Can be Reviewer #2 professionally?
May 20, 2022 11:26 PM   Subscribe

I'm a former academic. I'm unhappy in my current academic-adjacent job. The nature of my unhappiness is making it clear to me that my ideal job is basically being Reviewer #2. I would like to do a mix of editing and commenting/critique on various research products (grant proposals, methodological plans and instruments, articles, presentations, anything) for the purpose of making this research better. Can I be paid to do that? How do I find that job?

I'm a former academic. I'm currently in an academic-adjacent job. The culture here is very different from what I'm used to after 2 decades in academia. I'm used to -- when asked to read or look at something -- that the person wants me to read or look at it to make it better. Make it as good as it can be. When I collaborate in writing something I'm used to going back and forth with collaborators making changes and suggestions and discussion changes when we disagree. Again, all in the service of doing it right.

In my current job, I've been asked to look at things or collaborate on things and when I have found serious deep problems. Think things that would be absolute deal-breakers for ever publishing the research in a peer-reviewed or that would make ethics committees very uncomfortable. This has been treated as an inconvenience and ignored.

All this is making clear to me that I'm very good at editing and critiquing, and feed-backing research materials and that I like it and I want to do it, but I want to do it for someone who is going to take what I give them and use it to make their work better. I'm thinking about everything about editing for grammar and style to making sure that statistical models are correctly constructed and interpreted.

The obvious market for this might seem to be people writing dissertations, but I want to be clear that I don’t think dissertation writers should hire me. Your job in a dissertation is to make your committee happy. I cannot possibly guess what will make the committee happy, and this actually IS a "the client is happy and won't notice so leave it alone" kind of situation IMO.

Assume I have excellent qualifications on paper. Great educational pedigree and experience in academia. History of well-placed and well-cited publications. Success in grant-writing. Skilled in the writing-based aspects of editing. Social sciences both quantitative and qualitative.

TL;DR: I would like my job to be a mix of editing and commenting on research works. Kind of like an editor but with substantive knowledge. How do I find something like this or make something like this for myself?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (20 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
A science qualified native English speaker is an Asset . There are thousands of scientists who could benefit from a final gloss on their research proposals so as not to piss off reviewers with slightly dodgy grammar or peculiar word choice. It's science so you are not going to limit your crap-detecting to apostrophes. Here's a friend of mine who found himself post-doccing in Berlin and stepped sideways into such a consultancy. Running workshops for junior scientists is the most obvious way to monetize this but it must be worth $100/hr to get a million $ proposal over the line.

OR working in a tech transfer office of a University, getting the best out of scientists in your care.
posted by BobTheScientist at 2:01 AM on May 21, 2022 [1 favorite]

This may or may not be a fit, because I think it’s a little more big picture and less in the editing weeds, but have you considered being a program officer?
posted by eirias at 2:54 AM on May 21, 2022 [7 favorites]

Seconding program officer at an organization that funds research- e.g. NIH, BMGF, Wellcome Trust. When I worked for a government public health agency, a lot of mid to senior level people had reviewing manuscripts and other scientific content as part of their role but they also had other responsibilities. Now I work in pharma as a scientific advisor and reviewing manuscripts and funding proposals is part of my job, and I know someone with a role essentially dedicated to this (director of publications). In my experience, both of these workplaces (government and big pharma) highly value reviewing as essential for maintaining scientific quality. Both workplaces are huge organisations with a lot of bureaucracy that can be frustrating at times (worse in government).
posted by emd3737 at 3:11 AM on May 21, 2022 [2 favorites]

I was going to suggest a program officer role at a non-profit, like Ford Foundation. Another option is starting an editing business for academic writers, especially scientists for whom English is not their first language. A good friend of mine did this after finishing her PhD. It's been very lucrative, and she loves the work. She does edit dissertations if that's what her clients want - she's mentioned that these are somewhat popular for "format-only" edits, because universities are strict about their formatting rules for submission. Finally, you might find something at a university writing center. The school where I did my PhD had staff dedicated to working with doctoral students. They held one-on-one meetings, workshops, and other events for helping PhD students specifically with their writing.
posted by twelve cent archie at 4:13 AM on May 21, 2022

