Crafting Your Career (CYC) | 19 Informational Interview with Zeba Khatri — Scientific Editing

Crafting your Career Episode 19

This is the twelfthinformational interview” in the season on Crafting your Career in science. Here IndiaBioscience chats with Zeba Khatri, a Managing Editor at Cactus Communications. In this conversation, she discusses her journey as a scientific editor and insights into the field- a professional space where she has donned multiple hats.

(Note to listeners: This recording was done during the COVID-19 lockdown over a zoom meeting call. This has resulted in a slightly diminished audio quality with some mild disturbances in the recording, compared to a studio-quality recording.)

[00:00:00] — - Intro 

You’re listening to IndiaBiospeaks, your one-stop resource for science, news, and careers.

[00:00:11] — Shantala Hari Dass 

Welcome everyone to our show on Crafting Your Career’ in science. We are continuing our series with bonus episodes on informational interviews with science professionals and exciting fields. Here, we feature a very popular and growing career path, that of a scientific editor. Today we are in conversation with Zeba Khatri, a managing editor at Cactus communications who has dawned different hats in this professional space. Thank you for joining us, Zeba.

[00:00:39] — Zeba Khatri 

Thank you so much for the introduction, Shantala. I feel very privileged.

[segue music]

[00:00:50] — Shantala Hari Dass

So let us start at the beginning. Can you tell us about your career path and how did you get to your current position?

[00:00:56] — Zeba Khatri

I always knew that I wanted a career allied with science communication. My master’s degree was mostly research-based and I worked in the lab. I’d often edit manuscripts during that time. Papers my lab mates were working on, abstracts and thesis they’d worked on, and so on. So when I realized that this was a career option, I was quite excited. So when I found out that there was a company called Cactus that edited papers written by non-native English speakers and helped them get published in international journals, I applied quite readily. And then I joined them as a senior associate editor. In this role, I ran thorough quality checks on edited manuscripts, to ensure that they met our clients’ requirements. A year later, a new opportunity presented itself and I took over as the managing editor for a couple of teams in medicine. In this new role, I started overseeing operational tasks for my teams as a whole.

[segue music]

[00:02:01] — Shantala Hari Dass

Grab opportunities as they come your way. A valuable takeaway from a prolific journey. Thank you for sharing this with us, Zeba. Could we now switch gears to the present and take a deeper look at the different aspects of your current position? As a managing editor, how does your position fit within both the career trajectory for editors in general and Cactus and specific?

[00:02:23] — Zeba Khatri

The editing industry itself works in very different ways. Some editors work independently on a freelance or part-time basis with individual clients or with companies like Cactus. On the other hand, companies like ours, like Cactus, work with a large set of independent editors who are generally spread out across the world. People usually join Cactus as associate editors and then they move on to being senior associate editors and then assistant managing editors and managing editors. Of course, their roles change with these vertical transformations.

[00:02:59] — Shantala Hari Dass

And what are the main responsibilities of the editors and the in-house teams?

[00:03:04] — Zeba Khatri

We’re a service industry and our clients aren’t native English speakers, which is why they have trouble getting their papers published in big international journals. First and foremost, an editor’s job is to transform their papers into a state where they appear to have been written by a native speaker and have no language errors. Of course, editors also need to ensure that the scientific integrity of the paper and the author’s intended meaning isn’t compromised. Editors, therefore, need a perfect blend of language skills, subject area knowledge, and very importantly, a keen eye for detail. At Cactus, we want to ensure that our clients only get the best. So after an edit is complete, our in-house team, associate editors, senior associate editors, and sometimes even assistant managing editors and managing editors run thorough checks to ensure that the manuscript is indeed client ready. If it isn’t, we fill the gaps so that the client’s papers are ready for submission and then we also pass feedback to the editor who worked on that assignment. In addition to that, senior associate editors are also involved in receiving feedback from clients and also solving their grievances. Now that I am a managing editor, my role is more multi-faceted. My direct involvement is in client work is limited to very important client segments. My goals are more overarching, so it’s kind of like being the CEO of a really small company if I can call it that. I plan and execute various strategies to make sure that all clients receive top-quality work. And that our team is healthy and happy among other things.

[segue music]

[00:04:55] — Shantala Hari Dass

Scientific editing is indeed an exciting and dynamic field. Now that we have a better picture of the field, can you tell us what a typical deal looks like for you? What are some of the decisions and tasks that come your way?

