THREE-QUESTION SPOTLIGHT: People make the publishing industry

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With the annual ALPSP conference approaching, we asked Audrey McCulloch, the new chief executive of the industry organisation, three questions about how she ended up in scholarly publishing and the best - and worst - things about the industry

How and why did you get into the scholarly publishing industry?

The answer to this one probably mirrors that of many others. After a degree, PhD and two post-docs, I finally decided that a long-term future in research really wasn’t for me. I wasn’t ready to give up all that training without a fight though, so I looked around for options. The most obvious was to get into scholarly publishing, as I hoped I’d still be able to use all my knowledge. I applied for (the most obvious) jobs as a staff editor but was saved from all that by Rhonda Oliver, then MD at Portland Press, who recognised that my brain was not cut out for the very careful attention to detail and repeating workload that such a role requires. She offered me a role as an administrator, which sounded much more varied and something I could get my teeth into.

Six months later, a new position opened up managing the ‘pre-press’ team, looking after incoming submissions, liaising with authors and starting the production process by getting author files in the best shape for the copyediting process. They were going through a major database upgrade and much change management was required! I was blessed with a brilliant team and they achieved great things.

Portland Press was an ambitious organisation and I could see that what we wanted to do required much closer working across all the teams we had. I proposed a new position for myself, which would work across all the teams and start to pull the projects together more efficiently. Fortunately, my vision was shared and I got my new role. The biggest challenge for me was learning “IT-speak” as all our projects were revolved around IT, so I had to learn to be a conduit between IT and non-IT; no simple task! I’m really proud of our achievements. We won and successfully integrated two journals and launched a third. We worked closely with the team at the University of Manchester to develop the Utopia Documents software. Somewhat hidden, but certainly not a small project, was the development of their own submission, peer review and production tracking system. 

It was very sad to leave such a great team, but the time had come to move on and the executive director, UK role at ALPSP came up, which subsequently became the chief exec role earlier this year. It’s been a roller coaster, but I think I’m just about hanging on! The team at ALPSP is every bit as fantastic as the Portland Press one and again I feel very lucky.

What is the best thing about the industry?

It’s been said before, but undoubtedly, it’s the people. We work in an industry where competition is fierce, for input as well as output, and we are under enormous pressure from many quarters. But we pull together, we work together, we find shared solutions and we are not afraid to help each other (while being mindful of the various laws that have to be respected). It’s an excellent industry to work in.

What has been your least-favourite moment?

Covering both my old position while it was unfilled and stepping up into my new role was exhausting, but it’s been worth all the hard work. The ALPSP team have been fantastically supportive and we’re now finally back to full strength. We’re all excited to be taking ALPSP forward again, so watch this space.