Developmental editing? I know Laura Portwood-Stacer for example runs a workshop for people looking to transition into the field.
posted by athirstforsalt at 4:23 AM on May 21, 2022

On preview, I have also done editing of German academic English (lol, it's a genre) when I lived there, but it was actually really hard NOT to give more substantial edits bc they really just wanted a fluency editor. I am not sure that would scratch the Reviewer 2 itch but the work is there for sure.
posted by athirstforsalt at 4:26 AM on May 21, 2022 [1 favorite]

I think "developmental editor" and "manuscript editor" would be useful search terms for what you want to do. Wikipedia's entry for "authors' editor" seems a closer fit, but in 25 years as a scientific/mathematics copy editor, I can't recall ever hearing this term.

You don't mention your field, but if you are in the sciences, the Council of Scientific Editors may be a useful website for you.

I'm not sure how many academic institutions would hire someone for this kind of work before publication - freelancing might make more sense, and you may or may not want to do that. There would probably be more jobs at academic journals for papers that have already been accepted, but that sounds like it's not what you want to do. Just searching the internet, I found American Manuscript Editors - they hire people like you, but only as contract workers. I only know what I read on their website, so this isn't a recommendation.
posted by FencingGal at 4:52 AM on May 21, 2022 [3 favorites]

Research Square is one company who hires people in this capacity, basically helping mostly people for whom English is not their first language prepare publications and grants, ranging from translating and copy editing to actual pre-reviews. In addition to those full time positions, they also hire contractor editors (I have worked as a contract editor for them for years off and on. I enjoy the work and feel fairly compensated for my labor.)
posted by hydropsyche at 4:58 AM on May 21, 2022 [6 favorites]

In math, Mathematical Reviews sometimes hires folks to do a very similar job to what you describe. Is there anything similar (eg. run by a major professional organization) in your field, perhaps?
posted by eviemath at 5:29 AM on May 21, 2022

Do you want to specifically be critiquing research, or do you enjoy critiquing in general? Because if the latter, there are lots of audit roles within companies for checking that teams and vendors are complying with guidelines.
posted by redlines at 5:36 AM on May 21, 2022 [1 favorite]

In math, Mathematical Reviews sometimes hires folks to do a very similar job to what you describe.

I worked for Mathematical Reviews for eight years. They are a bibliographical journal. They publish reviews of published papers, not papers, and per their website, which I checked in case things had changed, most reviews are less than a page long. I also don't see any indication that they pay reviewers now. So I'm not sure what you might be referring to.
posted by FencingGal at 5:38 AM on May 21, 2022 [1 favorite]

I've been doing this as a side hustle for the past few years, in a very similar capacity to what hydropsyche described. There are tons of companies that hire contract editors -- two big ones that I'm familiar with are Cactus Communications and American Journal Editing.

As a contractor, the pay is not amazing but not terrible, and I've used the skills and experience I gained through the contracting to attract clients as a freelancer in my own right, which obviously pays more.

I can't speak to the availability of full-time positions doing this type of work -- unfortunately, I think it's mostly done by contractors.
posted by fresh bouquets every day at 6:49 AM on May 21, 2022 [1 favorite]

(MR always only had a relatively small or medium sized editorial staff and a larger pool of unpaid reviewers, no? I knew they had downsized a little, but do they not have any paid editorial staff now? I thought I saw a job ad for them recently. In case it was unclear, I was picking up on the editorial tasks in OP’s description, not the less editorial reviewer tasks. Your average reviewer shouldn’t be making editorial critiques either, but it does sound like OP is interested in a more editorial position based on their description, if not the title of the Ask.)
posted by eviemath at 6:49 AM on May 21, 2022

In the US, R1 universities (and probably others; I'm familiar with R1s) have some jobs that might be a good fit. The research office will have an office of pre-award services (or similar name) whose job is to work with PIs to prepare grant submissions. That can involve everything from reviewing the proposal on its merits (where you are qualified) to line editing to ensuring that the proposal meets the requirements of the funding agency (word count, budget, impact statement, whatever). It's fast-paced work; my university's pre-award services requires submissions at least 5 working days before the application deadline, though some PIs get their acts together sooner. My university is increasingly encouraging humanities and social science fellowship applicants to work through that office, too, because it makes topping off salaries a lot less onerous than if the fellowship is awarded directly to the faculty member.

