Today is a big day for ellieanywhere.com. After months of speaking with and learning from a whole host of inspiring individuals who make travel part of their full-time career, I’m delighted to introduce the ‘The World is my Office’ series. You can read all about what this series will entail here, but let’s get things started by introducing my first career-girl-come-traveller…
In today’s interview, I catch up with Ruth, an editor for a leading academic publisher who travels the world with work.
Ruth, tell us a little bit about yourself…
I’m Ruth, a Managing Editor in the publishing department of Royal Society of Chemistry based in Cambridge, UK. I manage three scientific journals which provide researchers all over the world with a community publication in which to share their latest research. While the scientists tackle ways to provide the world with sustainable energy, better healthcare and more advanced technology, it’s my job to give them a fair, efficient, and high quality home for their published work.
My small team and I ensure the journals are publishing the best content, develop strong relationships with the academic community, and keep an eye on the competition. It’s only a small percentage of our authors who are based in the UK, so frequent international travel to meet those we are working with is a big part of the job.
How did you get into your line of work?
I started out by studying Biomedical Sciences at Southampton University. A degree in the area you want to work in is the minimum qualification for getting a job in academic publishing, and many of my colleagues also have a PhD. During my time at Southampton, I worked for the student paper covering scientific research with a news angle.
After my degree, I studied for a journalism diploma in Bournemouth, and packed in as much work experience as possible including interning at local papers and, my favourite, at the BBC’s popular science magazine Focus.
I worked briefly as a journalist for the local paper in Cambridge, covering the scientific research coming out of the city, and then secured an entry-level job as Editorial Assistant at Cambridge University Press in their scientific journals department. Three years and a few steps up the career ladder later and I’m managing a portfolio of publications for the world’s leading chemistry community.
How often do you travel with work, and where do you tend to go?
In the past 12 months, I’ve been abroad 10 times for work, and this all tends to get packed into the summer months when the majority of scientific conferences take place. In my experience, this is the upper levels of how often scientific Editors will travel in a year, and many publishers will have their staff travel much less frequently.
I travel mainly to international scientific conferences, where groups of researchers working in the same subject areas will meet and share their research. The US and Asia are our biggest markets, so I’ll travel there several times per year, and Europe occasionally too.
What does a normal working week look like for you?
If I’m travelling, the week will usually start with a long flight from London to the location of a conference. I will often head straight to the conference off the plane, and get stuck in. There will be talks throughout the day, with the top researchers in the field sharing their latest discoveries, and I’ll aim to meet with as many of them as possible. There’s always a big social aspect to conferences, so drinks and dinner with the people who read and publish in our journals is usually in order. Then, up again the next morning for another full day of talks!
My usual work doesn’t stop when I’m out the office, so I also have to find time to look at my emails and carry out any ongoing project work, generally hampered by terrible WiFi. I’ve worked sitting on the floor of hotel lobbies, crouched by the door in my room, and credited many cups of coffee to the work expense account all in the pursuit of an internet signal strong enough to download an email attachment – a rare and valuable thing for the travelling worker.
What’s your favourite part of what you do?
The travel, of course! Just this year, I’ve been to 11 cities in 5 countries across 3 continents, and that’s before taking any holidays abroad. There’s not a chance I could afford the cost or time off to travel so widely if it wasn’t part of my job and while the work schedule can be pretty gruelling, I always manage to fit in some time to experience the place I’m visiting.
In St Andrews, Scotland, that meant getting up at dawn after a late dinner the night before to take a walk in the icy wind of the city before heading to a 9am meeting. In Rome, Italy it meant enlisting an old school friend living there to give me a whistle-stop tour of the locals’ favourite spots in a free evening. In Boston it meant wearing seven layers of clothing, refusing to use the warm, covered walkways from my hotel to the conference and detouring out into the Christmas light-strung streets.
St Andrews, Scotland at dawn
What are the lower points of your job which people don’t necessarily see or realise?
It can get lonely being away a lot, especially over the busy summer months. At the start of the year I block out “won’t travel” dates (weddings, birthdays, family parties) but the rest of your personal life is pretty much fair game. It’s hard to be one of the gang back home when you’re often not around for that impromptu Friday evening drink, or have had to turn down plans with friends for the third time in a row because “I’m away for work”.
I do what I can to fit in both work and friends though. After a sleepless 11 hour flight home from two weeks working in Asia, I hauled myself and a giant suitcase across London and straight onto a train to a friend’s hen do, and danced my dishevelled, disoriented way into the night with equal aplomb to the other more fresh-faced guests.
Where in the world is “home”, and what do you miss the most when you’re away from it?
I live in a village in South Cambridgeshire, UK with my boyfriend, Paul and, as cheesy as it is true, I miss him the most when I’m away. The casual working friendships you form when travelling on the job are no substitute for your loved ones, and for me a lot of the pleasure of experiencing a new place or seeing something interesting is in sharing it with someone you care about.
Home sweet home
I take a lot of photos to bore him with when I get home, message him with the frequency of a besotted teenager, and have been known to invent lengthy conversations with him in my head while wandering an unfamiliar town. This has its advantages over real company; unlike actual Paul, Head-Paul always has comforting words when I complain for the twentieth time that my feet are tired.
Where’s the best place your job has taken you?
I had never been anywhere in Asia before my work trip to South Korea, and it was so strange and amazing. I added on some days of holiday and saw the tourist spots of Seoul on foot- I loved how safe the city was, which meant I could walk alone day and night without worrying about trouble. I visited during the height of the recent MERS infection, when tourists were cancelling their trips in droves so I pretty much got the city’s temples and museums to myself.
The conference itself was in Jeju, a ridiculously beautiful honeymoon island off the south of Korea, complete with volcanic mountain, jungle-like greenery, white sands and turquoise waves. I walked back to my hotel every evening along the warm beach, feeling like life was great.
What’s the most unexpected thing that’s happened to you whilst travelling with work?
The social aspect of meeting large numbers of new people at a conference and rolling with their plans can end in some pretty unexpected encounters. You start the trip knowing no one, and end with a group of new colleagues and hopefully a few friends. A recent work event I went to started off with meeting a group of new people, and ended with a mic-drop after rapping Eminem ‘Lose Yourself’ in a Japanese karaoke bar in downtown Seattle. In my opinion, business relationships should be cemented with a mic-drop over a handshake every time.
Pike Market, Seattle
What advice would you give someone wanting to follow a similar career?
Get a degree. Rightly or wrongly, it’s the one thing you’ll need at any level in academic publishing. Also, get as much work experience as you can. It’s a competitive industry and the most respected publishing houses get hundreds of applications for entry level positions, so they will be looking for more than just good grades. You’ll be expected to start at the bottom and work your way up in an editorial team, but progression can be quick and there are lots of opportunities and companies to work for both in the UK and abroad.
If it’s the travel you’re attracted to, it’s worth doing your research and asking about the typical frequency and destinations at interview stage. The amount of travel expected of staff varies a lot between publishers, and while it will often be vaguely worked into the job description somewhere, the reality is something only those working there already will be aware of.
Finally, if you were stranded on a desert island, what 5 things would you have in your survival pack?
I would have my Kindle, sunglasses, a very large local beer (I presume the island has a brewery), headphones/music player and a tub of dark chocolate and almond Haagen-Dazs. Experience has taught me it’s impossible not to have a good time far from home as long as you have these items!