Tips on how to apply for a science editor post at Botany One

We’ve examined where people struggled with applications, the last time we had an editor post open. Here are some tips for what we are looking for.

You can listen to this page as an audio file.

You might have seen that we’re looking for a couple of editors to join us here. In the past we’d ask for a cover letter and resume. That carries the assumption that people know what to put in the cover letter. From our experience last time we advertised, people had very different ideas of what to include. To make things more transparent, we’ve decided to ask a series of questions rather than a cover letter, so you can see what information we’re looking for.

I’d also like to offer a bit more explanation of the advert to help people with their application. If you’re not a perfect match then don’t get too downhearted. First, we’re looking to appoint two people so another candidate might have things you lack and vice versa. Second, even if you’re not perfect for this job, you might persuade us that we should offer you something else.

A job application form. Every wondered why someone is asking certain questions? We're going to try to explain.
Image: Canva.

The Application

What is your level of education?

Originally we were thinking to ask for a PhD as a minimum. However, there are plenty of people with experience who left to work in the field with a Master’s degree. So while we’d prefer a PhD, if you have a Master’s we can be persuaded that you’re the right person. We won’t be taking on someone with only a BSc. They could have enthusiasm and energy – which are important – but not the experience to take on the role.

What is your career stage?

This is a question that will help us with the previous question. It’s an opportunity to showcase some of your experience. So while you could say “Post-doc”, you might do better if you say. “I’m currently a post-doc at Smith Lab, where I’m working on a project investigating budding in leaves. I’m moved here after completing my PhD at Jones Lab, where I studied branching in roots.” or “I’ve been working for five years at the Mytown Herbarium, where I work on digitising records.

What is/was the focus of your education/research?

There are a couple of reasons for asking this question. Most important is that we want to appoint someone who is enthusiastic about plants. We’re not looking for a general biologist, we want someone who connects with plant biology in one form or another. However, this is not an academic position, so we don’t need a comprehensive list of publications.

Provide links to your social media and web presence.

If you’ve written for Botany One or Plantae, this is a good place to start. If you have a Twitter account, Instagram or TikTok account be sure to list it. Last time we had applications from people who I know had social media accounts, but hadn’t mentioned them. I tracked them down, but you’re taking a bit of a gamble if you think I’ll have time to do it again.

Demonstrate that you have an interest in science communication

If you use your social media accounts mainly for science, then that’s an obvious thing to list here. But not all communication is online. If you’ve worked on outreach events at the local museum or in your university department, this matters.

Demonstrate that you have experience in mentoring and/or editing

We’re hoping you’ll persuade people to write who haven’t written for the public before. Writing for the public is different to writing for scientists. Some people take to it. Some people will need guidance. Helping people write the best version of their story without discouraging them is a skill. Mentoring in this case could be where you’ve organised an event, and helped develop a team to take on roles after you’ve left to keep the event going.

Are you fluent in any languages other than English?

English might be the international language of science, but there are plenty of people who speak and read in other languages. It’s of interest because that’s a source of interesting stories that are often overlooked.

Are you a member of an underrepresented minority or group in science?

Botany One isn’t just about plants, it’s about the humans that study them. There’s a limit to how diverse one person can be, but if we’re hiring multiple people we should make an effort to ensure we’re representing all people, and not one group of people.

What is unique about you and how can it be applied to Botany One?

The previous questions are all directed to what we think will find the best candidates. But we could be wrong. If you think we’re asking the wrong things, this question is an opportunity for you get across the information that you think is important.

How will the selection work?

There’ll be a few phases. The first pass I’ll do on my own. Here I’ll reject the people who are simply unsuitable. For example, some people applying will be students who will finish their Biology BSc in the summer. There’ll be people with no interest in social media at all, who will list their research papers and their laboratory skills.

