Emma Green

Please welcome Emma Green to the blog from the UK!

Emma Green holds a Bachelor of Science in Marine Biology and Biological Oceanography from Newcastle University, and a Master of Science in Conservation from the University of East Anglia. Emma has worked for Nature Publishing Group (NPG) and Springer Nature as a copy editor and freelance proofreader. She later worked in business development at NPG, a tech start-up, and the consultancy company Delta Think. She is currently the Director of Publishing Partnerships at Hindawi Publishing in London, UK where she lives with her two sons.

From the Lab Bench to Sales Calls

What did her path to a science career look like?

Emma Green grew up in London, UK where she and her family constantly questioned why things worked the way they did. Emma loved this inquisitive approach toward life and says that it was her family who helped her to realize that science was something that could allow her to live the inquisitive life that she loved.

“My family and I grew up like that. Grandpa always asked, ‘Why do you think that plant is doing better than that other plant?’ I used to love that,” Emma said.

Emma was also inspired to question by her secondary school biology teacher and her college chemistry professor. Her biology teacher was different from other teachers because he would have his students ask questions instead of just teaching them the answers right away. Similarly, her chemistry professor would ask students ‘Why do you think that is?’ and pushed Emma to wonder about things for herself.

Emma says that she originally picked her career path from a career book her parents had. Leafing through it at age 11, she decided to look for what she could do with water. Emma had always been an avid swimmer and the book’s description on marine biology seemed perfect for her.

“I remember telling my parents, ‘I’m going to be a marine biologist!’. They were supportive but reminded me, I lived in London and so I would have to find a path to it”, Emma said.

Despite some skepticism from those around her, Emma figured out what classes she needed to take in high school in order to study marine biology in college. Emma earned her BSc in Marine Biology and Biological Oceanography from Newcastle University in 1998. During her time at Newcastle, she was tutored by an inspirational developmental biologist who was as Emma put it ‘a nematode worm and genetics freak’. Although Emma was studying marine biology, she had always loved gardening and was fascinated by growth and growing things. The tutor’s influence mixed with her natural proclivity towards growth made her to realize that she wanted to continue her scientific journey studying developmental biology.

Emma (right) with her tutor (middle) from Newcastle University

“I remember watching fertilization under a microscope for the first time. It still gives me shivers to think about it. It was magical. So much has to happen for something to be created. It was so beautiful. I was hooked. That’s when I realized that it was developmental biology that I wanted to study. I was fascinated by how and why things work a certain way, why things do things, and why things don’t do things”, she said.

After college, Emma traveled to the United States to work at Brown University as a research assistant in sea urchin genetics, thinking that she eventually wanted to pursue a PhD. But Emma quickly realized that she didn’t want to study for years in the states. Sure, she loved being at the lab bench and experimenting, but she worked long hours and found it hard being so far away from home.

Before leaving for the States, Emma had applied for a master’s degree in England and received a scholarship to pursue the degree in genetic conservation. Emma deferred her enrollment in the program while she was away, but after three years at Brown and deciding she had done all she could do in the US, she returned to London to start the program. She studied inbreeding, sexual reproduction and developmental biology and had the unique opportunity to work at the London Zoo and shadow some of their breeding programs.

How did she end up in scientific publishing?

During her master’s, Emma started thinking about what she wanted to do next. Her father had been in book publishing and so working for a scientific journal wasn’t completely alien. She didn’t have any writing experience apart from what she had learnt in her degrees, but she had picked up good grammar from her parents and had great attention to detail.

“I really used to love spot the difference games; I was brilliant at them. And I had always had great attention to detail, which is all you need for copy editing. I could never go to a restaurant and read a menu and not point out that they hadn’t put a period at the end here and they hadn’t capitalized that”, said Emma.

Emma on the day she arrived back home from the States

She decided that she wanted to work for Nature and started freelance proofreading at Springer during her masters in order to learn the trade. However, when Emma applied with Nature Publishing Group (NPG) at the end of her masters, the publishing group usually looked to hire people with a PhD. “I didn’t have a PhD, but I was like, ‘Well, I’ve got a master’s and three years’ experience in the lab; I’ll be fine’”, she said.

In order to stand out, Emma sent her CV to an internal at NPG every day for a week, asking to ‘work shadow’ during a holiday period when they may be short staffed. A week of persistent CV sending paid off and Emma was called in to shadow production for a week. The next role that came up internally, Emma went for it and got it.

Emma started at NPG as a copy editor, which was great because she got to read papers and keep up with science. She worked her way up to managing a bunch of copy editors, but it didn’t take her long to realize that she didn’t want to be an editor. Around this time, a publisher at NPG, whose office was near her desk, noticed that she had a knack for talking to authors. He told her that instead of leaving the company, she should come and work in the business side of the company.

“At first I said ‘No, I’m not a salesperson.’ But he said ‘No, you’re a scientist, but you can talk to people. And we’ve never had a scientist in our sales group. You should really try it.’”, she said. Emma tried the business side of NPG and she loved it. But it wasn’t just sales; it was building relationships.

