Search Close Search
Search Close Search
Page Menu

IndEx Blog

Meet the Alumni Series - Amanda Monahan, PhD

Tuesday, May 01, 2018
By:  Kyle Foster


Self-reflect, put yourself out there and realize that your success in breaking into industry falls on you and you alone!"

“I came into my postdoc on a straight path to academia and, already early on, I was able to strengthen my CV substantially to achieve my career objective. However, as soon as I began questioning whether I truly wanted a professorship, I decided to see what else was out there. I opened this door, not because I definitively knew I was going to leave academia, but more to see if anything out there was able to excite me beyond academia.”Amanda Monahan, PhD, a former postdoc of the Department of Medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases and Immunology, now works at Cell Press (part of RELX Elsevier) as a Scientific Editor for Cell Host & Microbe. 

What is the role of a scientific editor?

Scientific editors work as an interface between unpublished and published science, with a goal to put out the most robust and impactful science possible. A lot happens after the manuscript submission to a journal, which determines whether the paper will undergo peer review or not. Once a study is sent out for peer review, the collaboration between corresponding author, editor(s) and reviewers begins. Sometimes, editor-author communication may be tough and not as positive as one might prefer. Either way, a key part of a scientific editor’s job is clear, timely, respectful/polite and intelligent communication with authors and reviewers. Editors are also required to develop and commission reviews, recruit manuscripts and stay on top of the various relevant fields. These all are essential to ensure that the journal is publishing timely and cutting-edge research. Furthermore, a scientific editor reviews pieces before publication, collaborates with editors from other journals and maintain various forms of communication with the scientific and non-scientific community.

What brought you to the decision of pursuing a career as a scientific editor?

While attending workshops for career development and conversing with people, I took time to self-reflect on what were the pros and cons of continuing on an academic track, my strengths and weaknesses, my interests and goals. The prospect of becoming a scientific editor was very appealing to me since the job fits the key strengths that supported me through a successful scientific career. Importantly, I have a penchant for writing, editing and, since graduate school, I have been peer reviewing papers (and always found it enjoyable!). From there, I continued to self-reflect to make sure I was ready to make the jump. And, once I was firm on my decision, I never looked back. I also applied to non-scientific editing positions. The job market is extremely competitive and these positions could have eventually helped me to transition into scientific editing. However, despite getting some interesting job offers, I didn’t find anything as exciting as the prospect of becoming a scientific editor.

What resources at UMass Chan Medical School or outside eased the transition into your present role?

I went to career workshops that are supported by UMass Chan Medical School groups (e.g. Association for Women in ScienceAWIS). This is a great way to learn about career options that one might not think of, meet people, ask questions and hear answers to questions you might not know you had. The Center for Biomedical Career Development at UMass Chan Medical School (particularly for me, Cynthia Fuhrmann) is a great resource. Once I decided that I wanted to pursue a career in scientific editing, I reached out to Cynthia for assistance. I knew the expectations and interview process for an academic position, but I realized I was not at all sure of a non-academic job. I met with Cynthia regularly for several months. I discussed with her specific topics, practiced interview questions and got feedback on writing a non-academic resume. She is very thoughtful and after discussing my roles, experiences and expectations, she gave me also suggestions of alternative job types I may be interested in. My top choice obviously worked out, but I ended up having other great job offers that I would not have otherwise thought of! She is extremely helpful, knowledgeable and supportive. Whether considering a career in academia or an industry position, I highly recommend to reach out to Cynthia (or someone else at the Center for Biomedical Career Development) for assistance.

I am fortunate and grateful to still have a solid relationship with my PhD advisor in Baltimore. I was able to discuss with her my thoughts of pursuing a career alternative to academia. When I made my decision, she was very supportive throughout the application and interview process. She was also willing to read through my cover letters and supply a necessary support system.

Is there any advice you would like to share with the UMass Chan Medical School fellows interested in pursuing a non-academic position?

I think there are three main points of advice I could give. Firstself-reflect, no matter how difficult it may be. Spend a considerable amount of time putting thoughts into the roles of your current position that you like or less like. Be realistic in terms of what your strengths and weaknesses are. Think of what you want to achieve in your career. Look at any career option that aligns with these factors. This will help guide you to appropriate job options and aid a more successful application process. Secondput yourself out there: build up a network, attend career workshops, and find career advisors. Thirdrealize that your success in breaking into industry falls on you and you alone. I think this is the most important point. Going into industry is not a backup plan to academia. For example, scientific editors led a highly successful bench career before choosing not to become an editor. As such, it is up to you to tailor your professional development appropriately for the job type in which you are interested, while being highly successful at your current job. For instance, if you are a postdoc, industry search committees are still going to look at your productivity at the bench (e.g. publications and fellowships), as well as whether your expertise aligns with the job requirements, your ability to work independently and with a team and your ability to work efficiently and effectively in a way that will allow you and your team to continue to progress/develop.