Everyone else will pass to the next round and a couple of us will be looking at the applications. The goal here will be to produce a longlist of 8-10 people who we think we could appoint. There’s a very good chance we’ll be cutting candidates who could do the job at this stage because they didn’t think about their application. Answering the questions in the application is going to be a big help here.

Once we have the longlist, three or more of us will read them again and try to produce a shortlist of people to interview. We might each suggest 2-4 names with the aim of getting a shortlist of 4-5 people to invite to interview. To get an advantage, you might want to show you’re familiar with what Botany One is. You don’t have to like everything we’ve done. if we think you have an idea of how your work is relevant to the site, then we’ll be more confident that you’ll be able to answer questions about what innovations you’d like to see on the site at the interview.

Once we have 4-5 candidates we’ll contact them for interviews over Zoom. Then I’ll write the rejection letters. Writing a rejection letter to someone who you think could do the job is no fun. Doing it several times is crushing.

What if you think you could do the job but don’t match every requirement?

It’s obvious we’re looking for someone who’s happy with the written word. So what do you do if you’re a YouTuber? If you look back to the start of the advert, we talk about a mission of making plant science research accessible to a wider audience. If that’s what you’re doing, if our advert doesn’t fit you, then maybe we’ve got our job description wrong. What you could do is explain what the advantages of YouTube are, and then how some of those skills like writing scripts, in accessible language, editing and promoting your work, are skills that we need at Botany One. There are similar ways to persuade us that your work on Instagram or TikTok would be suitable. 

What if you have an interest in plants but you don’t think you count as a ‘botanist’? We’re looking for someone with experience in Botany in the broadest sense. As far as we’re concerned that means working with plant material. If you’re an ecologist who works mainly with plants, that’s great. If you’re a cell scientist who works on plant cells, that counts. If you work in Horticulture or Forestry that will be fine. No individual is going to have experience of all Botany. What we want is a passion for plants.

What happens if another position opens up in a couple of months?

I hope you can see that this is a lengthy process with a lot of work. If we can get funding for another position then I won’t want to restart everything from scratch. Instead, we’ll look through the applications and interviews and make a direct offer to someone. If we can fund another position we’ll be looking for a person with a different skillset. I cannot guarantee this will happen, but it is possible.

Another possibility is that we can only fund half an extra half position. It’s not sensible to ask someone to work two and a half hours a week. In that case, I’d be looking to sponsor people on shorter projects, maybe a series of videos or an Instagram project. Where would we find instagrammers or tiktokkers? It would be in those applications where we couldn’t shortlist the applicants, but we recognised that someone was doing work that deserved support.

What aren’t I telling you?

The text above has a lot about you. It doesn’t have much about me, Botany One or working with the Annals of Botany Company. We’ve lost a couple of editors recently, one lasting just a year. I’d like to think that we’ve given them help to move on to bigger and better things. However, it might just be that I’m impossible to work with. You can contact former editors on Twitter and get their opinion. Anne Osterrieder’s handle is @anneosterrieder and Lorena Villaneuva’s handle is @lorevial.

You’re also welcome to contact me to talk about things before applying. If you want to do that, then it’s better do it well before the deadline. Things go wrong and I get overworked some weeks. For example the delay in getting this guide out is because the server was causing big problems, and that needed fixing first. You will get more helpful answers from me if I’m less frazzled, so leaving plenty of time before the deadline is an excellent idea.

I can’t tell you who I think will get the job, as there’s no name pencilled in. If we had a person we wanted to appoint, we’d approach them directly. If there’s one quality that I can say the person will have, it’s going to be positivity. I think I’d far rather work with someone who says we should do this, even if what they’re suggesting is a lot of extra work for me, than with someone who’s saying what we shouldn’t do.

Alun Salt

Alun (he/him) is the Producer for Botany One. It's his job to keep the server running. He's not a botanist, but started running into them on a regular basis while working on writing modules for an Interdisciplinary Science course and, later, helping teach mathematics to Biologists. His degrees are in archaeology and ancient history.

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