The Board of Editors in the Life Sciences Certification: An Interview with BELS President Susan E Aiello

Two decades. Almost 1,000 certifications.

That’s pretty good for an all-volunteer organization. The Board of Editors in the Life Sciences (BELS) was created 2 decades ago. The group hopes to certify its 1,000th editor this year through its comprehensive multiple-choice test. Susan E Aiello, a veterinarian who became BELS certified after taking one of the first examinations in 1991, is the current president and has great respect for what the founders created. “We’re carrying the mission forward”, she said. “We’re maturing. We’re coming of age as we continue to rely on the groundwork laid by the BELS founders.”

At the heart of BELS is the test. Aiello knows that it can be stressful. “When I took the exam, I remember thinking that it was a very difficult test”, she said. That, she added, is “as it should be”.

BELS requires that those taking the test have a minimum of 2 years of relevant experience. Aiello said that she might even suggest as many as 3 or 4 years, depending on the person and his or her situation. However, too many years away from taking tests can be stressful for someone sitting for the BELS exam; test anxiety might play a role in a candidate’s score even if he or she knows the answers. It’s all a balance, she added.

“If they know their stuff, they should pass the test”, Aiello said, noting that the test does not have “trick” questions and is not designed to mislead a candidate into selecting incorrect answers.

What kind of experience is best? “Candidates with many different backgrounds in liberal arts and the sciences have taken and passed the exam. Each candidate is the best judge of his or her own background and experience”, she said.

The test format is entirely multiple choice. For many years, Aiello served on the committee to develop new examination questions, and she’s confident that a candidate’s knowledge can be effectively judged with multiple-choice questions. “The examination has always been all multiple choice”, she said, explaining that the format allows the tests to be graded objectively and anonymously. She went on to say that the questions themselves are weighted because some are tougher than others. An applicant could probably get all the “easy” questions correct but still not pass the examination. “The examination is of editorial skills, not technical skills”, she continued. “It tests not technical, medical, or scientific knowledge but rather the ability to edit technical language intelligently”.

With the continued growth of BELS, certification is becoming more widely known and accepted. “It is looked for by more and more employers”, she said, adding, “but there’s still a lot of work to be done in educating both editors and those who hire them”.

BELS is centralizing some administrative processes and obtaining administrative support. And Aiello wants to see more involvement by BELS-certified editors in conferences and seminars. “We’d like to see a greater membership role in BELS”, she explained. The 20th-anniversary gathering in Baltimore, MD, at CSE’s annual meeting was its largest yet, she said, and that was a good sign.

“We’ve evolved”, Aiello said. “I’m excited about the future of BELS.”

TERESA M MELCHER is editor of SelfPublishing Press.

oct dec 2011 examination