Fiona Mitchell holding a coconut

Dr. Fiona Mitchell in Kuala Lumpur for the International Congress on Obesity having some (extremely) fresh coconut water

Dr. Fiona Mitchell is the Senior Editor for The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology. Before her current position, she spent two years at the NICHD in the Shi lab. There, she characterized a transgenic mouse strain in which the gene encoding LAT1—a transporter for thyroid hormones and amino acids—could be knocked out by Cre co-expression globally or in specific tissues. In a Q&A with The NICHD Connection, Dr. Mitchell shares her experiences as an editor:

1. What does a senior editor at an academic journal do?  

The Lancet journals have an in-house editorial system. The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology is the latest of the Lancet specialty titles to launch. The core team running the journal is three people: Editor, Deputy Editor, and Senior Editor. Because the team is small, the Deputy Editor and Senior Editor are responsible for part of every section of the journal. On other journals, one individual will be responsible for one section, but this is not the case for The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology.

As the Senior Editor, I handle approximately half of the articles that we publish in the journal. Once original research articles are passed onto me by the Editor, I read them in-depth, do a primary assessment of their quality and novelty, and feed back my assessment to the Editor. After discussion, I will either let the authors know that we have decided not to proceed with their paper, or I will arrange for peer review by a statistician and secure three to four clinical reviewers. All research papers that will be sent back to authors for revision on the basis of reviewer comments are presented at a weekly meeting with the wider Lancet team; this includes other Lancet specialty journal editors as well as editors from The Lancet. Research submissions generally go through one to two rounds of peer review and revision before acceptance.

Each original research paper that we accept is published alongside a Comment article. After a paper is accepted, these articles must be commissioned quickly and processed with a fast timeline. To meet our publication targets, papers are published four weeks after acceptance; so linked Comments must be commissioned, written, submitted, revised if necessary, edited, and proofed in this time.

As well as research submissions, I commission reviews on topics of interest in the field. We aim to publish novel reviews that will fill a gap in the current literature, so I need to be aware of current topics of interest and advances in the field. I travel to international conferences several times a year, which is important for generating review ideas, networking with leading clinicians and academics, and keeping abreast of ongoing studies. I also handle the peer review, developmental editing, and revision process for review articles after submission. 

We also publish news stories, and as the Senior Editor I am responsible for ensuring that we have sufficient content to fill this section of the journal. We commission freelancer writers for much of our news content, and I am responsible for liaising with the writers. I also generate a lot of the ideas for news stories that we commission. 

The journal team writes Editorials in rotation, so we will each write once every three months. We also write calls for papers, arrange for press releases, commission cover art, and take on other projects such as Series (a group of papers on a theme).

After acceptance, papers are edited in-house by Assistant Editors and figures are redrawn by Production Editors. I am responsible for liaising with this wider team, in order to meet our publication deadlines. Original research timelines are roughly eight weeks from submission to online publication, and we publish three to four research papers per month in print. We publish around two to three reviews per month, news, Comments, Editorials, Correspondence, and Clinical Pictures.

2. What’s your typical day like?

It is varied, but usually involves some aspect of peer review, “second reads” of new articles that have been submitted, and status meetings with the team. I might also be writing, providing developmental comments for a review author, or researching ideas for a series of reviews. If I'm at a conference, then I will be attending talks and also meetings with leading academics. 

3. When did you start thinking about becoming an editor?

I knew that I didn't want to stay at the bench, but I am interested in how research projects are designed and conducted. I also didn't like focusing on one small area when I was more interested in how it all fits together. Becoming an editor allowed me to use my scientific knowledge and thinking, but also see the bigger picture. I started working towards this change in career while I was a postdoc.

4. How did you find your position with The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology

I took a maternity cover position at another journal, and when I was there I met other editors. Someone I knew moved to a new position at one of the Lancet specialty journals. When The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology was recruiting before launch, they let me know about the position.

5. Please describe the application/hiring process. Did it take a long time?

I applied with a CV and cover letter. Because this was a new journal, there was a lag time because they were recruiting the Editor before the rest of the team. I received an editing test—writing an editorial on a topic of my choosing and selecting articles for peer review and suggesting reviewers. I was then invited for an interview.

6. Which skill sets from the lab best apply to becoming a journal editor?

The ability to see projects through to completion is good for working on Series. The scientific knowledge and understanding of good study design is necessary to be able to assess papers for their rigor, validity, and utility.

7. What activities or resources at the NIH helped prepare you for your career transition?

I was supported by my supervisor who understood that the training position was about more than gaining lab skills. I joined the Fellows' Editorial Board, which was useful for me to see how lots of different papers are put together. The discussions I had about research design were helpful—whether we were discussing research ongoing in the division or new papers that had recently been published.

8. As a journal editor, what is your take on team science? 

Some of the information generated in large collaborative efforts is very interesting. The genome-wide association study (GWAS), for example, is allowing us to understand phenomena such as heritability of drug actions that could lead to targeting of treatments based on what will work best for each individual. Large databases are also uncovering interesting trends, such as ethnic/socioeconomic disparities. These efforts would not be possible without many people with different skill sets working together.

9. Do you have any advice for fellows who are thinking about entering the editing career field?

Every journal and publisher is different. I was lucky to find an open opportunity at a journal in the field I was interested in—endocrinology.  Like bench science, it's long hours and you need to be passionate about the subject to enjoy the job. But I find it more rewarding than being at the bench because you're involved with more completed stories. Being able to write is a positive, as is the ability to critically appraise research. Additionally, you should be aware of what is “hot” in the field. If you are interested in becoming an editor, these are skills that are very useful.

10. Is it ok if current NICHD fellows contact you with questions? 

Yes. They can contact me at f.e.mitchell@hotmail.co.uk.