Patty Baskin is the executive editor of the Neurology journals, including two well-renowned print journals, two open-access online-only sub-specialty journals, three international editions, two curated collection blogs, and a highly successful podcast. Patty undertook management of Neurology in 2007. The extensive list of related publications and products were all established under the innovative leadership of Baskin in the executive editor role.
The position of executive editor has increased in prevalence over the last 6 to 7 years. An executive editor is more than a managing editor (Fig. 1), with the responsibility of directing multiple journals and required high-level thinking (rather than in-the-weeds routine submissions and publishing operations). Further, it is not the function of the executive editor to decide a journal’s content, but to act as an adjunct to the editor-in-chief whose primary responsibility is content (Fig. 1). Baskin describes the position as the hub of a wheel—the key contact for everyone contributing to the publications. This central location allows Baskin to set the tone for the journals’ business: collaborating with editors to help establish a journals’ vision and mission, and strategizing how to reach those goals. It is her job to use strategic planning to create growth (e.g., launching sub-specialty journals), to keep up with the changing needs of scientific publishing (e.g., open access), and to establish and uphold the journals’ policies. At its core, the business of the journal is the foremost responsibility of the executive editor position.
The “business” of a journal covers many duties, including (but not limited to) upholding policy, strategic planning/decisions, upholding scientific integrity, problem solving, staying at the forefront of publication trends/innovation, leadership, and team building. It is the editorial team the executive editor builds and leads that works in the weeds of publication and ensures excellence in the resulting product. “Team building for an executive editor is really important,” Baskin stresses. “You can have the vision, you can outline the plans, but when it comes to execution . . . the team are the people who do it.” This role requires inspiring leadership. A passionate, inviting, and encouraging leader who orchestrates and mentors staff and editors alike will produce an excellent product by the excellence she inspires. The crucial component to all these responsibilities is, unarguably, communication.
Communication between editors, editorial staff, vendors, the host/partnering society, and the publishing industry is the expertise of an executive editor. In Baskin’s opinion, the most essential communication is networking. The established network of an executive editor allows her to keep up with publishing trends. In the competitive environment of publication, networking provides a necessary assist to stay in the lead as a journal and as a professional. Baskin identifies networking as the means to a wealth of opportunities: the ability to reach out to others with problems, to learn alongside others, to receive advice, to advance your career, and to watch and stay ahead of journal trends. Networking is important leading up to the position of executive editor and even more so once in the position. “It’s not suddenly that you get to executive editor and then you start checking out what is going on; you’ve been doing that for years and you’ve been learning,” says Baskin. From talking and problem solving with direct colleagues to attending conferences specific to science publishing, there are many networking opportunities at any stage of a career, allowing anyone aspiring to be an executive editor to begin immediately.
Education is typically the start of any trajectory. Baskin stepped into publishing after obtaining a Bachelor of Science in Biology and Physiology and a Master of Science in Genetics from the University of California, Berkeley. After working several years in science laboratories, she began pick-up work in editing, writing, and preparing papers for publication in specific journals, which solidified her interest in pursuing a career in scientific publishing. Educational pursuits are unique to each person, with many publishing professionals receiving a bachelor’s degree in English, journalism, or communications. Baskin views her scientific education background as insider knowledge. She knows the scientific academic environment and understands the perspective of submitting authors. Further, she feels comfortable working with scientists and is not intimidated by their academic achievements. A science background, in Baskin’s words, “increases the credibility that I have with scientists right away, because they know that I’m not naïve about science and science research.” While helpful, a science background is not necessary to pursue a career in scientific publishing. In fact, most scientific publishing professionals learn on the job and gain their own form of confidence in working with highly credentialed authors and editors.
Baskin’s science education did lack the publishing credibility needed to pursue her interest, so she enrolled in a one-year Scientific Technical Writing and Editing course. The certificate course provided tools and opened doors in her chosen profession, including her first position as the associate managing editor of the American Journal of Human Genetics. Most entering publishing will begin at an entry-level position, such as an editorial assistant, but then fate and intentional persistence play a hand.
The road to becoming an executive editor requires dedication and passion to learn more, network more, and be open to any opportunity that presents itself. Sometimes, it can be as simple as being in the right place at the right time, but even that involves finding your way to that right place. To hold the responsibilities of an executive editor, a prospective candidate must seek out opportunities to gain more responsibility and find ways to valuably contribute. “Focus on learning what you can as early as you can; that means going to meetings, networking, talking with other people, being willing to learn from the mentors you have around you,” says Baskin. Opportunities abound in today’s global world, starting within the office (e.g., what isn’t being done that could be done?) to mentoring programs, such as those provided by the Council of Science Editors. The key is to always pursue continued learning.
Understanding the ins and outs of modern publishing is only the beginning. As previously mentioned, a future executive editor should take actions like those required in the positon: staying open to new ideas, seeing what is and what could be, being brave in the face of innovations, and not setting limitations. With a positive attitude and an eagerness to learn, the pathway to executive editor is there for the taking, and what a pathway it is! The experience required prior to the position, and within the position itself, provides a strong foundation for many career moves. Baskin shared that her experience as an executive editor has opened the door to many realms of business. Indeed, the future is bright viewed from the office of an executive editor.
Andrea R Rahkola is the production editor of Neurology at the American Academy of Neurology in Minneapolis, Minnesota.