There are also jobs in graduate schools working with students who are applying for major fellowships and awards--Fulbright, DAAD, ACLS, and the like--that do similar work, as well as organizing workshops etc. for applicants. Many elite liberal arts colleges and honors colleges in state universities also have similar positions to help undergrads apply for Fulbright, Marshall, Rhodes, and other scholarships.

My sister-in-law, who works in a large biomedical lab as a project manager, sometimes freelances as an editor for scientific paper MSS, largely for authors who are not native English writers. That might be a possibility, too.
posted by brianogilvie at 7:16 AM on May 21, 2022 [1 favorite]

I knew they had downsized a little, but do they not have any paid editorial staff now?

Thanks for clarifying - I misunderstood what you were referring to. They have a paid editorial staff, almost all PhDs in math, but the editing they do, as most people understand the term, is extremely minimal, and I don't think it's what OP is looking for. That's where it's still relevant to OP's question that they're editing short reviews, not articles. When I worked there, the editors seemed to spend most of their time going through journal articles, assigning subject matter to articles based on a very detailed system (an article could easily belong in five or six categories), and then assigning articles to reviewers. Copy editors handle grammar and punctuation, though the editors can always overrule them - even when they (the editors) are glaringly wrong.
posted by FencingGal at 7:34 AM on May 21, 2022

Ah! That’s perhaps less like what OP was describing in their dream job (I thought there was a little more editing involved for the non-copy editor editorial staff). And more to the point, I’m not sure if whatever field of social sciences OP is in has anything similar. But it may be worth checking out the professional societies and major journal publishing companies (eg. I know someone who worked for Elsevier, and used their subject area knowledge as part of their job a bit), on the off chance that there is a lead.
posted by eviemath at 8:33 AM on May 21, 2022 [1 favorite]

The university I work for has jobs like this at their "Center for Clinical Research" that we can consult with when preparing grants (among other things).

Another university I worked for has a research "accelerator," so that could be another key term. I think a lot of those may be heavier on the business consulting side (goals are usually to bring research to the market faster), but a lot of the ideas coming in were just getting to the translational research stage with PIs that weren't used to working in that space.

I also get to do this a bit at my job: I'm basically a lab manager. It was not part of the job posting, but I came in with research and clinical experience, and my boss is happy to have me expand my role. It's a big enough lab so we have a few post docs and grad students who are writing grants throughout the year. However, this is a small part of my job (and I'm lucky it's worked out the way it has), so even if you didn't mind doing the other stuff I'm not sure how helpful that is as far as job searching goes.
posted by ghost phoneme at 9:24 AM on May 21, 2022

My experience with program managers (NSF most closely) is that they do not edit and do not directly review grants, the review/evaluation process is peer-run and handled by a panel of experts. The program managers' role in this process is, well, managing the process, as well as triage and final decision making, and of course stuff like grant administration. I don't think it would really fit at all with what you are articulating here, though of course perhaps other agencies are different; and there may be some amount of internal work that would match. I know in agencies like DARPA program managers do expend a lot of effort developing specific projects that go through an internal vetting process. But being a DARPA (etc) PM sounds, frankly, awful. And you need a very specific sort of connection to land in that role.

However, most research universities do have an office that supports grant and contract writing, and this may be a better place to look for jobs like this, for example. A lot of the staff work here though is (super tedious) compliance auditing as much as project development. But they definitely do have staff that can help with the writing, and this is especially important for really large limited submissions (like for centers or major capital improvements).

The nature of my unhappiness is making it clear to me that my ideal job is basically being Reviewer #2.

I want to add that I think you have really the wrong idea about what the reviewer #2 trope is, and what it is like for researchers to interact with people instantiating this trope. To the point where I almost wonder if this is interfering with some of your goals here if you are pitching it this way, or even worse, instantiating the sort of confrontational style associated with this trope. (For example, reviewer #2 is not actually out to make the work better...)
posted by advil at 10:32 AM on May 21, 2022 [4 favorites]

I work in government as a policy analyst and that mix of quant skills and ability to write and interest in providing valid criticism to improve work product would potentially be incredibly highly valued here. You'd likely be doing some of your own writing, too, though, rather than just improving other work.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:05 AM on May 21, 2022 [2 favorites]

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