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Mady Tissenbaum

Associate Publisher & General Manager, The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, Inc.

Mady Tissenbaum First, tell us a bit about yourself (hometown, current locale, family, hobbies, community involvement?).

I was brought up in and around New York and Long Island, and went to high school in western Massachusetts and college in upstate New York. I now live in the Boston suburbs. My husband and I have two children: Arthur is finishing his doctorate in philosophy at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, and Claire starts law school at Northeastern University in Boston this fall. We have a brand-new grandson, Jonah, who has just learned to smile. In my free time I try to keep up with what I think I ought to be reading, and I listen to music (from early Baroque through bluegrass). I go to as much live classical music as I can afford. I bake sourdough bread, and I plan the sight-seeing trips I hope to take now that (most) child-rearing responsibilities are behind me.

Describe some of your responsibilities, and how you or your organization fit into the scholarly communications web.

Most of my career has been spent at the same organization, The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, Inc. (JBJS), which is an independent non-profit journal—possibly the only such medical journal not owned by an association. With a worldwide circulation just shy of 40,000,JBJS is the oldest, most prominent, and most highly respected journal in orthopaedics. We have a strong web presence, and in July 2010 we doubled our print frequency. An active CME program complements the published articles.

My responsibilities are in flux, reflecting the changes in our industry. I’m in the process of transitioning from a managerial, generalist role to one with a narrower focus on innovation, moving JBJS forward as we, like others in the industry, adjust to the changing STM landscape. The business climate is adverse and the internet has created new competitors, but there are also fantastic new opportunities to explore, and I’m excited about the future.

What career path led to your current position?

Luck and perseverance… today’s young graduates are far, far smarter than I was about planning a career. Jobs were plentiful when I graduated from college, and even the aimless found opportunities. With no clear ideas for the future, I typed for a living while looking for a better-paying job, and eventually landed work with a very, very small publisher. Small companies are wonderful places to learn, because everyone does more than one job and everyone needs your help. I was still typing, but I also did some minor editing and lots of proofreading, typesetting, layout, and even a little paper and print buying. Two years later that varied experience, plus youthful eagerness (and an interest in 18th century novels that was shared by my interviewer!), gained me a copyediting job at The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, Inc. In subsequent years I asked questions, helped out in other departments, and went to every seminar and industry meeting I could. I volunteered for everything, and exercised my aptitude for technology. When it became apparent that I knew more about the organization than anyone else, my role expanded to encompass more responsibility.

Where do you see scholarly communications heading, and what new directions interest you most?

Ever more sources of information will bombard our customers, who will find it increasingly difficult to distinguish between reliable information and bad data. Brands will become both more important and less reliable as they seek to be all things to all people. More small players will be swallowed by large ones. Gimmicky learning tools will proliferate, as will portable tools of all sorts, most of them useless and quickly abandoned. Another 10 or 15 years of internet-based Gold Rush/Wild West high energy, rapid innovation, lack of standards, and uncertainty lie ahead. Then it will settle down, and something we haven’t imagined yet will be the next frontier.

My interests lie in the interfaces between presentation of information, language, learning, and ease of use. How can we help our audience absorb new information rapidly in a manner adapted to their varied learning styles, help them formulate the questions whose answers will advance the field, and assist in their research? What new opportunities have we not yet discovered in the move from print on a page to presenting text, video, and speech via the internet?

The struggle, perhaps for all of us, is to ensure that the quotidian doesn’t block imagination.

What are some of the surprises/obstacles that you’ve encountered during your career?

Surprise: Technology—it’s incredibly fun and interesting. Obstacle: Politics—they are arcane, convoluted, and take forever to learn.

What advice would you give to people interested in a career in scholarly communications? What new roles or opportunities do you see emerging in the field?

The skills you need in scholarly communications are not different from those you need in any kind of business. It’s the gratifications that are different.

Here’s the standard advice, and it holds for any field. Become a cultivated, well rounded, and well educated person; learn from whoever you can; look for mentors; ask for advice; and stay current with technology. Make sure everyone knows you’re curious and interested. Volunteer at work, and volunteer for industry organizations—such as SSP, of course, but there are many others. Build a network, not cynically but because you can learn from others in the field, and you can help them learn as well.

Learn more business skills than you expect to need; they will not be wasted. If you have math anxiety, get over it. I returned to school for an MBA as a (very!) mature adult; and it was unbelievably stressful, but also far more rewarding than I could have known at the start. We can’t anticipate all the challenges of the future, and we may not be able to predict the new kinds of positions and roles that will be available to us, but we can prepare by building a skills base that helps us analyze and understand those challenges.

But I want to go back to the gratifications. In scholarly communications, you are helping to build something important. You are assisting academics and science to increase the quality and quantity of scholarship and to advance knowledge. Your organization, or the organizations your employer serves, has a mission other than making money. You can probably make a decent salary in the field, but you won’t get rich; if that’s your goal, go elsewhere. But work in scholarly communications is worthwhile and it makes a difference. It matters. You matter.

Profiled August 2010