Nanotech NYC and the Nanotech Alliance sit down with professionals from different areas of the scientific and nanotechnology world, to explore topical subjects of interest for the Nanotech NYC community through the lens of an expert. Today we speak with Dr. Maria Maragkou, Senior Editor at Nature Materials, to discuss the challenges and opportunities of a career as a science editor, the transition outside of academic research from a Ph.D. degree, and some of the defining moments of her professional journey.
Dr. Maragkou earned an MEng in electrical and computer engineering from the University of Patras, Greece, and a Ph.D. in physics in 2010 from the University of Southampton, UK. She is currently based in the London office.
Thanks to Francesco Lavini for the help in drawing up the questions and editing the article.
Tell us about your professional journey so far.
I studied electrical and computer engineering in Greece and then moved to the UK to work on the physics of exciton-polaritons in semiconductor quantum wells as a spectroscopist for my Ph.D. I then worked on quantum optics with individual quantum dots as a postdoc - I spent two years in Universidad Autonoma de Madrid and two in the Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris. In 2014 I moved back to the UK to be a Locum Editor for Nature Photonics - it was a maternity cover position - and then in 2015, I moved to Nature Materials where I took over all the manuscripts related to photonics, plasmonics, phononics. And I am still there!
What does a normal working day look like for you?
My day begins with checking emails whilst drinking my morning coffee; a good day starts with an email saying “Yes, I agree to review this paper”. Then I have a never-ending to-do list, so I take a pick. A large part of our job is assessing manuscripts and deciding whether they fit the scope and standards of Nature Materials. As such, I always have new submissions waiting to be assessed or in need of reviewers. There are revised manuscripts responding to the issues raised by the reviewers, and authors requesting we reconsider a negative decision -either before or after peer-review. As you can see, manuscripts need attention at different moments during their time with us.
Apart from new research articles, we are also commissioning pieces like Reviews, Commentaries, News&Views meant to make our primary research content accessible to non-experts. As a journal, we are looking to represent all the materials community, from chemists to physicists, from biologists to engineers. I spend time looking at the literature and the latest developments, contacting potential authors and reviewers or editing the pieces. At the same time, since we are a monthly journal, we have strict deadlines from Production about submitting our final content, so we always have to respect those, when writing Editorials for example. There was also a time in the not-so-distant past (Ed. before the Covid-19 pandemic), that we were attending - or even organizing - conferences or giving seminars about the Nature family and scientific publishing in general. Or doing lab visits to talk to researchers directly. Being so close to the communities we are looking after is a very important and rewarding part of our job, which is now maybe evolving into something different because of the pandemic - we have to wait and see really.
So, there is no “normal” day, every day I do and learn something different!
What drove you to start as a science editor? What were the key factors that drove your decisions?
It was mostly curiosity I would say; publishing is such an important part of our training in academia and yet to me, it felt like a black box. I hadn’t interacted with any editors in person to get some insight or advice on science publishing, and as is still the case for many I believe, I didn’t really understand the criteria behind the editorial assessments. I admit I was starting to get a bit tired of life in the lab and I was looking for a break. My position at Nature Photonics was meant to be for 6 months so I thought it was a great opportunity to see what happens on the other side and then return to academia with all this inside information! I was for example positively impressed when I realized that our journals have no hidden agenda in terms of the topic selection. But I really enjoyed my time there and I was lucky to be able to find a permanent position in that same environment.
How was the process of becoming an editor? What advice would you give someone who wants to become an editor like yourself, for their job application?
The process is very straightforward. There is an opening for a position related to your expertise, asking for a CV, cover letter and an essay on a particular topic, usually a research area of your choice that you deem exciting - preferably not the area you work in. I think at the time I wrote about 2D materials.
Then, the candidates that are shortlisted receive a few manuscripts to assess at home within a week. The final step is the interview face to face. The first part is pretty much standard for any job: related to your career path, aspirations, interest in scientific publishing and the workings of the journal. The second part is a bit scarier, the in-situ assessment of a couple of manuscripts in a limited amount of time: should it go out to review or not? I remember I had enough time to just read the papers and maybe take some notes. The point is to test the reasoning and argumentation behind the decision, in real life, there are no time constraints in assessing a paper. We take as long as it takes to make an informed and justified decision.
A good editor is a science junkie, they love reading and writing about science in the broader sense, they love learning new things. It is important that this universal interest, beyond the narrow topic of our training as Ph.D. students or even postdocs is being reflected in the application.
What do you feel are the biggest challenges in approaching and pursuing a career as a science editor?
The transition from researcher to an editor at the beginning is rather brutal, we go from knowing a narrow topic relatively well to assessing manuscripts that cover a significantly broader scope. But assessing i