Digital Science Publisher, UC Press, Publisher, Collabra
Since November 2013 I have lived in the beautiful and often misunderstood Oakland, California, “The Town”, and I arrived here via 6 years in “America’s Finest City,” San Diego. Prior to 2008 I lived in the UK, mainly in Oxford, where I began my career in scholarly publishing. I graduated from St Catherine’s College, Oxford, in 1998 with a degree in English Language and Literature. Which is admittedly a strange start to working fairly exclusively in digital science publishing…
Describe some of your current responsibilities, and what type of organization you belong to.
I joined the University of California Press in June 2014, and my most visible role is as Publisher of our new OA mega-journal – Collabra. I am also working on numerous digital publishing projects and products which will emerge over the next few years. I’ve worked in scholarly publishing since 2001 (almost 14 years at time of writing) and prior to working here I was at Elsevier in Oxford, San Diego, and San Francisco.
What was your first scholarly publishing role? How did you get that job? What path led to your current position?
My first role at Elsevier was due to still having my University of Oxford Bodleian Library card. I would record, by hand, from the print copy, the “received,” “revised”, and “accepted” dates of articles from competitor journals for Elsevier’s ongoing Publishing Speed Survey. Online metadata at that particular time was not reliable enough to get this information any other way, and back in the day it was hardly expected for regular people to have laptops to take into a library. You’d be surprised how many articles you can record, and how many journals you can get through, with multiple people sitting in a library and flipping through print issues, with paper and pens!
I got this job via knowing various people who had done this already, so at one point it must have been advertised on a “Temp Jobs” publication in Oxford somewhere. Most of us were, by chance, in various bands in Oxford at the time, and these jobs made the rounds among the local musician community. It always amuses me how many Oxford musicians Elsevier was unknowingly supporting via this particular research project in the early 2000s—at least until online article metadata became more reliable and harvestable.
After this amazing job I got further temporary positions in the research department at Elsevier, but actually in the office. I kept my eyes and ears open for internal vacancies and, after about a year, got my first permanent position in 2003 as an Editorial Assistant for the Psychology and Cognitive Science department. I worked my way up through that department to lead it, as Executive Publisher, from 2009 onwards. My ever-present interest and support for open access, open science, and innovation prompted me to join the Global Academic Relations department of Elsevier in 2013, working on various open access outreach projects. In the end this wasn’t for me (at least at Elsevier) so I started looking around for various positions in the Bay Area, interviewing at a few places, but in the end finding this wonderful new department at UC Press. And here I am!
If there was a pivotal moment or key person in your career development, please describe briefly.
The Publisher of the Psychology department in the early-mid 2000s—Diana Jones—was my most important mentor in my career (from 2003-2006). She paid wonderful attention to my development, and always involved me in higher-level tasks and projects beyond my official role and responsibility. I’m not sure how my career might have gone were it not for her insights and inclusive attitude. The Publishing Director of that division at the time—Diane Cogan—was also hugely supportive of my career, and helped broker my assignment to California in 2008.
It is important to note, especially in the context of this SSP website, that I see this type of mentoring happening less and less at publishing organizations. As standardization and reorganizations occur, yielding over-defined roles and hierarchies, I see too much delineation of roles, especially at the large publishing companies. This leaves little room for functional job shadowing, sharing of responsibilities, and mentoring. I’m often asked what my advice is for early career professionals, but my main advice would be for managers—mentor, develop, and include your staff! You should always have on staff, and develop, the people who will one day take over from you.
What tools, web sites and organizations do you find most valuable for your career development?
I’ve never utilized an organization for career development, but just monitored jobs pages and surfed LinkedIn. But then again, as I said above, I was lucky and enjoyed career development and mentorship as part of my early career in publishing.
What are some of the surprises/obstacles that you’ve encountered during your career?
I am surprised at how many legacy mindsets and systems STILL persist. I am surprised at how much of an obstacle a certain healthy level of financial success can be for some publishers. And I am surprised how many publishers don’t do things because they believe they don’t have the necessary skills in-house. In my experience and opinion, the only thing you NEED in-house is vision—you can figure the rest out via partners and your network.
What do you wish you knew more about?
Essentially, my career is based on influencing other people to do things, via various methods and means. It is a soft, people-skills job that I do. As such, I wish I knew how to make and do more “things” myself from scratch. And I mean broadly, from e.g. online tools/websites to clothes to wooden cabinets to radios. I am trying to remedy this, slowly…
What advice would you give to people interested in a career in scholarly communications?
Learn about, and then have a think about, what scholarly communication is, what it is for, and what it could be. Next, ignore everyone else’s opinion for a moment, and decide how YOU think it would be best to do it, in 2015. Then, approach a company that matches your thinking. Or, be prepared to make your point in a company that does not, currently, share your thinking.
If you’re not quite that into it, yet, then go for it anyway—it is a fascinating industry which people will never pin down.