Spotlight on Allison Doerr, Nature Methods Chief Editor
Chief Editor Allison Doerr is responsible for managing the Nature Methods journal and editorial team. She occasionally still handles papers in the proteomics and structural biology fields. Read more about her in this Q&A, and follow her on Twitter @AllisonDoerr14.
Q: Where is your hometown?
AD: I grew up in a small town outside Hartford, Connecticut, USA.
Q: Where did you do your undergrad and PhD?
AD: For undergrad, I went to Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, NY, where I majored in chemistry and also took a lot of biology and music classes. For my PhD, I went to Princeton University, where I was in the chemistry department. My thesis project was about designing model alpha-helical proteins and characterizing their small molecule-binding properties, mainly using NMR spectroscopy.
Q: When did you realize that you wanted to be a scientist?
AD: I remember always being fascinated with science. I loved learning about science in school, science TV shows (especially Mr. Wizard and 3-2-1 Contact), and exploring the world outside - I liked to do things like break rocks open with a hammer to see what they looked like inside, capture dragonflies and fireflies to study them, and put things under my toy microscope. I went to college thinking that I would major in biology or environmental science, but I became so fascinated by organic chemistry that ultimately I became a chemistry major.
Q: When and why did you decide to leave the bench and become an editor?
AD: Although I had a good experience in grad school, I struggled with the monotony of working in a lab. I prefer working in a more structured environment where I am motivated by deadlines and where I’m juggling multiple tasks. My main strength in grad school, I feel, was my ability to write and communicate well. Initially, I had planned either to teach or to become a science writer. Professional journal editor was a career that I hadn’t even known existed until I met a couple of Nature editors at a science writing workshop. It quickly went to being my top choice, and so I turned down NIH funding and a postdoc offer to pursue a career at Nature Methods, where I’ve been since 2005.
Q: What do you like best about being an editor?
AD: I’ve been an editor for 15 years, and I’ve learned so much about different areas of biology research through the experience of constantly reading manuscripts, attending conferences, and searching articles to highlight for our magazine content. For me, what’s been most exciting is to see how new technologies drive a period of very intense methodology development – for example, how direct detectors used in cryo-EM spurred a great number of new approaches for atomic-resolution structure determination. My job never gets boring as there is always something new to learn!
I’ve now been Chief Editor for a little more than a year, and it’s been really fun to spend my time thinking more strategically: what areas of research we should be focusing our energies on, what types of content or new formats can we introduce to the journal, how we can better serve and communicate with our authors, reviewers and readers, etc.
Q: What advice do you have for young scientists interested in pursuing an editorial career?
AD: I am asked this question a lot…what I look for when I’m hiring is for people who have a broad research background and really understand the science, who are interested in research areas beyond their own training, and who are good at communicating (both orally and in writing) and show a genuine passion for it. An ability to manage time well and to make independent decisions are also essential. As long as a person has these innate qualities and the right scientific background for the particular position, all other aspects of being a good editor can be learned on the job.
Q: What is your favorite place in the world to visit?
AD: One of the great perks of being an editor is that we have the opportunity to travel to conferences, some of which are in some pretty fabulous places – I definitely would not have seen as much of the world as I have if I did not have this job. For example, I traveled to South Korea and to Ireland for conferences, two countries that I probably would not have thought to vacation to on my own, but which were amazing places to visit.
As for my favorite place, that’s a tough one. I love many places in western North America: the Arizona desert, wine country in California, the mountains in British Columbia. The landscape is just so beautiful and so different from the East Coast where I’ve spent all my life. I also love visiting Italy, which for me is the total package – good food, good wine, and beautiful cities and landscapes.
Q: Do you have any hidden talents?
AD: In my younger years I was quite an accomplished amateur pianist and singer, though between work and family demands, I don’t have enough time to pursue these activities as much as I’d like!
I like to think that I’m a pretty good cook, and even after a long day at the office I still really enjoy whipping up a dinner for my family.