Editor’s Note: Today’s post is by Emma Brink. Emma is a Senior Editor at Wiley and a past co-chair of SSP’s Early Career Subcommittee.
The new Society for Scholarly Publishing (SSP) Board Members for the 2020-2021 term were announced in April, including four highly talented and accomplished members of our industry: Meredith Adinolfi (Cell Press), Emilie Delquie (Copyright Clearance Center), Gabe Harp (MIT Press), and Sai Konda (American Chemical Society). We invited them to share a little about themselves, their experiences from when they were early career professionals in the industry, and their advice for anyone new to the industry or SSP.
First, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Gabe Harper (GH): I work at the MIT Press, where I focus primarily on digital books and journals, but I also enjoy fine-tuning workflows, steering an OKR (Objectives and Key Results) rollout, working with amazing colleagues, and engaging in the broader challenges around building a sustainable future. I have been in the industry for fifteen years, starting with a copyeditor role at Cell Press. In fact, another contributor to this post is responsible for having originally hired me! I live in Maine (the northeastern-most state in the U.S.) and enjoy spending my free time outdoors.
Meredith Adinolfi (MA): I developed a love of writing, editing, and publishing during my college years as an English major, and I’ve now been in scholarly publishing for almost 20 years. Over that time, I’ve been lucky enough to have many different types of roles and experiences. I started out as a copyeditor and am now Vice President of Publishing Operations for Cell Press.
Sai Konda (SK): My career in scholarly publishing began as a serendipitous alternative to research in the chemical industry. I had experienced the “other side” of publishing as an author and reviewer while pursuing Master’s and doctoral degrees at the University of Texas at Austin and a post-doctoral stint at the University of Delaware. My first job following graduate school was serving as a Managing Editor in the Publications Division of the American Chemical Society (ACS). I am currently a Senior Managing Editor, overseeing the strategic and content management of twelve journals in the materials science and physical chemistry portfolios, the largest at ACS by published output.
Emilie Delquie (ED): I work at Copyright Clearance Center, where I am Director, Rightsholder Relations and Global Alliances. I have been in the industry for 16 years, and I actually started my career in scholarly communication by working in my university library during summer breaks. This job turned into a full-time role when I graduated, and it gave me my first experience working with (then print and…microfilm!) periodicals from more publishers than I even knew existed. After that, I started working for service providers in the industry and haven’t looked back since.
When you first joined the scholarly publishing industry, did you ever imagine you’d be an SSP Board Member one day?
GH: I confess that when I first joined the industry, I didn’t think of it as an industry and certainly wasn’t aware of the SSP!
MA: I can honestly say that I didn’t! When I first joined SSP, I was immediately impressed and also intimidated by the level of expertise, talent, knowledge, and eloquence of leaders within the organization. But it quickly became clear that those same leaders are equally welcoming and generous. I’m very grateful to those who showed me the ropes and helped me get involved in meaningful ways. One thing I love about SSP is that if you have the passion and inclination, you can make a difference in the organization and in the industry, and you can continue to grow your involvement and influence as you make more connections.
SK: I never thought so! My primary goal in being involved with SSP was to volunteer and participate in initiatives that benefit the community as a whole. I am thankful to my organization (ACS), mentors, and to SSP for the various leadership roles that led to this opportunity.
ED: Not at all, but I knew I liked the energy of the Annual Meeting right away. I remember my then-colleague and SSP Past President, Janet Fisher, introducing me to the Annual Meeting co-chair and suggesting I volunteer the following year. I said yes not really knowing what it entailed, but I knew it sounded interesting. Volunteering for SSP has been one of the most rewarding professional experiences in my career so far, because it gave me the opportunity to work alongside passionate volunteers, meet truly interesting new colleagues, and make lifelong friendships in the process. After volunteering and co-chairing a couple of committees, I was honored to be elected to the Board in 2014 and felt very fortunate to be offered the opportunity to run for Treasurer this year. SSP has so many invigorating initiatives going on at any given time, that it is really a fun experience to collaborate with everyone involved.
What do you wish you’d known when you first joined the industry that might have helped you along the way?
GH: Well, it took me a long time to realize that I was part of something big and meaningful. I take great pride in working with colleagues and competitors alike who are dedicated to supporting and improving scholarly research and communication.
MA: The importance of networking, events, and industry organizations. I found SSP at a great time in my career, but in retrospect, I can see how helpful it would have been to get involved in my first five years in the industry. You can gain valuable contacts and mentorship (formal and informal) through industry events, programs, and committees. Once I got involved with SSP, I realized how small and also big the industry is. It’s small in the sense that it’s a close-knit community of individuals who are passionate about scholarly publishing and energetic about moving the field forward together. It’s big in the sense that there are countless opportunities, roles, organizations, and learning experiences that one can explore. Branching out within the industry is an invaluable way to open up the field in new ways.