[00:05:08] — Zeba Khatri

So, like I mentioned before, the main role of an editor is to ensure that an author’s lack of familiarity with the language doesn’t become a barrier to publication. Everything an editor does, from language correction to providing suggestions on how something can be presented better speaks to the school. As a managing editor, my day-to-day tasks involve planning and strategizing, but also answering questions from editors and my team, problem-solving to make sure clients get their files on time without quality being compromised, mentoring and guiding new editors, and so on. While an editor works on maybe two to three projects a day, as a managing editor, I’m responsible for the delivery of around a hundred or more projects in a day, in addition to juggling all the responsibilities I mentioned earlier.

[segue music]

[00:06:05] — Shantala Hari Dass

That really painted a very comprehensive picture of daily working and the scope for growth in the editorial field. Now taking a step back, what do you like most about your work?

[00:06:16] — Zeba Khatri

I’ve been doing this for more than three years now, and there are several things about the role and the industry that I really enjoy. First, you get exposure to the latest research in the field. You’re reading a lot of unpublished material and learning more about fields you may not directly have been associated with before. I did my master’s in neuroscience, but at Cactus, I also learned that I was really fascinated with epidemiology. The industry is also competitive, so there’s also that agenda and rush. This is also a great option for people who wish to pursue remote work. You can do it from anywhere in the world as long as you have a computer and an internet connection. A lot of working parents and travel bugs particularly enjoy this. As a managing editor. I also find that no two days are the same. I also love that I get to interact with people from all over the world. But all that said, I do miss reading as many papers as before.

[00:07:14] — Shantala Hari Dass

And on the flip side, what is the most challenging part of your work?

[00:07:19] — Zeba Khatri

I mentioned earlier that the industry is competitive while that’s exciting, it can also be stressful sometimes because we work with very tight deadlines. One, time management needs to be extremely spot on. Anyone needs to be able to make quick decisions under pressure

[00:07:40] — Shantala Hari Dass

For anyone who’s interested in this field, what do you think are the current issues and trends that they should be aware of? Any fields that are actively growing in your opinion?

[00:07:50] — Zeba Khatri

With the current focus on medical research, the demand for editors with medical expertise is growing. Even if one doesn’t have a medical background, but a basic knowledge of biology, one can take courses online, familiarize oneself with medical terminology, and then pursue editing in these fields.

[00:08:10] — Shantala Hari Dass

And from your experience, is this an actively recruiting field?

[00:08:15] — Zeba Khatri

As more and more editors aim to make their research global, the demand for editors and editing services grows. Authors are starting to look for not just editing, but also assistance with manuscript formatting, journal, selection, et cetera. However, this is subject to factors such as funding allocation and government policies, especially in the current environment.

[segue music]

[00:08:44] — Shantala Hari Dass

All of this sounds very promising for someone who’s interested in scientific editing, especially in the current times. In terms of readying oneself for a career and scientific editing, what kind of accomplishments tend to be valued?

[00:08:57] — Zeba Khatri

There are some basics. A strong grasp or understanding of written English and grammar and a knowledgeable field is essential. Like I mentioned before, a keen eye for detail is also imperative. All of these can be built through participation in science communication courses and through science communication internships. Apart from that understanding of the publication process, having research experience and publications and having peer review experience helps. There are also some certifications such as BELS, also called the Board of Editors in the Life Sciences certificate that can come in handy.

[00:09:39] — Shantala Hari Dass

And so moving forward, how does one prepare to enter this field? And from your experience, is there an optimum stage to do this, such as masters, PhD, postdoc, etc.?

[00:09:50] — Zeba Khatri

So there’s no definite prep that one can do to enter this field of editing. But I would say that editing isn’t as easy as it sounds. People enter at all stages, masters, PhD, postdoc. Some edit on a freelance basis while pursuing their PhDs or postdocs too. There are platforms such as Kolabtree, where clients come to look for experts to handle their projects. You could join such platforms. Networking on sites such as LinkedIn could also be a way to see the industry landscape and find jobs. A good way to kickstart your career and ensure a steady flow of income is to join a company like Cactus that will also invest in your skills and career growth.

[00:10:39] — Shantala Hari Dass

Thank you very much, Zeba for giving us a sneak peek into your career journey and a glimpse at the triumphs and tribulations of being a scientific editor. It’s been a pleasure chatting with you. Thank you all for joining us in this episode on Crafting Your Career’ in science. If you found it helpful, do leave us a comment, subscribe, and share this with your network. .We’ll catch you at a future podcast. Until then, goodbye from IndiaBiospeaks.

[00:11:06] — Outro

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