Ella Hinson (PhD ’09, Biology and Biomedical Sciences)

What did you study at Yale, and what is your current profession/job?

I am a Senior Editor for Cell Host & Microbe, a Cell Press journal that publishes peer-reviewed, primary research examining the interaction between microbes and their hosts. This position is topically relevant to my graduate work at Yale, in which I obtained my Ph.D. from the Department of Microbial Pathogenesis in 2009. I conducted my thesis research examining the function of an innate protein in preventing and limiting viral and bacterial infections.

What do you like most about your current role? What do you find most challenging and/or rewarding?

I love that I get to read and learn from people’s research. Some of my most exciting moments are when I read a really well thought-out and scientifically strong paper and then see that paper through the peer review and publication process. Authors invest much time in their research and manuscripts and thus seeing that effort come to fruition is always rewarding. The flip side of this enjoyment is that it is not possible to publish all papers, and as an editor, there are papers that I must decline and suggest would be more appropriate elsewhere. It can be challenging to see the potential in a manuscript but still not be able to publish the paper in its current form.

How did your time at Yale shape your career trajectory?

Editors at Cell Press (and many other similar publishing entities) have Ph.Ds. (and this degree is often a requirement for the job application). Thus, my graduate work was instrumental in my career trajectory. Specifically, I think Yale offered me a significant amount of support and connections that have facilitated my career as an editor. I relied on advice from Yale faculty in deciding to transition from a post-doctoral fellow to an editor and received much support along the way. This support has continued as I have advanced in my career, and I continue to have contacts with many of my fellow Yale colleagues and faculty. I think this level of interaction and close relationships with trainees are what makes Yale a unique and valuable environment.

What are the main skills that you acquired as a PhD student which help make you successful in your current career?

The classes that I took as a graduate student as well as the qualifying exam and subsequent journal clubs and lab research taught me to critically read and examine science. This thought process is the underlying principle of my job. I was taught and encouraged to think critically in various classes where we read and discussed papers that had major impacts on the field. The reading period of my qualifying exam offered a similar experience. As I became immersed in my thesis research, my mentor strongly encouraged me to think independently. He allowed me to drive my project, learning from both the success and the failures. Collectively, these experiences honed my ability to think about and evaluate research.

Did you acquire any professional experience related to your line of work while in graduate school?

I did not have any other specific training that was relevant to my current position. I entered my job as an Assistant Editor, which does not require prior editorial experience. Assistant Editors receive on-the-job training that facilitates their transition and advancement as editors.

What advice would you offer PhDs who are interested in your line of work?

Being an editor involves a lot of reading and thinking about other people’s research, such as by reading a manuscript, listening to talks at a scientific conference, planning a scientific meeting, etc. It also requires that you interface with authors and reviewers in which you talk through papers, explain editorial decisions and opinions, or ask for additional input or information. Thus, two of the most valuable skills are the ability to understand and critically think about science as well as communicate clearly. The road to a Ph.D. offers a lot of training in these two areas but capitalizing on your opportunities to further harness these skills will strengthen your potential candidacy for editorial positions. This can be done by attending as many journal clubs as possible, presenting your science often, trying your hand at communicating about science via social media or other writing opportunities, interacting with as many faculty and colleagues at scientific meetings, asking questions at scientific presentations, etc.