist job sites like NatureJobs and at careers fairs like the NatureJobs Career Expo

At an interview, as well as being asked in-depth questions about the journal itself you will probably have to do written tasks. This could be producing written summaries of papers, or reading a set of papers and deciding which ones are suitable for publication.

Where can it lead??

Editing a journal is often a person’s first job after a PhD or a postdoctoral programme, so sooner or later you’ll probably want to move on. When you do, areas you might go into include:

  • Publishing: this is usually the most direct progression you can make from editing, but it will generally take you further away from the science.
  • Research and research directing: an editor’s skills and experience can be useful when deciding which research projects should receive funding.
  • Consultancy: editors have to be experts with a broad overview of their subject area, and many organisations can benefit from that expertise.

Related links