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Feb. 19, 2020

Anne Rea: The science of writing

Anne Rea, a postdoctoral research associate in Jianping Hu’s lab at the MSU-DOE Plant Research Laboratory, or PRL, has started a position as an assistant features editor, with the journal "The Plant Cell." She will primarily write In Brief articles that highlight recently published papers in the journal. Anne will continue her postdoc work while she works with The Plant Cell. This story has been repurposed from the College of Natural Science.

I’ve always liked writing, and I am particularly interested in science writing and editing. Some of my favorite parts about research are the thinking, designing and analyzing of experiments, and the writing that culminates in a cohesive story.

June Nasrallah, my Ph.D. mentor, is one of the best writers that I know, and I aspire to be as proficient a writer as she!

I always thought to myself, “What if there were a job out there where someone could hire me to write their manuscripts?” It would seem to address an area that many people in science suffer through: the writing!

Most are postdocs working in the plant biology field, with good writing skills and interest in communicating plant biology. These positions give us postdocs more writing experience, with an eye towards developing our future careers — having our own labs at a university, or becoming journal editors or science communications writers.

Whatever the goal, this position gives us the experience to write in the scientific field. It exposes us even further to the literature, and it also demands some creativity.

We don’t just write summaries; we are encouraged to put an interesting spin on our stories, and we have to be able to capture the reader’s attention.

Danve Castroverde, a former member of Sheng Yang He’s lab at the PRL, is a good friend. We share a love for words, language and writing. He once told me that he had a position as an AFE and that I would enjoy doing it.

A few months later, he shared an announcement about the opening for this position. A couple of my PRL friends, Giovanni Stefano and Kyaw (Joe) Aung, told me that it would be a good fit for me. So I sent in my application, which included a mock In Brief article — and the rest was history!

Once the assignment is official, I get access to all of the manuscript documents. I usually read carefully through the manuscript, take notes, and look for connections to other things I have heard or read about.

Sometimes, you can find an interesting angle that the authors might not have had the opportunity or space to include in their paper.

Then, I write up a draft and send it to the editors and manuscript authors for comments and edits.

I even got to write one up for former PRL member, Joe Aung.

When Joe mentioned that he may publish his most recent paper in "The Plant Cell," I told him, “Wouldn’t it be cool if you do, and I write up an In Brief article based on it?”

And then, months later, after he had moved on to Iowa State, he texted me one day to tell me that his manuscript got accepted.

I really wanted to write this one up and, as luck would have it, I got the opportunity to do so.