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Sai Konda

Senior Managing Editor, Publications, American Chemical Society

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

I hail from a coastal city in south-east India called Visakhapatnam (also referred to as Vizag), featuring a natural harbor and surrounded by hills and the ocean. I relocated further south, around the Bangalore region, to purse my bachelor and master’s degrees in chemistry. A move to the US was motivated by a strong interest in doctoral research studies, accompanied by an ever-present desire to travel, and learn from different cultures. I landed east of the Great Smoky Mountains in Johnson City to pursue a second master’s degree at East Tennessee State University. A robust graduate program and the appeal of Austin drew me to the University of Texas for my Ph.D., followed by postdoctoral research at the University of Delaware. I transitioned to the publishing industry as a Managing Editor at the American Chemical Society (ACS), and lived in the Washington D.C. area for three years. I am now based in Austin, TX, and work remotely for the ACS.

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

I am a Senior Managing Editor in the Global Journals Development, Publications Division, at the American Chemical Society. I am responsible for the strategic and financial management of journals in the nanoscience and physical chemistry portfolios. I also supervise a team of Managing/Development Editors facilitating the peer-review process and the day-to-day functioning of the journals.

I have been involved with SSP since 2017 in various roles: as a former Early Career Fellow, past co-chair of the Early-Career Subcommittee, and currently serve as a Member on SSP’s Board of Directors and Executive Committee. I also volunteer on the Career Development, Community Engagement, and Education Committees, and have contributed content in The Scholarly Kitchen through my association with the early-career community.

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

My career in scholarly publishing began as a serendipitous alternative to research in the chemical industry. Multiple roadblocks associated with finding a job in the chemical industry (immigration and visa issues being at the forefront) made me consider “alternate careers” in science. The publishing industry held a strong appeal as I could still be connected with science and make meaningful contributions to the discovery and dissemination of important research. I had experienced the ‘other side’ of publishing as an author and a reviewer as a graduate student and a postdoctoral researcher. My first job following graduate school was serving as a Managing Editor in the Publications Division of the American Chemical Society.

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

Receiving the SSP Early Career Fellowship was a critical moment, and undoubtedly, the greatest benefit was being introduced to my mentor – Lauren Kane, CSO of Morressier, and the Past President of SSP. Having transitioned from academia, this was my first interaction with a senior executive of an organization. All credit to Lauren for easing my nerves in the first call, and I never felt the gulf between our professional levels. She has been a source of constant support, and I greatly benefited from her invaluable advice on a wide spectrum of topics.

I was also fortunate to cross paths early in my publishing career with Adrian Stanley, Managing Director at Digital Science, and also the Past President of SSP. In a way, he was my first mentor at SSP, who not only encouraged me to apply for the fellowship, but has been a catalyst in strengthening my ties with the society. It was his encouragement and advice that led to increased volunteering in the various committees at SSP.

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

SSP has great resources – be it thoughtful posts in The Scholarly Kitchen, or the informative educational programs, to the varied sessions in the annual or regional meetings – they have been my primary resource on the latest in the publishing industry. In addition to reading the Learned Publishing (whose access is a great benefit of an SSP membership), I am also subscribed to several listservs, and follow relevant conversations on platforms such as Twitter and LinkedIn. Volunteering in SSP’s committees, and by extension, networking with professionals, exchanging ideas, and learning from their experience has also been critical to my career development.

What do you wish you knew more about?

There is a never-ending list of what I want to learn more about – be it the latest scientific research in multiple disciplines of chemistry, to my personal interest in learning more about general history, history of science, and a broad spectrum of topics. I find genuine happiness in learning something new, no matter how trivial, or revisiting and re-learning scientific concepts that’s been forgotten over time. To partially quote the Nobel Laureate physicist, Richard Feynman: “The prize is in the pleasure of finding the thing out, the kick in the discovery…….”

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

The publishing industry has a dynamic ecosystem that offers a broad range of opportunities for professionals from different backgrounds – scientific, technology-oriented, marketing, sales, editorial, and many more. Whether you are looking to start a career in scholarly publishing or transitioning jobs within the industry, it’s important to have firm belief in one’s abilities and the transferability of skill sets. While a certain degree of technical knowledge is a basic requirement for any job, developing soft skills such as time management, interpersonal communications, and critical thinking are essential elements to professional development. Adaptability is also a key attribute, more so in the current scenario when the pandemic has forced everyone outside their comfort zones and having to respond to different situations in a unique way. Finally, the value of networking cannot be stressed enough. It can be as varied as an informal conversation on a topic of interest, to posing questions, and interacting with peers and experts at conferences. It goes a long way in not just building a successful career, but finding connections who might turn out to be your life-long friends and mentors.

Connect with Sai on LinkedIn.