2021 Fellow & Mentor Profile
SSP is currently raising $500,000 through the Generations Fund to permanently endow the Fellowship, Mentoring, and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion programs. To demonstrate the impact of these important initiatives, and why they are worthy of your support, we are interviewing past fellows about their program experience. We recently caught up with 2021 Fellow, George Neame (Publishing Executive, BMJ), and his mentor, Elizabeth Lorbeer (Chair and Associate Professor, Department of the Medical Library & Library Director Chair and Associate Professor, Department of the Medical Library & Library Director, Western Michigan University Homer Stryker, M.D. School of Medicine).
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, your work, and your SSP involvement?
Getting into academic publishing was a bit of luck. I was looking for a role in publishing and was offered a role at SAGE Publishing which sounded interesting and which I started to really enjoy. I worked at SAGE Publishing for a year and a half and after that I got the offer to take on a role at BMJ, so that’s where I am now. I like being able to contribute to publishing the latest research, especially when Covid hit and you really start seeing the immediate impact of working in medical publishing. In terms of SSP, I think the fellowship program was suggested by my line manager. BMJ as a company is a member of SSP so we get all the newsletters.
I’ve been a librarian since 1995. In the beginning, as an early-career librarian, I really wanted to understand where the publishers were coming from and see how we could work together. I had an opportunity to work for Scott Plutchak, and he was a member of SSP and he suggested that I attend a meeting. Scott Plutchak is a librarian and he’s deeply involved with scholarly communication. He suggested that I come and speak. I was super nervous, and I was also pregnant at the time, but I went. I had this baby that kicked me during the entire talk!
George, when you first heard of the fellowship and the mentoring program, what were you hoping to get out of it?
The main thing I was hoping to get out of it, which I did, was making new connections: a chance to meet people outside of my own company, my own roles. My day-to-day job involves a lot of communication with people who also work on the same journals as me. But outside of that selection of journals that I work on, I didn’t really have much sense of the bigger picture of what other publishers are doing, what librarians and funders are doing. I also saw it as an opportunity to meet some people in other parts of the globe who were tackling the same issues and the same challenges but maybe doing that in a different way. And I think I was quite lucky that within my own pool of fellows there were people who had different experiences to me and were coming from a different place in their careers. And, of course, the mentoring with Liz has been a really great opportunity—another good chance to speak to someone else who’s got loads of experience and I can learn a lot from.
Liz, was George your first mentoring relationship or did you get involved in mentoring before that?
George was my first mentoring experience. When they reached out to me, I wrote back saying, “you know I don’t work in journal publishing?” I wrote a nice note, saying, I’m the librarian. In the beginning, I thought there was a mistake and I just wanted to be clear about it. I think I even shared my CV. I was for it, but I didn’t want it to be a bad experience for George. SSP insisted it would be fine and they sent me these articles about how to be a good mentor. That was helpful, and I now give them to my students as part of my course!
I’ve learned a lot from George, by the way, that’s been very helpful to me and helpful to my students. Many of my students have met George online and they’re always shocked when they meet George. I don’t tell them anything about George except that he works for BMJ. And when they meet him, they’re like “Oh, wow. He’s the same age we are!” And one of their takeaways is that they don’t know what people look like in publishing. All they see are their mentors, who are editors, and generally more senior in their field. They think that everybody’s like that and I tell them, “No, it’s very diverse! There are people with all different talents and backgrounds.”
What was the relationship like? Were you very structured, or was it more open-ended?
We started by saying it was going to be quite structured and we suggested that we read Scholarly Kitchen articles to prompt discussion, which was helpful. But I think the more that we chatted and got to know each other, it became much easier and more productive to just catch up every few weeks and bring challenges from work to talk through.
George was learning and so was I. I think also there are some great Scholarly Kitchen and Learned Publishing articles out there. A lot of times I would read them, and I would wonder what the publishers think. To be able to ask George was super helpful. And on challenges at work, we face very similar challenges, but we work in two different types of institutions, so it was good to get each other’s viewpoint.
Are you continuing the mentor relationship informally now?
Yeah, I think we have a call tomorrow!
Yeah, I think so! We got to the end of the program and said it’d be really good to keep talking. We’ve reduced the number of calls a bit. It used to be every two weeks and now it’s maybe once a month but it’s still good to stay in touch.
Liz, what would you tell a prospective mentor about the program? What advice would you give them?
I would say don’t be reluctant. Be very open and know that it’s really a win-win. Not only do you grow as a person, but so does your mentee. It’s a good way to give back to SSP. I felt for many years that I’ve only benefitted, but I don’t know how much I give back, so it was nice for me to give back and share my experience. I also think that you meet people, and you learn new things.
George, what advice would you give to a potential fellow or mentee going into either of the programs?
For a fellow in general, my advice would be to get involved in as much as you can and attend all the sessions that are open to you. I know we had, throughout the fellowship, calls with experienced people within SSP who would come in and share their career stories. That was interesting. We have a lot of Zoom calls, and everyone’s got a lot of work going on, so it’s always tempting to see them and go, “This isn’t essential, I don’t have to attend.” But it was worth going every time. I found that useful, and again a good way to see how diverse the industry is.
And the same for when we had the opportunity to do a poster for the SSP conference. I thought that was a valuable experience and well worth my time. I had some suggestions and advice from Liz on that as well, so again a good way of combining the mentorship with the fellowship.
Is there anything else you would like to share about your experiences with the programs, or SSP in general, or scholarly communications?
The fellowship is a great program. I wish when I had started my career, these opportunities were there because I struggled quite a lot in the beginning.