So, the title may be a little convoluted, but let me explain. My current interests are regenerative medicine and neuroscience. I'm an undergraduate working in a neuroimaging lab, and while I enjoy the research, I feel like I don't want to limit myself to a narrow research topic as is common in Academia. For example, I'm interested in working with other areas, such as stem cell research and nanomedicine. What kind of career should I be working towards if I want to maintain a broad influence in the field? I was considering something like an administrative position or an being part of some journal's board. Perhaps working in the industry would be good, but I like the whole intellectual/meeting researchers vibe in the academic world. Also, please let me know if I can clarify this post a bit.
I think most researchers want to influence and possibly work in different areas, but we can't all be revolutionaries in several fields. There are two opposing issues that one needs to balance at any stage of academia (or that pesky thing called life):
- Doing anything significant usually takes real time and effort
- Each individual has limited resources, such as time and effort
As research has progressed over the past centuries things have gotten more specialized and there indeed has been a necessary tendency for researchers to focus on more and more narrow aspects of science. However, the branches of science are highly interconnected, and fundamental work in one area often has ramifications in many areas (which the original research may or may not be involved with). Recently, there has been more emphasis on interdisciplinary research, which it sounds like the kind of thing you are interested in. So this opportunity is certainly available for researchers who are interested.
However, interdisciplinary research is easier with certain specialities than others. (If you run a lab with lots of specialized equipment, you will be limited by the capabilities of the equipment.) For instance, interdisciplinary work seems to be pretty common with people who do mathematical biology, or more generally applied math/statistics. They often collaborate with different specialists in different fields/subfields who want to apply mathematical techniques/models to their problems, and in the process learn something about that particular subfield. My suggestion, if you want to go this direction, is look for an advisor in graduate school who does (and if possible, whose students do) interdisciplinary research that you find exciting.
Another way to influence people in different areas is through teaching, giving lectures and writing textbooks. Yet another way is by working for a grant agency or as a policy advisor, to help decide what research gets funded. Working for a scientific publishing company, as you mention, is also a possiblity, but journal editors are professional researchers. Similarly, university administration is run by professors. Thus there are many options, but these typically require specialized knowledge, so the preparation is the same as becoming a researcher.
As an undergraduate you can still easily move to another field by working in another lab in a different field to try things out and get more experience. As a graduate student, become really well-trained at a field you like even if it's a little narrow for now so you can get high-quality publications which will translate hopefully to a good position and lots of grant money. Then you'll have more freedom for collaboration with other fields. Researches frequently branch out or incorporate different fields after a few years of work.
While doing that you can keep talking to other people in different field and read whatever you like. That's assuming you actually want to do research yourself, which will probably take a good while to figure out.
As for administration, you should only decide that route when and if you decide you don't like research.
As a researcher it is difficult to have an impact in a single field never mind impacts in multiple fields. Administrative positions are often very detached from research. One position, or set of positions, which might give you the broad exposure to multiple fields that you are looking for is a program administrator for the NIH. They gets to see, and often shape, grants from a huge range of health related fields. They often go to conferences to talk to researchers and talk to senior administrators about setting policies and broad research agendas. There are probably other positions which would give you similar breadth of exposure.