Matthew Burnett in Conversation with Mike Page
Matthew Burnett in Conversation with Mike Page
Mike Page is the executive editor of the Journal of Experimental Botany and a senior research associate at Lancaster University, UK.
MB: How long have you been the executive editor of the Journal of Experimental Botany (JXB), and how did you get the position?
MP: I started this role in July 2020. I’d been working as an assistant editor with JXB since 2018, and was promoted to executive editor when Mary Traynor retired. Mary held the role for 25 years, and was instrumental in making JXB the success it is today and helping me learn the ropes.
MB: What does the executive editor of a journal do?
MP: The role of an executive editor is to manage the operations of a journal. This role is divided into many diverse duties, including building relationships, manuscript handling, managing staff, supporting authors and reviewers, balancing budgets, helping promote content, and managing an editorial board. Luckily, I’m supported by an excellent editorial team here in Lancaster, who work tirelessly behind the scenes of the journal to help all of this come together.
MB: What does a typical week look like for you?
MP: A good portion of my week is dedicated to the day-to-day running of the journal and processing manuscripts. Each member of the JXB editorial team is responsible for part of the pipeline, and I take care of checking manuscripts into our manuscript handling system. It sounds a little tedious, but it’s actually really interesting to see which manuscripts are being submitted and to get a very early look at new breakthroughs. I might also work on improving journal policy together with the editor-in-chief, or investigating cases of publication ethics. Oh, and don’t forget lots of Zoom meetings! However, one of the reasons I love my job is because most days are surprising and interesting, so there’s no such thing as a typical week. I’m never quite sure what I might have to deal with, so it keeps me on my toes!
MB: How does the executive editor’s job differ from other editorial roles for a journal?
MP: Most editorial staff will focus on a few specific duties. For example, the JXB editorial team each have their own specialist areas, such as managing our special issues, forensic image analysis, publication ethics, or copyright. The executive editor’s role is to bring all these different roles together to help the journal run as smoothly as possible.
MB: How do the journal staff and the academic editors interact, and what is your role in managing this relationship?
MP: Together with the editor-in-chief, we do our best to make sure that our editorial board is representative of our community, both in terms of its diversity and in its ability to handle the number and subject matter of manuscripts that we receive. The journal staff then support the academic editors in all aspects of their work for the journal. This includes helping communicate with the reviewers that the academic editors have chosen, answering any questions the editors may have, and advising them on aspects of publication ethics or journal policy. As executive editor, I perform a similar role to support the editor-in-chief. The staff also organise an annual editorial board meeting during which all the academic editors and journal staff come together to discuss journal strategy and policy developments.
MB: What is it like working for an independent journal, and does this affect what you are able to do in your role?
MP: JXB is a great journal to work for. Having editorial independence allows us to work with the editor-in-chief to help the journal evolve in a way that best serves our community. This could be improvements to the services we offer to our authors, supporting our excellent reviewers, or implementing ideas to help authors better disseminate their work. It allows us to be very wide-ranging in what we can offer and the ideas we can develop.
MB: How do you interact with the SEB?
MP: I sit on the SEB Plant Section and attend SEB Council meetings, allowing me to contribute to the Society’s work and gain insight into how it operates as a charity and a member organisation.
Independent of my role as JXB executive editor, I also work with all five SEB journals. With the SEB team in London and the JXB staff in Lancaster, I help implement strategies to promote the content from these journals through webinars, meetings, and science writing. I also try to find individual examples of good management practice that could be applied to all five journals.
MB: Does your work for the journal help or hinder your other academic work?
MP: As well as my role as executive editor of JXB, I continue to work part-time as a postdoc at Lancaster University. Working behind the scenes at a journal has definitely helped me develop as a researcher. For example, I now have a much better understanding of how to prepare a research manuscript for publication and the intricacies of peer-review, including how to respond to Reviewer 3!
MB: Can you give some advice for any aspiring executive editors who might be reading?
MP: If you’re currently working outside of academic publishing, my advice would be to get involved with a journal in the field you’re interested in. You could apply for a more junior position and learn the trade, or offer to do some science writing for example. Getting involved with your home society can also be a good way in. If you already work for a journal, try to shadow the executive editor or deputise for them whenever possible—I found this a great way of gaining relevant experience. And the best advice for anyone who eventually succeeds in becoming an executive editor was given to me by my predecessor—“try to be nice to people and you’ll make good decisions”.
MB: What are the key skills someone needs to be a successful executive editor?
MP: Empathy, resilience, and adaptability.
MB: What is the best thing about being an executive editor?
MP: I love that my job is always interesting, sometimes surprising, and never boring. I also really appreciate that I still get to travel to conferences and interact with the research community (when there’s not a pandemic). However, the best part of my job is the privilege of being able to help researchers get their work published.
MB: What’s the worst?
MP: Undoubtedly the worst part of my job is having to give people bad news. Publishing in JXB is competitive, and so many authors are ultimately left disappointed. We try our best to be as supportive as possible, and the amazing community of JXB reviewers help by contributing constructive and fair reviews to help our authors take their work forward.