What were your initial years like? Tell us a bit about your background.
I did my schooling in Delhi since my parents were working there. I graduated from school, Carmel Convent School, New Delhi and was clear that I do not want to pursue engineering or medicine (as is generally the norm). I chose to do B.Sc (Hons.) Chemistry from Hindu College, University of Delhi. My school principal was shocked that the science stream topper did not want to take up a professional course. But I gravitated towards chemistry naturally and wanted to explore the subject further. I gave IIT JAM in my last year of B.Sc. and got admission in IIT Bombay for M.Sc.-Ph.D. Dual Degree programme. I was always inclined to explore what research was, which is why I was adamant about doing a Ph.D. I loved organic chemistry and wanted to join a synthetic organic chemistry lab. I got an opportunity to join Prof. Santosh J. Gharpure’s lab for my masters and continued there for my Ph.D. as well.
Most PhDs in science set down to “traditional” academia or industry R&D routes. What appealed to you to choose such an unconventional offbeat career? Take us through your career path.
I think I like chemistry because of its exceptions which have an underlying, unexplored yet expected reason. Probably, chemistry taught me that non-traditional paths are more interesting than conventional ones. I understood during my days as a researcher that academia and industry R&D routes although well-trodden, do not motivate me. I have pestered my supervisor a lot with questions about alternative career options. If all PhDs look around themselves and identify what they consume the most during their research days, a majority would be comfortable identifying an alternative “offbeat” career so to say. I was always inclined towards writing and reading. Scientific communication is an integral part of the research. However excellent research one does, if not articulated well, loses significance. When we attended any conference as a researcher, we saw exhibition stands of a few publishers. On communicating with them at different venues, I realized they have PhDs working for them. After all, who would be able to know about the industry better than a consumer, right?
How did you get your first break?
I was involved in writing scientific articles since I started my research as a master’s student in Prof. Gharpure’s lab. The opportunities for young researchers to express their research in any other way except the traditional method of papers are bleak. It makes me believe there is a lot of potential that has still not been tapped into by the publishing industry. I applied to a few publishing houses after submitting my thesis and was lucky that Wiley had a vacancy for my profile in India. I became a senior associate in Wiley’s research publishing vertical. That’s how I got my first break!
Were there any challenges you had to face while choosing this alternate career path? What do you wish you’d known when you’re starting with this role? What would you do differently if you could go back in time?
As is the norm, since it’s an unconventional career pathway, I did not have an immediate contact in the publishing industry who could give me an insight into the industry. It is always better to know if the path you are choosing is a good fit for you. Fortunately, Wiley gave me a chance to learn on the job. The challenges while starting this role were probably the same as would be in any other industry. While doing a PhD, we are so focused on using only those tools that help us in our research. Whereas, the world outside academia uses more advanced software to represent their objectives, analyzing and solving the loopholes. One needs to be very agile in learning the latest software a general individual outside academia would be using. I wish I had been more upto- date with technology. Fortunately, my supervisor was always one step ahead of us in using the latest technology, so I was aware of them, although not an expert. But then, it’s always better to start a little late than not start at all. Probably, this is the one thing I would want to change by going back in time and being up to date with today’s technology.
According to you, what do you consider are your strongest assets? Where would they fit in this field of work of yours? What does it take to be successful here?
Some traits are imperative irrespective of the field you are working in. While doing research I learnt that communication is a skill that I have that needs to be honed. Ability to articulate your ideas and findings well as it’s you, who knows best about what you have done so far. I understand it would be so much better if everybody could read minds (ha ha ha). The other skills one requires are receptiveness to new information, broad-mindedness and of course, an unbiased approach towards a problem. Training during PhD hones our aptitude in a niche area of our subject. It teaches us to question and find solutions to those questions. This skill, if applied collaboratively, would lead to success in any field. In the publishing industry specifically, I see individuals who are dedicated, gritty and have creative thinking, being successful. In the professional environment, one needs to multitask and be open to newer ideas and be a team player.
How easy or difficult will it be for fresh PhDs to make a transition to your current field of work?
Firstly, one needs to understand if the role in the publishing world is a ‘good fit’ for you. In academia, we are the consumers whereas while working in the publishing industry we are the providers. I was too impatient to understand everything about the business, only to realize that it is unfathomable to digest the massive information the industry is about. I would suggest, for anyone looking forward to trying their hands in the publishing field, to take gradual steps. Fortunately, Wiley gave me an ample amount of time to settle and understand the finer details of the business. I can still guarantee that there is a dearth of information that I haven’t been able to explore yet.
Based on your experience, your advice for someone who is interested in a role like yours. Any special word of warning or encouragement as a result of your experience.
Well, I would say that the publishing industry needs the expertise of highly motivated PhDs. If this is what you would be interested in, look for the journals you use for your research. Find out if there are any developmental roles in the organization and always be eager to learn. With a lot of information available to us in today’s times, it shouldn’t be a difficulty. Also, explore if a PhD is a necessity in that role and is an asset for the business you would want to join. Publishing is an extension of research and it is very interesting to be on the other side of the table. It requires a lot of hard work to represent the findings of the scientific community. If you think you would want to facilitate better research but not be directly involved in doing it, publishing is for you.