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I have a PhD in Materials Science and have published quite a bit (10 papers in >4 Impact factor journals) on surface engineering topics.

I have left academia 2 years ago and have been working as a scientific editor at a major publishing companies for over a year now. I was a managing editor there and was involved with rejecting out of scope papers for a 5 IF journal on batteries/super capacitors.

Now, I have been offered a permanent position of in-house scientific editor at another prominent publishing company for a journal where 90% of the papers will be on batteries, energy devices and nanomaterials. I will be working along with external editorial board and have the responsibility of rejecting, sending out for review and accepting articles.

It would be a high (>8) impact factor journal with high reputation. Though I have taken some courses during my grad school on the topics and have some basic fundamental understanding, I do not have any research experience on these topics. I just have one coauthored paper in a very adjacent field (corrosion studies).

Now, as my role would involve sending out papers for peer review and making the final editorial decisions, do you think it is possible to be a good scientific editor for a field you do not have research experience in? Any suggestions to perform decently on the job?

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    First check if you are dealing with a reputable journal. Commented Apr 29, 2023 at 16:41

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It depends on what you kind of editorial work you are doing. Your description is vague enough that there are different possible interpretations of your responsibilities.

It's true that you will inevitably run into problems which you have not the faintest idea how to solve. Coursework helps, but it's not sufficient. An example of such an issue is if the reviewer says do X, the authors say they won't do X because [reasons], and the reviewer is not happy. You won't be able to arbitrate without at least some subject expertise.

On the other hand, you have described the position as "a permanent position of in-house scientific editor at a major publishing company". With few exceptions, most journals have an editorial board that are not full-time in-house employees, and they will make the actual tough decisions like the one described above. The problems you will have to solve are much simpler (e.g. if Y reviewer is a suitable person to review Z paper, is Z review constructive or should you find another reviewer, etc.). Therefore, chances are you can do the job. You won't be the best imaginable editor, but you can do it better than most. If my experience in publishing is anything to go by as well, chances are you can do it much better than the other journal staff, as well.

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If the position is something like "managing editor" where the primary responsibility is dealing with editors, rather than authors and reviewers, then probably yes. But that assumes some managing ability.

However, if you are on the "front lines", so to speak, then you need enough experience and knowledge in the field to be able to quickly recognize nonsense and poor-work. Otherwise your relationship with reviewers won't be very good as you will pass them too much dreck.

But, that doesn't mean research experience, necessarily, and the required knowledge could come with some practice over a period of time.

A bit risky, perhaps, if you give up other things to do this.

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  • This position is on the "front lines". It is for a reputed journal which is attempting a different workflow. I will work with external editors who are academics in universities but my role would be same as theirs. I feel that I can do well in the role with some practice. Just am feeling overwhelmed at the responsibility. Commented Apr 30, 2023 at 11:42

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