Emma specifically worked within the Sponsorship group. NPG looked for sponsorships from companies or charities, such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, so that they could support and distribute special issues for free. Emma was one of the people contacting and making connections with potential sponsors for the program.

“I got to talk to the Chief Science Officer of Sanofi, the Chief Science Officer of GSK, and head of vaccines at Astra Zeneca. The most amazing, interesting people and they were amazed that I was a scientist. We would have great conversations and at the end they would support an issue or sort of sponsor an issue”, said Emma.

Emma ended up working at NPG for 12 years. She then worked at a tech start up and a change management consultancy called Delta Think before starting her current position at Hindawi Publishing.

What does she do at Hindawi Publishing?

Hindawi Publishing is an open-access publisher. With most scientific journal articles, the reader has to pay a fee to access the article. Open-access is a new(ish) publishing model where either the author or a grant funder pays so that anyone can access the content for free. Emma’s job at Hindawi is to build relationships with other publishers and help them to move their publishing models to open-access.

“A lot of large publishers just aren’t set up to deal with open-access. They are trying to move to it, but often are not set up to deal with the different processes needed. My role is to say, ‘We can help you with that.’ There is a partnership and money involved, but basically I help them move from the subscription model to open-access”, Emma said.

There are a few models, but essentially journals that the publisher (company X) wants moved to open-access are co-published by Hindawi. In other words, they become company X/Hindawi published journals. Hindawi converts the journals over to the open-access model and grows the journal.

Emma also helps companies and societies that want to launch open-access journals but don’t know how to. In this case, the company or society has their own editorial staff that create and name the journal, while Hindawi runs the journal system. Hindawi essentially takes care of all the details that go into publishing a journal that the company or society can’t focus on. The journal then gets published under the company or society name.

“It’s almost like they’re [the company/society] the duck on top of the water, but underneath the water, we are the little legs that get them moving and paddling along”, she said.

What has been the hardest part of her career?

Emma says that the hardest part of her career was moving from behind a computer screen to talking to people in person and on the phone. In other words, she found it difficult to transition from editorial work to the business side of publishing. She had never done anything like that before and didn’t really know how to do it.

“I’ve been doing it for years and there are still times, even to this day, where 10 minutes before a sales call I will be doubting myself and my ability to keep a conversation going. Yeah, I guess you could call it stage fright. That’s the hardest thing and it never goes away,” she said.

Has she faced challenges balancing her career and personal life?

Emma never intended to stay in the States for more than a year. After three years, she started resenting her work and the life she had set up. “It was all consuming. Everything had to be that all the time. It was suffocating and I didn’t have balance. I couldn’t breathe. I was young, setting up a life and a career, and I kept seeing bits of doubt creeping in as to my choice to be a lab scientist”, she said.

Emma (left) with her PI (middle) and another member of her lab at Brown

She also remarked that living and working in America as a young girl from London was not easy. She went straight to work at Brown after landing in the United States and did not have much time to acclimatize to her new surroundings.

“Within the first month, I needed to go to the hospital, and I went to the wrong one, in terms of insurance. I was new in the country, and I wanted a mobile phone. They said, ‘That’ll cost you $700 because you have no credit history.’ I was like ‘What? I’m confused.’ I just didn’t know how anything worked”, said Emma. “You feel like an alien.”

After returning to the UK, her work at NPG as a copy editor and then in sales challenged her work/life balance again. “I was nine to five to a certain extent, although I worked eight to eight sometimes as a copy editor. And then when I started in the business side, I was traveling a lot. I was getting sick because I was travelling a lot. It was a burn out job”, she said.

“To a certain extent I didn’t entirely know what I wanted, so I put more than everything I had into the sales job”, Emma says. “I was lost and spinning out of control, I was burning candles at all ends”. She said it was not something she could have done for more than the couple years she did.

Emma spending time with her two sons

She says that it is still difficult to juggle everything as a single mother of two boys with a full-time job. However, the company she works for now, Hindawi, has been very understanding, especially during the global pandemic.

“With homeschooling and stuff that we’ve had to deal with, they completely understand that people need a bit of space and allowance. They trust that I will get the work done at some point”, said Emma.

What difficulties has she faced as a woman in her career?

There have been times in Emma’s sales career where being a woman was not an advantage. She explained that being a woman in a business relationship-building role can be a difficult situation because you must create common paths and interests and make others feel comfortable, which some men misconstrue as an opportunity to flirt. A few times these awkward moments have made her question her role in sales.

“People have sometimes crossed a line. I questioned as to whether I should be in this role or not. But I like relationship building and I’m not letting them change what I love about what I do. It’s their problem, not my problem”, she said. “I’ve learned to be very clear and often more direct than I feel I should have to be.”

Although Emma says she does not feel like there have been roadblocks to advancement or promotion in her career due to her gender, she admitted that it still isn’t equal in terms of the number of women on boards or in chief roles in science. It is changing, but it’s still not equal. She is also wary to make sure she is working in a good environment and said she would leave any job that discriminated based on gender or used sex as a sales tool.

Who are her mentors?