A week in publishing

Last June, I was fortunate enough to attend the Gatsby Plant Science Summer School, where I heard from a host of academics and was delighted to find that botany could be a springboard to another career. Professor Alistair Hetherington (Editor in Chief of New Phytologist and holder of the Melville Wills Chair in Botany) and Dr Kerry Franklin (Reader in plant environmental signalling) have developed a course on scientific publishing for undergraduate Biology students at the University of Bristol.

From peer review to promotion

We commenced the week with an introduction to scientific publishing, hearing of the rapid changes in the sector as technology advances. After an explanation of how peer review operates, we were given manuscripts and, weighing up the strikingly variable reviewer comments, delivered our editorial verdict. We were also tasked to develop a marketing strategy for a hypothetical new journal, to be launched imminently. This was a fundamentally different assignment to the rest of our degree work, but all relished the challenge.

Throughout the course, we heard from many experts. Alexa Dugan, Director of Marketing at Wiley, plunged us into the world of publicity and marketing with flair, opening up a career that before the course had seemed off limits. From New Phytologist, Dr Mike Whitfield offered his expert knowledge of social media to connect readers and contributors alike. A trip to Wiley’s European headquarters on the outskirts of Oxford constituted our third day. This truly was an immersion into the industry, speaking to people working in a vast range of roles.

A question of ethics

Sarah Lennon, Executive Editor of New Phytologist and Plants, People, Planet, revealed how various roles and processes knit together to yield an issue of a journal. This was complemented by Dr Nicky Hetherington’s insight into the final production workflow. Nicky also hosted a fascinating workshop in which ethical dilemmas in publishing were discussed, using real cases from the Committee On Publication Ethics (COPE). David Nicholson, Vice President of Wiley, was keen to hear our views on where the industry should go next, with the importance of Open Access underlined. We were joined by Professor Colin Brownlee, a long-term Editor of New Phytologist, who participated in the panel that judged our final presentations, where we outlined how we would launch the new journal, and highlighted the strategies we would employ.

All groups showed great creativity in their vision for the new journal. Novel publicity strategies included the use of QR codes, animated graphical abstracts, and video segments, with social and life scientists in conversation.

Many of us expressed a desire to work in science publishing after graduation, despite having little understanding of it prior to the course: testament to the brilliant work of Kerry and Alistair. During the week, I realised my passion for science policy, which I hope to explore further in an internship this summer with the Civil Service, followed by an MPhil in Environmental Governance at Oxford. A most informative and enjoyable course – with many thanks to New Phytologist and Wiley.

Laura Denton
BSc Geology and Biology Undergraduate Student
University of Bristol


Laura DentonLaura Denton

I grew up in the Hampshire countryside mere miles from Noar Hill, a rich chalk grassland site famed for its orchids. With such proximity to Gilbert White’s land and the influence of my father, a prominent ecologist, an interest in natural history was inevitable. I am currently in my second year of a BSc in Geology and Biology at the University of Bristol.