Myth-busting STM Publishing

Posted on September 27, 2020 in Oxford

As we noticed the fear and uncertainty brought about by a disrupted job market, SYP Oxford joined forces with the ECPC to organise an informative panel event to demystify STM publishing in the eyes of publishing hopefuls, or those willing to pursue a career and evolve within this division. A recording of this panel is available here.


Myth 1: I need a background in research to be successful in STM

Having a PhD or a research background to be successful in an STM role is a myth; only a few publishers might ask for it, others would hire Master and even Bachelor educated individuals who might have studied a range of subjects like history, literature or publishing. Whilst an academic background could help you interact with the content and customers – for instance researchers – easier, a publishing master’s would give you a broad understanding of publishing processes. Overall, you will learn the skills for the job by doing the job.


Myth 2: There are no jobs in STM

The following resources, channels and job boards are great places to investigate if you want to find an STM publishing role:

Reaching out to publishers who are not advertising a position can also be a bright move as it shows initiative and ambition. Additionally, aside from editorial and production, many other departments operate within STM publishing such as Sales, HR, IT, User Experience and are equally great ways to get into the industry; this article although aimed at publishing as a whole provides a comprehensive list of the different roles. The SYP and STM Association also have their own mentoring schemes and can provide publishing hopefuls with extensive knowledge and understanding of a department. STM has ‘day in the life’ videos illustrating a range of roles, what they involve and how progression can be approached.


Myth 3: STM doesn’t welcome diversity and inclusion

Publishers are taking the matter very seriously with some of them hiring staff to tackle diversity and inclusion and make sure it is embedded in the company’s values, especially when recruiting authors and editors. The response to BLM movements has been positive for the field and we are already seeing more diversity in events from panellists to topics covered. Research4life is looking at giving access to United Nations least developed countries free access to content. Resources are also made available through the RSC (Royal Society of Chemistry) and the Coalition for Diversity and Inclusion in Scholarly Communications. Finally, apprentice schemes are increasingly popular to ensure that people from all backgrounds have access to publishing.


Myth 4: STM is not impacted by trends

Just as other publishing divisions, STM is looking towards the future with a predominance of transparency and trust in terms of peer-reviewing and workflows; this ties-in with Open Access, open data and open citation conversations. There is also an increased importance given to technology, so understanding metadata, AI or API could be useful if not essential moving forward. Lastly, sustainable development goals are being explored by publishers with a particular attention to climate change.


Myth 5: The Open Access debate is complex with too many models

The publishing industry has been transferring to Open Access very slowly, with initiatives such as Plan S willing to speed up the process. Although the industry’s ecosystem is complicated, it has been acknowledged by many that the future of publishing is truly Open Access. Scholarly Kitchen has many in-depth articles on the subject: Three major models can be identified from a traditional subscription model where libraries and institutions subscribe to a journal and get access to it, Open Access models such as the EPC (Editorial Processing Charge), where authors pay to publish and content is free for everyone, to “in-between” models where we see an incorporation of both access to the content and the publishing component.


Myth 6: STM involves a lot of technology skills and software proficiency

For entry-level roles, soft skills are more desirable than experience or technical ones; time management and organisation are key in most roles as deadlines need to be met. Other skills could include:

  • Being proactive
  • Having the ability to effectively communicate (with colleagues and authors)
  • Demonstrating a keen and up-to-date interest of the industry (e.g. Open Access)
  • Emotional intelligence to guide thinking and behaviour
  • Problem solving techniques
  • Interest in learning about specific fields of STM
  • Being open-minded
  • Negotiation and conflict resolution (especially when the job involves contracts), this book provides valuable advice when dealing with individuals with different opinions
  • Presentation skills
  • Collaboration and teamwork (STM requires a lot of cross-team and cross-department communications)

Being comfortable using Excel or equivalent spreadsheet software, as well as knowing basics of coding – especially for Computer Science roles – can be useful. YouTube, Google and LinkedIn offer multiple crash courses, mostly for free. Networking and setting up a call with an industry expert can be another way to learn about specific skills or job requirements, and it will provide the individual with a valuable contact.


Myth 7: I can’t discuss Open Access in my cover letter

Showing an understanding of Open Access in a cover letter starts by being aware that the industry is going towards that direction and knowing which business model the company is following. However, it is never recommended to get on with a company a candidate doesn’t share values with, because they are ultimately going to be their spokesperson. Generally speaking, looking at the ‘About’ section on a publisher’s website, or at any press release can inform a candidate on their initiatives and mission statements and add ample value to a CV or cover letter. Additionally, reading annual reports of companies and their competitors can provide useful information such as keywords used or projects they are leading.


Myth 8: E-books are the only successful formats in STM

We are certainly moving to an e-future and it is not so common to get print subscriptions for journals. Print on demand is mostly used to avoid overstocks in warehouses and fulfils orders when required. Most Open Access journals are online with only a few print copies that can carry some advertising revenue. As a lot of STM content is technical, with formulas and complex visuals, it is usually not a format that translates well on audiobooks. However, podcasts are becoming more popular as they tie-in with journals to further explain a piece of research.


Myth 9: There are no big draws to STM publishing

Knowing that the content is going to benefit mankind and society, such as medicine and health, is invaluable. Equally, understanding how people need the research and want to be able to access or publish it is rewarding.


Myth 10: It is difficult to evolve within STM publishing

Volunteering or joining working groups, both internally and externally can provide you with insights into what is happening in the industry, what is important for a company and allow you to network with people you wouldn’t have met otherwise. Knowing people in different departments and outside a company can be extremely valuable in the future as it brings new perspectives and conversations that are useful when having to solve problems. Attending industry events is another way to meet people who can become great contacts and advocates if you are thinking of changing company. Another advice would be to make a plan of action by being familiar with the competences and skills needed in the role you are aiming for. Finally, watching out for mentoring schemes can be beneficial to get an expert’s guidance.

We hope that you will consider investigating STM, either if you are looking at entry-level roles or willing to move sideways from another division you’re presently working in. If you have any other questions, feel free to reach out to us at the SYP, the ECPC or STM association; our fantastic panellists – Sara, Francesca, Jason and Rachel – would also be very happy to be contacted via Twitter.


By Caroline Guillet, 2020 Student Liaison Officer for SYP Oxford