ERIE, PA – Pam Silver was still in graduate school when she submitted her first paper to the North American Benthological Society journal.
“He came back covered in red ink,” said Silver, now acting dean of academic affairs and eminent professor of biology at Penn State Erie, The Behrend College. “The newspaper’s founding editor-in-chief, Rosemary Mackay, worked with me and taught me how to write. “
The voice developed by Silver became the norm in the journal, which is now called Freshwater Science. She contributed to the publication and held various positions within the editorial team for 21 years, the last 13 as editor-in-chief. She retired from journaling work this spring, wanting to focus on a broader portfolio of academic work in college.
“My head must be here at Penn State Behrend,” she said.
Silver’s work at the journal rewarded the patience and focused editing she experienced when submitting this first article.
“Pam has worked tirelessly to improve and develop the journal while selflessly working in the trenches with the authors to improve their manuscripts,” wrote Jack Feminella, professor of biological sciences and associate dean of academic affairs at the University of ‘Auburn, and Charles Hawkins, professor in the Department of Watershed Sciences at Utah State University, in their successful silver nomination for the journal’s Distinguished Service Award. “During her tenure as editor, Pam has been a role model and mentor to many young authors and new members of the editorial board. Besides her incredible work ethic, Pam’s ability to work effectively with all kinds of personalities is perhaps her greatest strength.
We spoke with Silver about her years at the journal, the benefits of working with young scientists, and the four things academics can do to improve their writing:
Q: Tell us a bit about the science of freshwater. Who reads it?
Money: It is a professional journal for ecologists, biologists and environmental scientists. The Society for Freshwater Science co-publishes the journal with the University of Chicago Press quarterly. To my knowledge, this is the only major scientific journal in the field of freshwater science that is still published by the company. Most of the rest were sold to commercial publishers.
Q: How did you get involved with the newspaper?
Money: I submitted an article. The editor bled red ink all over, but she taught me how to improve it. I actually thought, “I want his job.” I applied to be a member of the editorial board, which examines science in articles, and was accepted in 1997. In 2002, they asked me to be co-editor. When Dave Rosenberg, the journal’s second editor, retired in 2005, they asked me to take the job.
Q: Was that in addition to your full-time job as a professor at Penn State Behrend?
Money: Yes. It was like having another full time job. I probably worked 40 hours overtime a week editing articles and working with writers.
Q: Seriously? Forty more hours a week?
Money: Each article involved about 20 hours of time, and we published about 100 articles per year, or about 2000 hours per year. By the time of publishing an issue, I would have read and edited each page at least four times.
Q: Why are journals like Freshwater Science important?
Money: It is a way of disseminating information in a way that ensures its validity. Is the work scientifically valid? Are the results reliable? If it is Freshwater Science, it has been peer reviewed.
It is also a way of creating a network of people, a community that shares information. Sharing this information can inspire more curiosity, which leads to more science. It’s like scaffolding. Scientists continue to build on previous work. Every article that is published is based on a pyramid of other articles.
Question: The nomination for your Distinguished Service Award focused in part on your ability to work with all kinds of personalities. How did you approach your interactions with the different writers?
Money: I was honest, but I went out of my way to be kind and tried to keep our interactions informal. The authors might not like all of the changes I made to their articles, but they generally agreed that I made them better.
Question: What was the most common problem you encountered while editing?
Money: Organization. If an article was difficult to understand, it was usually because of the order of the paragraphs, sentences or words and the inconsistency in the way the authors referred to things.
Question: How Can Academics Improve Their Writing?
Money: First, you use precise and concise language. You use the active voice and the phrases that move forward, and you always think of the audience. If you can’t explain a concept to a non-scientist, you need to work on your communication skills.
Question: One of the things attributed to you is the diversification of the organization as well as the number of its members.
Money: I made a real effort to increase international diversity and bring more women into the editorial staff. I also tried to include more young scientists. Everyone has something to contribute, and the post benefits when it reflects a variety of perspectives.
Question: Why is it important to include young scientists?
Money: For the same reason I love to teach freshmen. They are young, enthusiastic and full of energy, and they still want to save the world. You can help him direct that energy to important things.