Science editing: So that’s what you’re doing with your PhD …

Science editing: So that’s what you’re doing with your PhD …

January 14, 2020 By ​Tamira K. Butler-Likely

Science editing is one of those “alternative” careers that isn’t really advertised to science PhDs. When I was a graduate student, I just knew that I would spend the rest of my days in a lab doing research. But after 15 years of working in the lab, I decided to change course to editing.

Here are a few things to consider if you’re interested in science editing.

What’s your specialty?

In addition to identifying spelling and grammatical errors, science editors have the responsibility to decide what is appropriate to publish and whether it’s interesting, cutting-edge research that people would want to read about. In order to do that, you have to understand the science behind the work, which usually means having a PhD in that area (also known as being a subject matter expert).

Some positions require you to have a background in different subject areas and biological systems, so attending seminars or presentations outside your field of study is also valuable.

What’s the required format?

There are two common styles in science writing: American Medical Association (AMA) for medical research and American Psychological Association (APA) for social sciences.

Before starting to edit any science piece, be sure of what format is required. While there are some similarities between the styles, there are definite nuances to pay attention to, especially when it comes to citing references.

Where can I learn more?

The Council of Science Editors (CSE) serves “editorial professionals in the sciences by providing a network for career development, education, and resources for best practices.” CSE is a great resource for training and for gathering information from other science editing professionals.

If you’re just starting out or want a quick, informative introduction to the style guides mentioned above, the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) is an excellent resource. They give detailed examples and instructions for several formats.

While I’m no longer in the lab, and I do miss it a tiny bit, editing science articles satisfies my curiosity and helps me keep my ear to the streets in the research world. So if you want to unchain yourself from the lab and still keep your toe in the research waters, give science editing a go.

Tamira K. Butler-Likely is the owner and operator of Likely Write Editing. She has a PhD in biology and biomedical sciences, with a concentration in biochemistry. Her editing background ranges from scientific writing to urban fiction. Find her at

Header Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

Science editing: So that’s what you’re doing with your PhD … was originally published in Tracking Changes (Winter 2019 edition). Members receive a PDF of the quarterly Tracking Changes newsletter by email.

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