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Randy Townsend

Director, Publications Operations, American Geophysical Union


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

My journey began in a close-knit slice of central New Jersey, nestled among small-town values and big city dreams. I grew up playing team sports and curiously chasing the 5 “W’s” and the big “H” (who, what, when, where, why and How) everywhere I went. I won my first award for poetry in the second grade and have been in love with semantics ever since. By high school, I was publishing my first stories for the school newspaper. Later, I launched an entertainment company with three partners, providing me with the opportunity to execute leadership development workshops (and sneak in a little spoken word) at colleges and universities across the United States. Now I reside in the DC Metro area, where I apply a background in journalism and entrepreneurship, degrees in Communication and Publishing to the scholarly publishing industry.

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

My first role in scholarly publishing was as a production coordinator at AGU. I started as a temp, and quickly developed an appreciation for the direction the organization was growing towards. I also enjoyed applying previous skills to this new position. Through a major reorganization, I was able to reinvent my role and pivot into positions that allowed me to demonstrate leadership, creative discipline, and professional integrity. 14 years later, I still very much love what I do.

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

I am currently responsible for publishing operations at the American Geophysical Union (AGU), the world’s largest Earth and space science organization. In this role, I’m fortunate to lead an amazing team of professionals that support about 700 editorial board members through all aspects of publication. Additionally, I manage misconduct and ethical allegations in partnership with the Senior VP of Ethics, Diversity and Inclusion. I partner with a wide range of AGU leadership to ensure marketing efforts align with strategic vision, inclusive engagement remains at the forefront of our efforts, and that our premier publications are prepared to navigate industry disruption.

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

I’ve been fortunate to have a number of really great mentors that have provided guidance throughout my career. There was a time where I was really frustrated as a production coordinator, feeling that many of my ideas weren’t valued. Maxine Aldred was the first supervisor that took my ideas seriously, and, together, were able to accomplish several strategic goals for the department. Barbara Myers-Ford has always been an inspiring mentor in scholarly publishing and the Masters in Publishing program at George Washington University really helped shape my career. In the world of ethics, Chris McEntee, Brooks Hanson and Billy Williams have demonstrated inspiring strategic leadership that I will always attempt to emulate.

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

I regularly make use of the training modules in LinkedIn Learning, particularly around management. I find a lot of value in SSP Webinar series and the insightfulness of The Scholarly Kitchen posts. I encourage my team to view and read that content. They really spark ideas that drive productive conversations. Additionally, CSE and ISMTE have always provided engaging programming and stimulating discussions that have been useful throughout my career.

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

Reorganizing AGU’s publishing operations was a tremendous surprise. When I joined AGU, we were publishing in-house. The organization’s decision to partner with a commercial publisher made me realize the importance of being prepared for change. Change is the new norm, and I encourage my team to always think ahead. Explore new ways to support our authors and editors. New ways to recruit, train, retain and diversify our peer reviewers and editorial boards. Remaining flexible and being respectful enough to attempt new things has not only strengthened the teamwork among my staff, but allowed us to lead in the areas of open data, diversity, equity and inclusion.

What do you wish you knew more about?

I wish I had more time to spend on the books side of scholarly publishing. I’ve always been immersed in the journals, from peer review through production and publication. I’ve participated in launching journals and flipping a journal from subscription to OA. I think there’s an entire world to explore on that side of the fence.

What advice would you give to people interested in a career in scholarly communications?

Stay flexible and current. Pay attention to the trends and how they affect your content, stakeholders and products. Stay in conversation with our community of scholarly publishers. Network as much as possible. Enjoy the potential of our industry.