‘Life on the other side’: from PhD to publishing placement

An interview with Tom Jenkins, PhD researcher in Molecular Ecology and Evolution from Exeter University

tom-jenkins-useThe NERC GW4+ Partnership brings together ten of the UK’s leading research institutions in natural and environmental science. Its Doctoral Training Program aims to equip PhD students with the skills to be world leaders in Earth and Environmental Sciences, through placements, training and support activities. As one of the partner organizations, Taylor & Francis recently organized a month-long work placement in journal publishing for Tom Jenkins, a PhD student from Exeter University. The partnership gave Taylor & Francis an insight into what researchers can gain from work placements in publishing, while Tom learned skills that he believes will be transferable to his PhD and future career.

“I thought, ‘I wonder what it’s like on the other side… being the person who receives the papers”

I got my degree in marine biology at Swansea University before going to Imperial College to do a masters in biodiversity and genomics. Now I’ve combined the two and I’m doing a PhD in conservation genetics. I went to a GW4 Associate Partners event in January of my first year and Taylor & Francis were doing a presentation. I thought, “I wonder what it’s like on the other side; not being an author but being the person who receives the papers”. That interested me.

“Clearly a lot of thought has been put into how a placement should be for a PhD student.”

I like the structure of the placement – clearly a lot of thought has been put into how a placement should be for a PhD student. Working in a team environment really opened my eyes as you can get a little caught up in your own bubble working on your PhD. My position was an editorial assistant but I was also given a project to scout out an idea for starting a new journal. Matt Cannon, Publisher in Earth and Environmental Science, was keen to let me get on with it to see how a researcher would tackle these problems. I also did a few mini-projects and visited Paul Taylor, editor of the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology, who took me through what it’s like to be a journal editor.

“It’s been good for me to interact with non-academics and it’s definitely helped me to describe my PhD in a way that’s more engaging for people who aren’t specialists in the field.”

It’s been good for me to interact with non-academics and it’s definitely helped me to describe my PhD in a way that’s more engaging for people who aren’t specialists in the field. I’ve noticed that if I babble on about conservation genetics people tune out, but if I talk about how I’m looking at lobster sustainability and coral conservation people seem interested. I think when I have results it will be crucial to present those not just at the academic conferences, but at the small scale public events, like in the National Lobster Hatchery. I think that it would be useful to government as well. I want my research to impact the marine protected area network that we have – that’s the ultimate aim.

“It opened my eyes to the fact that you do have transferable skills”

Having done this placement, I’ll definitely consider applying for jobs in publishing. It’s been a great break at a perfect location in my PhD. It opened my eyes to the fact that you do have transferable skills that can be applied to the work environment. I think that it’s great to have the opportunity to work for a big, professional company and I doubt that many companies have such a well thought-out internship.


Read more about Tom’s research at Exeter University.