Becoming a journal editor by Dr Tseen-Ling Khoo
Posted by atarrant

Dr Tseen-Ling Khoo blogs regularly for the Research Whisperer and is currently Senior Advisor in Research Grant Development at RMIT University. Prior to joining RMIT, Tseen completed research fellowships at Monash University (2004-2010) and the University of Queensland (2001-2004). She also convenes the Asian Australian Studies Research Network (asianaustralianstudies.org; 160 members), and was editor of the Journal of Intercultural Studies (Routledge; ERA A-ranked) which she reflects on in today’s post. 

There is no better way to fast-track your grasp of academic productivity and evaluation than becoming a journal editor.

A stint as an editor for a collection of essays in a book or the role of a guest-editor for a journal will give you taste of what it’s like, but nothing can prepare you for being an ongoing journal editor.

It’s not for everyone, and its rewards can be great.

What makes a good editor?

The qualities a good editor needs are:

  • The ability to make fast, good decisions about papers or issue proposals.
  • Thoroughness with processes and around reviews and revisions.
  • Good academic network, or the potential to grow one.
  • Tenacity about doing the job well, even though it’s the kind of thing that doesn’t often get concrete rewards. It’s also the kind of role where the recognition you might get never reflects the amount of time you’ve put into it.

Given this somewhat daunting list that nudges close to martyrdom, why would you do it?

  1. Being an editor of a good journal repays you with prestige points, and you get to list it on your CV as an ‘esteem factor’.
    With your name on the mast-head of every issue and on the publication’s website, it also helps with getting your name out there consistently.
  2. You get to grow a field in your own image. Sort of.
    With journals that cover more specific topic areas, you can often manage the content such that areas you feel are neglected get more love or, if you feel they’re overrepresented (over-saturated), these topics get ‘rested’. You can tap promising early scholars to submit and have your journal associated with their probable rise through the ranks.
  3. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to work with a good, tight editorial team.
    In my experience, if you couldn’t work well with your editorial team colleagues, life as a journal editor would be hellish. I was lucky enough to have a team with whom I loved working and could have a laugh. We also had a publisher who treated us to 3-course lunches once a year. This helped.

That’s all very well, and what many academic mentors may tell you, but here’s why I say you should do it:

  1. Being a journal editor gives you a crash course in high level, on-the-job professionalism.
    You think you have editing expertise? It’s not until you are editing a constant stream of papers, revisions, and whole special issues that you appreciate what ‘being an editor’ means.a) You get an intimate perspective on how your own work may travel through a journal’s processesand start to realise the profoundly unpredictable input and schedule that’s involved in just one paper’s review. The editing skills you pick up as a journal editor feedback, of course, into the quality of your own writing and how you may pitch proposals to journals or editors in the future. You will necessarily have picked up on what kinds of things slow or expedite work through the academic journal system.b) You realise what the time pressures really are in producing publications. I had always thought I was a fairly organised and efficient worker, but it wasn’t until I became a regular editor of publications that I realised I had a shallow idea of the intricate juggling process that gets a book or journal from go to woe. If you’re lucky, you’ll have an associate/assistant editor who also works on the journal and they may well take responsibility for the lion’s share of the proofing and stylistic aspects (all hail associate editors, I say!). Still, ensuring that the publication is consistent, each piece as intellectually exciting as possible, and any glitches are addressed and accounted for (with authors and publishers) is gruelling. As a guest-editor, it’s bad enough; for an ongoing editor, multiply this by at least four.
  1. You get to see the seedy and noble sides of your colleagues.
    It would only really make sense to take up big editorial duties with a journal if the publication was in your area and fed your critical and professional knowledge. When I say “professional knowledge”, I’m not referring here to the process of editing per se; I’m talking about how you get to know the academics in your discipline. Chances are, they’re your reviewers and contributors. How do they assess their peers or deal with criticism of their own work? As I’ve written about in more detail elsewhere, you can tell a LOT about your colleagues through how they review (and are reviewed). This kind of information pays dividends immediately in your broader academic life and ‘insider’ knowledge about the personalities at play in a given field.

For me, having been an editor in various capacities (including five years at the helm of a rapidly growing quarterly journal), the experience and insight I’ve gained is invaluable.

No doubt, the time that the editing gigs took up could have been channelled into a few more papers and chapters on my CV. But there is no way I would have known as much about the academic game, or as many players in that game, as I do now.

 

atarrant. Posted by atarrant


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  1. What do you need to actually become an editor (as in experience, courses, etc) ? I’ve always found it an interesting job and am considering doing it in the future.

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