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Many people favor either science or the liberal arts. But if you’ve always had an interest in both, a career as a science editor might just be perfect for you. Interested? Read on to find out more about what science editors do, what training you need, and how to find jobs.
Scientific writing—whether in the form of a book or a peer-reviewed journal article—needs to be presented accurately and consistently to have the most impact. But many scientists are not natural-born writers, even if writing up the results of studies is part of their job. That’s where a science editor comes in.
A science editor is someone who has broad scientific knowledge and understanding as well as a good eye for catching typos, grammar inconsistencies, and spelling errors and the ability to do some light fact checking. General editors (that is, editors who aren’t scientifically trained) may sometimes edit science writing, but science editing is a subcategory of the editing profession.
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Not all science editing is the same, however, and science editors may work on different types of texts.
Science Editing for Journals
The gold standard for scientific research is to be published in a peer-reviewed journal. A what, you ask? A peer-reviewed journal is a type of academic periodical (usually published monthly, quarterly, or annually) that contains articles presenting new scientific research. In most cases, this research has been double-checked (“peer-reviewed”) by other scientists to ensure that the claims and results being presented meet professional criteria.
Peer reviewing is not science journal editing. The peer reviewers are other scientists. But peer-reviewed science journals need editors to copyedit, proofread, format, and produce the journals for publication. Science journal editing is any type of editing work for a scientific journal.
Science Editing for Publishers and Presses
While most scientific research is published in the form of journals, scholarly and general interest publishers often put out scientific books. These need copyeditors, proofreaders, and designers, as well as developmental editors.
Developmental editing isn’t just about catching typos but is a more involved process that includes helping the author develop their ideas. In a science editing context, developmental editors are most needed by publishers putting out general interest books on a science-related topic or crossover books (that is, books that straddle the boundary between academic and general interest).
Freelance Science Editing
Science editors who work on a freelance basis work with journals and publishers but not necessarily for them. Freelance editors are contractors who work on a job-by-job basis. Further, freelance science editors might work directly with a scientist or group of scientists, editing their work before it’s submitted to a journal.
As with other editing and publishing professions, there’s no right way to become a science editor.
What Education Do You Need to Become a Science Editor?
Generally, a degree in a science subject is a good idea if you want to become a science editor. Some editors work on scientific documents without having a related degree, but you’ll probably find the work easier and more interesting if you have this background.
Although it’s not always a requirement, having a higher degree (a master’s or a PhD) will take you further in a science editing career. The scientists you will work with as a science editor value and respect specialist scientific knowledge, so you may find it easier to break into and advance in a science editing career if you have an advanced degree.
Do You Need a Science Editing Certificate?
The short answer is, no.
The longer answer is, having some kind of certification or accreditation will provide you with more credibility as a science editor. Various science editing associations around the world provide certification, professional development, and mentorship to science editors. These include the Council of Science Editors, the European Association of Science Editors, and the World Association of Medical Editors. General editing associations are also a good way of upskilling and learning about the industry, and they sometimes offer webinars or courses specifically for the sciences. Check out the Editorial Freelancers Association or ACES: The Society for Editing (USA), the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (UK), Institute of Professional Editors Limited (Australia and New Zealand), and Editors Canada.
One of the great things about working as a science editor is that there is no right way to work.
Where Can You Work as a Science Editor?
Science journals and book publishers may have some full-time editorial staff who work in an office environment. But, something to note is that the managing editors or top editorial staff at many journals are scientists who work within universities or research institutions and are not necessarily full-time editors themselves.
Can You Do Science Editing Jobs from Home?
It’s common for science editors to work from home or remotely. Due to the nature of the work (reading words on a screen or on paper), it’s often not necessary for it to be done in a formal office setting.
Science Editing Jobs Salary
Because there are many types of science editors, there’s not a standard science editor salary. However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the median editor salary in 2020 as $63,400 per year. Note that this is the average for all types of editors, not just science editors.
The Editorial Freelancers Association is a US-based association that compiles an editorial rates chart every couple of years. For STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) editing, they report the following median rates:
- Copyediting: $46–$50 per hour
- Proofreading: $41–$45 per hour
- Developmental editing: $61–$70 per hour
It’s also good to know that freelance science editor salaries have the potential to be higher than full-time science editor salaries. Established freelance science editors can choose who they work with, what they work on, and the rates they charge.
Where and How to Get Freelance Science Editor Jobs
If you already work for a university or have university-based scientist connections, you could use those connections as one way to get into a science editor career. Or, attend conferences and meet the people who run journals. Alternatively, you could send cold emails introducing yourself, along with your resume, to science journals. You may not always get a response, but sometimes the editors in charge will keep your details on file for when they have an opening for a freelance editor.
Another way to work as a science editor is to work for companies or agencies that work directly with scientific authors and then subcontract the editing work out. These companies take a portion of the fee, but they save you from marketing yourself directly to science authors.
Get Started in Your Science Editing Career
If this all sounds like fun, then science editing might be just the career for you! If you’re still studying and a science subject is your major, take any opportunity to gain experience in a publishing or journalism context. Working on your school paper would give you some valuable editing experience that you can utilize later on in your career.
If you’re further along in your education or career path but are wanting a change, check out the scientific and general editing associations mentioned above. These have plenty of resources for gaining the skills and knowledge you need for a successful editing career. Good luck!
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