Sitting Down With… Catherine Ketcham, Managing Editor of Laboratory Investigations and Modern Pathology at the United States and Canadian Academy of Pathology, Palm Springs, California, USA
Michael Schubert | | 4 min read | Interview
What’s involved in your role as an editor?
The word “editor” is a broad term – and editing documents is just a tiny part of it. I think of myself as the information hub for the journals. Communication comes to me, then goes out to other people. For example, if an author or reviewer has a question for the editor, it has to come through me; they’re not allowed to contact one another directly – both to avoid bothering busy faculty members and to ensure that there’s a record of everything we discuss with manuscripts.
What’s it like to immerse yourself in the world of pathology without being a pathologist yourself?
It’s a wonderful community. After getting to know people, going to USCAP meetings, and dealing with repeat authors and reviewers, I felt right at home. I also love being an integral part of a group as prestigious as USCAP.
Tell us about your two journals – Laboratory Investigation and Modern Pathology.
They are completely different journals. Laboratory Investigation started in 1952 and covers basic and translational science; I’m very comfortable with this area due to my experience as a biochemist. In 2010, the managing editor of Modern Pathology left and I was asked to step in until they found someone else, but the Editor-in-Chief and I got along so well that I kept the position. Modern Pathology is clinical diagnostic pathology, which is not subject matter I know well, but we have experts to help.
Typically, when I’m extra busy with one of the journals, the other one is going well – but I do have to be very organized. A lot of my scientific friends tell me that they would never want to be editors because they wouldn’t like the deadlines and the amount of juggling, but it becomes second nature. Two issues must come out every month no matter what’s going on in my life, so I make sure they do. And it’s not just the publications; there’s social media, podcasts, altmetrics scores, how the non-scientific media cover you… there’s so much to worry about and so much to do to stay competitive these days.
What’s more important for the work that you do – a strong understanding of the field or a familiarity with the medical publishing world?
These days, it is absolutely the medical publishing world because it has changed – and is changing – so fast. We have institutions, organizations, and even whole countries demanding open access; the old subscription model won’t hold much longer in scientific publishing. Right now, our journals are hybrid, meaning that readers and contributors can choose between open access and subscription. Inevitably, though, everything will become open access and researchers who don’t have a way to fund that will lose out – so it’s going to be a rough transition for a lot of journals.
We’re actively thinking about when to flip the switch for each journal. I think that Laboratory Investigations, because it’s basic research, will be ready first. Basic science authors frequently have grant funding that can cover publication charges. Clinical pathologists do much of their work without funding (and, of course, we still want to publish their work), so it may take longer for Modern Pathology to make the transition.
Are there any goals you’d still like to accomplish?
I like traveling for work so when Laboratory Investigations started to receive more papers from China, I wanted to connect personally with Chinese researchers. I’ve made it a goal to travel throughout China, meet people at all the important institutions, and develop personal relationships, because they are the future of science. I’m also trying to learn a little Mandarin to understand what they go through when writing scientific papers in English. I can’t imagine how hard that is. The least I can do is learn to say hello!
What do you wish all pathologists and laboratory medicine professionals knew about publishing?
I wish they knew that editors and publishers are not perfect. Please check your proofs really, really carefully. I have made mistakes; proofreaders make mistakes; publishers make mistakes; typesetters make mistakes. Once you send that proof back and it’s published, we can’t change it (though we can issue a correction). Be kind to your co-authors – spell their names right! We all want the published manuscript to be perfect, so look over your proofs carefully and save yourself a lot of trouble.
If you could give yourself one piece of advice at the start of your career, what would you say?
Be flexible – and don’t be afraid of change. Try something; if it doesn’t work, try something else.