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Nuclear Bunker Busters

Careers in Science From the Field

Cat Auer is the associate editor of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, a non-profit, international, bimonthly magazine that covers global security news and analysis with a special focus on nuclear-related issues. She has a master's degree in print journalism from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she also earned bachelor's degrees in journalism and English literature.

What is your profession?

Editor for the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.

What are the responsibilities of your position?

My main editorial duties are fairly straightforward—editing and proofing features and reports, and writing some shorter pieces for every issue we publish. I am also in charge of two sections of the magazine—Reviews and Nuclear Notebook—and our e-mail/Web news update service, BulletinWire. Some of my other responsibilities include communicating with our authors and keeping a media contact list.

Can you describe a typical week in your position?

Because we are a bimonthly magazine, what I do week-by-week really swings on a two-month pendulum. The beginning of our cycle (right after we publish an issue) is the least-hectic time in the office, but it soon gives way to a lot of editing and decision-making for the next issue. Every week we have a staff meeting that includes everyone in the office; these are followed by an editorial-only meeting in which we talk about what stories we are writing or editing. We also try to decide what our cover story will be, and what kinds of photos or illustrations we want to use. A lot of decisions have to be made well in advance of publication, and it can be tricky for a news organization to work far ahead of the schedule.

For the book reviews section, I like to plan ahead two issues in advance. That means that I assigned reviews for our May/June issue in January. When a reviewer submits an article, I edit it, get it approved by our editor, and send it back to the author for approval. Then the article goes through two more rounds of proofing before it is finally ready to be put into the page layout, which happens near the very end of our publishing cycle.

I will often have some writing and reporting to do either for the magazine or for our electronic news update service, BulletinWire. If it's a BulletinWire update I'm working on (often in collaboration with the assistant editor), I spend an afternoon posting it on our Web site and sending it out to subscribers.

What part of this job do you personally find most satisfying? Most challenging?

Most satisfying: Seeing the finished product. It is also satisfying to see other publications cover the things we have reported on—after we've beaten them to the punch.

Most challenging: Trying to fully understand, without any scientific training, some of the more technical aspects of certain subjects we cover.

What is the greatest benefit of working in this field?

I like keeping up on politics and world news, and working as an editor allows me to do that as part of my job. In journalism you are always learning new things, and I like that a lot.

What are the biggest challenges facing your field?

Declining circulation is a major threat to many publications. And for non-profit organizations like the Bulletin, surviving the drying-up of funds from foundations and donors is also a serious hurdle.

What are the skills that are most important for a position in this field?

Editors need to be good copy editors and good writers. I think a good editor is thoroughly nit-picky, but also flexible. Patience and persistence are helpful when dealing with writers or sources, too.

What kind of experience, paid or unpaid, would you encourage someone to gain if s/he is interested in pursuing a career in this field?

Anyone interested in journalism should get a job or an internship at a publication. Try to work at a place that will let you have as many different responsibilities as possible. Working as a freelance editor or reporter can be a viable option for students with odd schedules.

What type of educational background is required?

It depends. To get an editing job, you usually need to pass a nasty editing test. For some jobs, that may be all you need to do, but for others, a degree in the field, experience, and several clips will be required.

What are the typical entry-level job titles and functions? What entry-level jobs are best for learning as much as possible?

Editorial assistant and copy editor are two very different entry-level jobs; an editorial assistant usually has a wider range of basic responsibilities, from clerical work to editing, whereas copy editors usually spend all their time proofing text and writing headlines and captions. I think that the smaller the publication, the more responsibilities an entry-level job is likely to have.

What are the salary ranges for various levels in this field? Is there a salary ceiling?

Salaries vary widely across the field; a lot depends on location, as well as experience. An entry-level copy editor in Chicagoland can expect to start at around $25,000 a year. There's no salary ceiling. Editors at the top of the ladder, on the for-profit side of things, can make six figures.

What special advice do you have for a student seeking to qualify for this position?

Get a job at a paper or magazine! You're not going to get hired without some experience, and if you want to be a writer, it is essential to build a portfolio of clips. If you want an editing job, make sure to know the basics of the Chicago Manual of Style and/or the Associated Press Stylebook.

Submitted by: Jessi Steinitz, Education Program Coordinator, SPUSA