A summer internship at the RAS

Image of the RAS editorial team in the Council Room at Burlington House
The RAS Journals editorial team, summer 2017. Back row, from left to right: Claire Williams, Bella Lock, Morgan Hollis, Alyssa Drake. Front row, from left to right: Nush Cole, Anna Evripidou, Yasmin Chowdhury, Kim Clube.

Yasmin Chowdhury joined the team at Burlington House over the summer – and discovered what it takes to get papers into the journals and science out to policy-makers.

 

I have always been interested in science from a young age. I find that there’s something uniquely gratifying about learning physics although I can’t say I fully understand it! I’ve been lucky enough to spend my summer interning at the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS), an amazing place filled to the brim with exciting relics and a fantastic historical library. I got to work on numerous projects as an assistant editor and policy intern. Most of all, I got to see the behind-the-scenes action with the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (MNRAS) editorial team.

During my time here, I’ve seen that the assistant editors are essentially the caretakers of manuscripts; they ensure that each one is reviewed on time and that the author is given constructive feedback on how to revise their paper. All the assistant editors put in an enormous amount of effort into each manuscript submission – even those that are rejected – and they continuously carry out checks to maintain the high quality of the journal. They also have to sort out any technical difficulties with submissions while keeping the author in the loop. Essentially the system is that a paper is submitted and checked for possible plagiarism (beware: there’s a lot more checks to come!) then assigned to a scientific editor. Each assistant editor has roughly 4 editors to support – this means that they are responsible for all of the papers assigned to those editors and have to make sure each paper goes through the review process correctly. They check on, for example, the abstract, references, supplementary online material and figures to make sure the submission meets the journal guidelines. On top of that, they also manage press releases and make sure those important papers get the attention they deserve. The emails come in regardless of whether it’s a weekday or weekend or even at night so Mondays are very busy! But they plough through and respond to authors as quick as possible. There is no way to fully describe how much work is put into publishing academic articles and how everyone involved truly believes in the importance of original research in the scientific community. I have the upmost respect for all the assistant editors and editors at RAS – I realised during my time spent here how difficult it is!

We also went to visit the Society's publshers, Oxford University Press, where we learnt more about the production process and what happens to submissions once they're accepted. It was a lovely and informative trip where a lot of questions about production were asked. Effectively the manuscript has to go through further stages of production where it is sent to typesetters who check and amend it according to journal style. What I learnt was that the journey a paper has to go through from being submitted and being published is a long arduous one which requires a lot of care from everyone involved.

As a policy intern I saw how instrumental policy is in institutions and how it is important that they are closely related to MPs so that science will always be at the forefront of government policy. I created a database that linked institutions and companies with their corresponding MP, AM, MSP, MEP and last but not least London Assembly Member. I included their interests and positions so that personalised letters could then be sent to them. The aim was to further the relations between the RAS and MPs where attention was brought to pioneering research done in the UK which has had a positive impact on the economy.

I’ve learnt a lot and have found this experience to be truly rewarding. I’m not very good at writing; I am a physics graduate after all! But I think I can safely say that you really can’t meet friendlier people than here. I’m off to study and I hope that eventually I’ll be able to fully understand all the articles I’ve seen!

 

Article originally published 23 October 2017, author Dr Sue Bowler, on the A&G Forum