SK: If I may change the question, and instead share the first lessons from my early days in the publishing industry. I wasn’t a complete stranger to scholarly publishing given my experience as an author and reviewer. Having transitioned from academia, I had the required technical background for the job. I was advised to develop my soft skills instead of focusing solely on broadening the scientific knowledge. I worked on time management, adaptability, teamwork, and interpersonal communications that laid a strong foundation for my professional growth. An equal emphasis was placed on networking and volunteering outside of ACS.
ED: I wish I’d realized then the impact of putting yourself forward and of saying “yes” when you face new challenges. This is a fast-paced industry and because few of us grow up dreaming “I’m going to have a career in scholarly publishing!”, it means that most people I get to meet now come from very interesting and diverse paths of life. Getting involved with SSP played a big part in me truly appreciating the various facets of our industry.
Do you recall your first SSP meeting as an early career professional? What did you take away from it?
GH: I wish that I could recall my first SSP annual meeting, but my kids tell me I have a terrible memory — and at moments like this I cannot object. What I do recall distinctly, however, is realizing how much is going on in the industry, how much I still had to learn (that hasn’t changed), and how great an opportunity it was to attend that annual meeting.
MA: I ended up at my first SSP meeting because a colleague of mine asked me to participate in a panel about mentorship. Although I had been to other industry meetings, this was by far my favorite one because my panel participation really empowered me to branch out and meet new people. Because I had such a positive experience working with others on the panel, I was inspired to join a volunteer committee after that meeting. Overall, besides a general thirst for greater involvement in the organization, I also took away the realization that a major value in the meeting is the networking and discussion time (in addition to the obvious value of the meeting content itself). I learned how important it is to create space in your meeting schedule for casual interactions because that’s where so much stimulating and inspiring conversation happens.
SK: I was fortunate to attend my first SSP annual meeting as an Early Career Fellow in 2017. The informative talks aside, the networking introduced me to friends and mentors who continue to play an important role in my professional development. I noted my observations in my inaugural contribution to The Scholarly Kitchen.
ED: I recall the vibe in the Exhibit Hall, where everyone was so friendly and seemed to know each other. As a newcomer, it was a little bit intimidating, but my colleagues walked around with me to introduce me and everyone was very welcoming so before I knew it, I was starting my own little network too. One of my biggest takeaways is the importance of making these moments at conferences count. We do get to meet truly interesting peers and sometimes we only see each other a couple of times a year, but over time, it is really enjoyable to re-connect. So, put down the devices and look up: the talks are interesting and there is always a friendly attendee happy to catch up for a few minutes. I also recall looking at the program and wishing I could attend all the concurrent sessions!
What advice do you have for early career professionals starting out in their careers?
GH: Try things. Volunteer for projects. Find mentors and allies. Get uncomfortable. Ask questions.
MA: Seek out mentorship (both formal and informal) wherever and whenever you can. This can come from within your organization, but there’s also benefit in making contacts outside of your everyday sphere. Mentorship can take many forms, and what I’ve learned in recent years is that it isn’t just about the traditional elements of advice and guidance. Mentorship is also about widening your contact network, learning about other parts of the industry, and finding your specific motivators for advancing your career and skillset. For this reason, the right mentors for you might come from different corners of the broad industry, so keep an open mind when you enter programs or seek out matches for yourself.
My other piece of advice is to try things that scare you and make you a little uncomfortable. This doesn’t necessarily mean saying yes to everything; it just means pushing yourself to take opportunities that might not seem like immediate perfect fits. You can learn important things in general and also begin to fine-tune your own understanding of your interests, strengths, and growth areas. When I think about my periods of biggest growth and learning, I always land on those times when I was pushed and challenged and started out with a level of uncertainty.
SK: I’ll try to summarize the ideas from my experience (in no particular order).
- We are going through very challenging times, both personally and professionally. It’s important to retain a positive attitude, and work proactively towards creating that environment around us.
- The publishing ecosystem is very dynamic, wherein change is the only constant. Faced with industry disruptors, technological upgrades, and changing customer needs, we need to learn to adapt to different situations. As the common saying goes (interestingly misattributed to Charles Darwin): “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, not the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”
- It’s important to develop soft skills — it could be time management, interpersonal communications, etc. — as they are equally, if not more, helpful than technical expertise in the long run.
- Networking is a significant part of building a successful career. It can be as varied as an informal conversation on a topic of interest, posing questions, and interacting with peers and experts at conferences. Networking has proven to be challenging in recent times with events transitioning to virtual platforms. But it’s important to continue to find ways to network with professionals in the industry. Apart from leveraging resources such as LinkedIn, being involved with SSP is a powerful medium to continue to build connections. One such recent SSP initiative has been the Professional Skills Map.
- In a world where hate and violence seem to engulf us at every moment of our lives, let’s try to extend kindness and compassion to those around us. To quote Amelia Earhart: “A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees.”
ED: I’m still learning myself so I don’t know that I have any magical tips to provide, but it is important to keep an open mind: you never know where a new connection might lead, where saying yes to joining a committee may take you, and what opportunities putting yourself out of your comfort zone may create. The industry has a lot of potential career paths and opportunities to contribute no matter what your career level is, so say yes and see which new doors present themselves to you.