I’m writing this week’s blog post in a haze of jet-leg and ideas swirling around my head after an exhausting and exhilarating several days in Arlington, Virginia. This year’s SSP conference was my first year in which I had a lot of involvement, being on both the conference organizing and education committees, organizing and moderating a pre-meeting seminar, moderating two panels in the conference proper, and speaking on one of those. It was great fun and I hope to get the chance to do similar work next year.

I was also invited to the SSP mentoring breakfast, which is an informal gathering during which SSP travel grant winners, and their assigned mentors, network and swap stories and advice about early stage career progression. I was there to represent the nascent STM Association Early Career Publisher Committee (STM-ECP), please follow us on Twitter and join the LinkedIn group.

2014_07_31_ECPC_Survey_Infographic (1)STM-ECP is less than a year old but Ian Borthwick from the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), who chairs the committee, really hit the ground running. The first thing that we did was to survey both the demographics of early career publishers and their needs. Being an STM Association group we followed the lead of the Tech Trends working group and turned the results into an infographic. For those of you who were at SSP and caught Amy Brand’s opening plenary talk on demographics in publishing generally, you’ll see some similarities. Most people in the industry are women and we’re a fairly highly educated bunch. It’ll come as no surprise that very few of us have a publishing degree (~10%) and less than half work in their original area of study.

As the anecdotes from the mentoring breakfast bare out, the picture is one of an industry of people who didn’t go to university to become publishers, but either discovered the industry, or just kind of stumbled into it. As somebody who has undergone more than one career change, I can say that very often people who have been in an industry or field for a long time have a level of knowledge they assume everybody else has too. It’s almost as if they’ve forgotten that they know it, it feels like common sense to them. The danger of this assumed knowledge is that it makes those who don’t share it afraid to ask, for fear of looking stupid.

The fact that few of us trained for publishing makes professional development support for new people critically important, much of which needs to be at a fairly basic level. One of the things that the STM-ECP are doing is putting together documentation to help new members of the industry plan their careers. According to our survey data, many don’t have a clear understanding of the various roles, functions and career paths that might be available to them. What does a managing editor actually do? What goes on in production? What’s the nature of the relationship between commercial and society publishers, and what jobs are available working at the intersection of the two? These are precisely the kind of questions that a person might be afraid to ask.

SSP already have a mentorship program attached to the conference travel grant awards, and STM-ECP are planning to create one as well. The program will get started over the summer, so keep an eye out for it. Mentorship is a key part of how new members of the industry can get themselves oriented. So, if you are a newbie (or even if you’ve been around a while), heed my advice and get yourself a mentor. On the flip-side, those of you who are in a position to, please consider taking somebody under your wing, either as part of a formal program or informally.

In the future I hope that we can strengthen the relationship between the SSP and STM early career efforts. More than ever, in these times of aggressive change, it’s important to bring new people into the field and ensure that they can thrive and contribute fresh ideas. While I was at the mentoring breakfast, I floated the idea of a joint SSP / STM-ECP early career event, possibly for next year. I hope that we will be able to do something along those lines. The objectives of the two organizations regarding early career development are strongly aligned, so I honestly think that it would be in everybody’s interests for us to all work together on this.

If you happen to be in Cambridge, Massachusetts on June 18th, the STM-ECP are organizing an event at the Digital Science offices. There will be three excellent and insightful talks on the subject of career development, and I’ll be speaking as well.