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Talking My Way into a Lancet Editorial Internship
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The POSTDOCket

Volume 15, Issue 1 (January 2017)

Greer Arthur

 

Applying for an internship with an esteemed company is typically a lengthy process, but it can also start with a quick and easy handshake.

 

Halfway through graduate school, I started to mull over my post-Ph.D. job options. Rather dismayed by a set of failed experiments, I toyed with the idea of leaving the lab altogether. Eventually I decided to explore the world of scientific publishing.

 

My doctoral project was based in a clinical research department at a hospital in Leicester, United Kingdom, and focused on  translational medicine. Hoping my research experience would make me a good candidate, I narrowed my selection of publishers and journals to those who specialized in either clinical or translational medicine. The list was long and there were plenty of reputable places to choose from. The Lancet, a leading medical journal, was at the top of my list. At the time, my knowledge of journal rankings was minimal, but since The Lancet was held in such high esteem by all my academic superiors, I thought that this was the publisher I could learn from.

 

I’d never noticed any advertisements for temporary internships with journals, so I wasn’t immediately certain which route of action to take. Initially I went with my failsafe option of Google to search for internships, but most of those required lengthy commitments to the position. At the time, I was struggling through a particularly rough patch of my doctoral studies, so I knew I couldn’t afford to spend much time away from my lab. I wanted a quick glimpse of publishing to get a taste of the work, nothing more. Rather than apply for advertised positions, I kept publishing in mind wherever I went. My plan was to find out what I wanted to know from people who were already in that line of work, as I met them.

 

In September 2014, at the European Respiratory Society in Munich, Germany, I spotted a stall tucked away within a maze of corporate sponsors, pharmaceutical companies and clinical research organizations. A woman sat below a banner that read,  The Lancet Respiratory Medicine. My opportunity had arisen.

 

It turned out that woman wasn’t the editor. But the editor was around somewhere, she said, and due back in a few minutes. I was disappeared behind another stall to mentally prepare a last-minute elevator pitch: “I’m not looking to be hired, but if I could just take a look behind the scenes of the journal…”

 

When I saw another woman at The Lancet stall, I made my way over and introduced myself. As I had guessed, she was the editor. Within a few minutes of explaining what experience I wanted and boosted by the editor’s friendly demeanor, I threw caution to the wind and asked if I could do some short-term volunteer work for the journal. She said yes and gave me her email address. I promised to email her later that day with a list of potential dates for the work—and that was that.

 

Five months later, I started a two-week internship at The Lancet’s main offices in London. I was supervised by one of the senior editors who showed me around, set me up on a computer, and gave me quick tutorials on critical analysis and their roles as editors. I sat in on meetings with the entire editorial team and attended the peer-review meetings during which papers were selected or rejected. I met the editors of different sections of the journal, each of whom specialized in certain types of articles such as editorial comments, case studies, or perspective pieces.

 

At every meeting, I was given a chance to join the discussions and speak up if I had an opinion to offer. I even worked with associate editors and was given a handful of basic editing tasks on the latest issue. After chatting with the editor I had originally spoken to in Munich, I pitched an article idea for the Spotlight section of the journal and was given the go-ahead to write it. The article was accepted and published a couple of months later, and I was added to their list of writers.

 

Since my internship, I’ve graduated and started a postdoc but remained a freelance writer for The Lancet Respiratory Medicine and, more recently, The Lancet Neurology. It’s safe to say my experience was excellent and has undoubtedly changed the course of my career.

 

Networking, it turns out, is nothing more challenging than approaching people who might be useful to you and explaining why you want to know them. If they’re interested, the conversation carries itself and you walk away with a contact and, in my case, an internship.

 

Successful companies deliberately spend enormous amounts of time, money, and effort on their appearance. By design, the result is an impressive, professional exterior that you both recognize and respect. This can make them seem somewhat impermeable and impersonal—and a challenge to break into. The reality is significantly less intimidating. These companies are built and run by a network of individuals, each of whom also had to start their career somewhere. If you want to know more about a company or look for a different career option, take a chance and introduce yourself. After all, they’re people just like you.

 

Greer Arthur, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral scholar at North Carolina State University in the Department of Molecular Biomedical Sciences, and editor in chief of the university’s new magazine, Verve.

 

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