In this Q&A with Ludo Waltman, the editor-in-chief of Elsevier’s Journal of Informetrics shares the typical tasks involved in the role, along with the key challenges and top rewards. Perhaps it will inspire you to explore an editorship yourself.
Ludo is a researcher in the field of bibliometrics and scientometrics, and deputy director of the Centre for Science and Technology Studies (CWTS) at Leiden University in the Netherlands.
I spend about 12-15 hours per week on my work as a journal editor. This includes the daily management of approximately 300 submissions per year, setting the long-term strategy and reaching out to new research communities. Finding a balance among all the tasks is difficult to achieve, and daily submissions have priority.
I also work with two associate editors, who handle submissions where I have a conflict of interest, and an editorial board. The board consists of 30 people who review 6-8 manuscripts per year, so you can see they are significant contributors to the journal. I revise the membership of the board every two years. They also advise me on difficult issues, long-term strategy and considerations such as acceptance rate for the journal.
On the production side, there is a journal manager and I communicate with him on production-related issues 3 to 4 times per week.
What is involved in defining a journal’s strategy?
Strategy includes looking at the scientific scope of the journal and whether to discontinue coverage of any sub-fields or add new ones. Also, we look at how the journal is organized. For example, do we maintain a single editor-in-chief or have a more distributed model with associate editors in charge of sub-fields? Lastly, I think about the promotional strategy: How do I ensure the journal is sufficiently visible and that I am accessible and approachable? What conferences do I need to attend? How will I use social media?
Are you a typical journal editor in terms of background and disposition?
At age 34 I am on the younger side for a journal editor; I was recommended for the position by the previous editor probably based on the quality of my work not longevity. I’m a senior researcher leading a research group working on scientometrics, or measuring science, at one of the largest research centers in the field worldwide. As the journal is quite technical, my background in computer science, economics, statistics and policy are key.
I also think it takes a person who can handle stress and difficult decisions. When I turn down an article I know I’m going to disappoint someone, so I put effort into explaining why I made the decision to show I took their input seriously. Journal of Informetrics is one of the most important journals in the field and I do feel the weight of maintaining its quality.
Is scientometrics a field that attracts many librarians?
More and more librarians are using scientometric methods as their roles change and they delve deeper into the evaluation of scientific research. As scientometrics is closely related to research evaluation and research policy, I find that, outside the core scientometric community, our primary audience is science managers and policy makers.
What are the most rewarding aspects of being an editor?
The two things I find most rewarding are receiving high-quality submissions and helping to make them even better, and steering the research field in a certain direction by the decisions I make.
I think in the first few years you learn a lot, you experience the most common pitfalls and you become more efficient in managing the journal. It’s likely not something I would do for 20 years, but I feel I have definitely hit my stride and have several more productive years ahead of me as a journal editor.