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Julie Steffen

Chief Publishing Officer, American Astronomical Society


Please tell us a bit about yourself (e.g. hometown, current locale, course of study).

Originally from Elgin, IL (about 50 miles west of Chicago), I have been based in Tucson, AZ for the past seven years. In between, I spent five years in Berlin and 25 years in the Chicago area.

Describe some of your current responsibilities, and what type of organization you belong to.

The American Astronomical Society has 8,000 members and six leading research journals. I became Chief Publishing Officer in 2020 and was Director of Publishing before that starting in 2014. I have an office in NSF’s NOIRLab building on the campus of the University of Arizona and am fortunate to be embedded with a large and thriving community of astronomers. My team has been virtual since 2015 with team members spread out across the country.

What was your first scholarly publishing role? How did you get that job? What path led to your current position?

I was very lucky to get my first full-time scholarly publishing position at Walter de Gruyter Berlin in the late 1980s. It was intensive training in book and journal production and included transitioning Mouton journals from Amsterdam to Berlin. When I moved to Chicago in 1989 (one month before the Wall came down!), I landed a job as Journals Division assistant production manager at the University of Chicago Press, where I stayed until I left in 2006 as Director of Astronomy Publications.

If there was a pivotal moment or key person in your career development, please describe briefly.

There were a few key people who helped me to grow in scholarly publishing. Notable mentors include Michael Brockhaus (Walter de Gruyter Berlin) and one of SSP’s original co-founders, Robert Shirrell (University of Chicago Press). Bob was a true scholarly publishing visionary, and I learned so much from working for him for 17 years.

I also learned a lot from many of my colleagues when serving on the SSP board of directors (2003-2006) and as faculty for CSE’s short courses in publication management. I encourage anyone starting out or just looking to learn to get involved in this way!

What tools, websites, and organizations do you find most valuable for your career development?

Like many others, I rely on The Scholarly Kitchen! I would encourage anyone working in scholarly publishing to learn as much as they can from the scholars they serve. I have also learned that scholarly publishing is diverse in terms of values and approaches and that one size does not fit all.