How my MChem led to a career in scientific publishing

Stephen Davey
Stephen Davey
Chief Editor, Nature Reviews Chemistry
MChem Chemistry with Study in Industry
Stephen had a placement at the then SmithKline Beecham, which led to him pursuing a PhD and eventually a senior role in academic publishing.

Unlike a lot of my friends I had a particular career in mind at age 16 — I wanted to be (or so I thought) a forensic scientist. But someone, I can’t remember who, gave me some sage advice. 'Forensic science is just chemistry,' they said, 'so study chemistry, and if you change your mind later you’ll still be well placed for a lot of other careers.' I always had a pretty natural aptitude for chemistry at school so this was a plan that appealed anyway. I chose my A level subjects (Chemistry, Physics and Maths) with that in mind.

When it came to choosing a university, I was set on studying chemistry, but I was also keen on the idea of a so-called sandwich course — with a period, mid-degree study, of industry experience away from the ivory tower. Most universities at the time offered these courses, but only two were offering these as a four-year direct to MChem.

I’d also had the opportunity to visit Sheffield on a short residential course about forensic science — the city and the campus just appealed to me. Sheffield also had a good reputation for teaching and so it was a rather easy choice in the end.

Stephen Davey

Chief Editor, Nature Reviews Chemistry

I’m now Chief Editor for Nature Reviews Chemistry which launched in January 2017. The sharp-eyed reader will note that this is rather a different career to my schoolboy plans, so I should explain how that came about.

From MChem, to PhD, to postdoc

I arrived at Sheffield with my ultimate plan to be a forensic scientist intact. I was enrolled on the MChem with Study in Industry course and my hope was that the study in industry might be with the Forensic Science Service. But once at Sheffield, a developing love for organic chemistry (combined with waning interest in analytical chemistry) pushed me down a different path.

By the time I came to choose industry placements I wanted to do organic synthesis — and was lucky enough to get a placement in medicinal chemistry at SmithKline Beecham in Harlow. While officially in such companies there is no glass ceiling, it was apparent to me that most senior positions were filled by those with PhD (and very likely postdoc) experience.

Thus I was set on continuing my studies to gain a PhD. Though I briefly considered moving elsewhere, I was happy in Sheffield — and several good friends had chosen to stay too. I found a PhD project (working with Alan Spivey investigating asymmetric catalysis) that interested me and was all set (that the PhD was co-sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline and would include a return visit to Harlow all tied in nicely).

Towards the end of my PhD a fantastic opportunity arose — to undertake a period of postdoctoral research in the Netherlands, working with Ben Feringa on light-driven molecular motors. It was during my two years in Groningen that I’d come to realise that industrial chemistry research was not really for me, but I wasn’t sure that an academic job would be the right fit either.

I’d always found a great deal of pleasure in literature research, and then a fellow postdoc (and one of the smartest and most enthusiastic chemists I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with), Mike Pollard, suggested that an editorial career might be the way to go.

First steps in scientific publishing

I applied to join the Royal Society of Chemistry editorial team and moved to Cambridge in early 2006. I spent two fantastic years working on the journals Lab on a Chip and the Journal of Environmental Monitoring, and then came the announcement of the impending launch of Nature Chemistry. With a diverse research background and two years of editorial experience, I was lucky enough to get the chance to be part of the team launching this new journal.

Furthermore, I was able to return to working on organic chemistry, and as an added bonus, my new employer wanted me to move to Boston (Massachusetts not Lincolnshire) as part of the deal.

I arrived in Boston four days before Barack Obama was elected President of the USA and expected to stay for maybe two or three years. In 2015 — when the term ‘President Trump’ was still just a punchline — I’d decided that the time had come to move home. In November 2015, I was offered the position of Chief Editor for Nature Reviews Chemistry.

My journal aims to be the premier venue for chemistry reviews. We strive to make our reviews both accessible to novices in a field while also providing expert insight. We travel the world in searching out the newest, hottest topics and have the pleasure of working directly with some of the world’s leading chemists.

Stephen Davey

We take particular pride in editing the text and the figures, not bad for someone with a GCSE grade B in English and who can’t draw - I took Physics at GCSE instead of Art for a good reason.

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