for our e-mail list for updates and socially responsible
1015 18th St. NW
Washington, DC 20036
Tel: 202 429-8900
Fax: 202 429-8905
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
What is your profession?
Editor for the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.
What are the responsibilities of your position?
My main editorial duties are fairly straightforwardediting
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 magazineReviews and Nuclear Notebookand our e-mail/Web
news update service, BulletinWire. Some of my other responsibilities
include communicating with our authors and keeping a media contact
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 satisfying: Seeing the finished product. It is also satisfying
to see other publications cover the things we have reported onafter
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
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,
What kind of experience, paid or unpaid, would you encourage
someone to gain if s/he is interested in pursuing a career in this
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
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