As part of our ongoing Editor Spotlight Series, we connected with UC Press Editor Chloe Layman to talk about her role as the new Sciences Editor, what kinds of projects she’s looking for, and how authors can connect.
Chloe Layman joined UC Press in late 2021 after having worked in medical and engineering publishing at two scholarly presses. She acquires broadly in the applied life sciences and the computational and data sciences advancing research and applications in these fields. Inspired by her experience as a doctoral student and graduate, she publishes resources supporting aspiring and established scientists in their career goals–whether they hope to achieve them at the lab bench or in the boardroom. She also acquires projects amplifying scientists’ voices in the public sphere and connecting the often specialized work they do with broader conversations around social and environmental justice.
What brought you to UC Press? Tell us more about your background.
My path to publishing felt quite circuitous and accidental at first and then utterly fated once I started working in the industry (perhaps I should’ve become a classics editor!). It didn’t dawn on me until I had my PhD in hand that I much preferred flitting between ideas and projects rather than refining a single research program as an academic career requires. Pretty ironic for someone who studied self knowledge!
Scholarly publishing is a way to stay connected to the ways of thinking that first excited me as an aspiring academic without narrowing my focus. Finding a career with opportunities to move not just from project to project but from solitude to large group settings and back again also felt increasingly essential to me. Since my belated epiphany, I’ve worked in medical and engineering publishing and now science publishing (the whole STM trifecta).
What drew you to the role of Science Editor at UC Press?
UC Press is amazingly interdisciplinary. It’s thrilling to continue conversations started by books on the environmental studies, food, or even law and art history lists. For instance, previous UC Press books have exposed the harms the fashion industry perpetuates against workers and consumers of color and envisioned a more equitable future. Their advocacy inspired me to explore the work of materials scientists developing innovative new biomaterials and zero-waste manufacturing processes to green up this notoriously unsustainable industry. That got me thinking about publishing a guide to sustainable fashion for consumers who care as much about the size of their carbon footprints as the length of this season’s hemlines.
What do you find most exciting about your field?
Life scientists think on a scale shading from the vanishingly small to the incomprehensibly vast and complicate our ordinary categories by, say, experimenting with inserting a fish gene into the tomato genome to create a frost-resistant fruit. (Though, of course, those categories have always been simplistic as the human genome evolved to include genes from other species and even other kingdoms like bacteria). So much of this brain-bending work filters into our daily life at both its most banal — like guiding our decisions and opening up options about what to eat and wear, whether to download a fitness app — and at its most meaningful— such as whether and when to have children, when to stop medical treatment, how to conceive of ourselves when genomes and history or customs diverge.
As our new Science Editor, what kinds of projects are you looking for?
UC Press has an explicitly progressive mission. To me, that means publishing not only books that embody ideals of social justice, but also books that solve problems and point the way to a better future. Some of these problems are literally matters of life and death–creating healthcare AI free from the biases that have historically denied poor people, women, and people of color necessary care; overturning the social structures that isolate and other people with disabilities; and greening our least sustainable industries. Others can feel that way–navigating the tenure process, making sense of competing claims around new biotechnologies, and learning a new discipline’s lingo when everyone else seems fluent.
I’m also interested in projects that use natural scientists’ perspectives to provide a fresh lens on policy questions and supplement the important work already done by social scientists and humanists. For instance, one doesn’t need any specialized knowledge to feel revulsion at the U.S. system of capital punishment. However, an expert’s knowledge of chemistry, physiology, or medicine can make the cruelty of state-sanctioned killing viscerally apparent and bolster abolition efforts rooted in law or psychology.
Of course, ‘scientist’ is just one of many intersecting identities. Projects foregrounding other aspects of scientists’ identities and lived experience are a priority for me. What that means in practical terms is resources that speak to the challenges but also the joys of trying to get tenured, managing a lab, building a public profile, or commercializing a discovery in a body that’s not straight, white, male, cis, or neurotypical. It can also mean using identities other than ‘scientist’ as a way of engaging with staple science topics–like employing cultural knowledge and lived experience as a Pacific Islander to counter rhetoric about the containment of organisms used in experimental gene drives.
What’s your favorite thing about being an editor?
Though I’ve worked in publishing longer than I’ve done anything else, I’m still in open-mouthed awe that I get paid to attend conferences and symposia, read everything from Nature to The New Yorker, and ask what I hope are charmingly naive questions of really smart people. As a science editor, I get to discover new authors who hadn’t even considered writing a book until my email landed in their inbox or we crossed paths at a conference. It’s so rewarding to help authors see how a book can fit in with their career goals–whether that’s wrestling with foundational ideas on a scale journal articles don’t allow or taking their research to a new audience.
What’s something surprising people don’t know about you?
I’d never been to California until I took this job!
What’s some advice you often find yourself giving to authors?
Book publishing is nothing like journal publishing. While book editors peer review proposals and manuscripts just as our counterparts in journals do, we’re not seeking a thumbs up, thumbs down decision. Instead, the review process allows us to crowdsource feedback from the scholars and others positioned to make the project the best it can be. Book editors are looking for reasons to say yes to a project, and peer reviews–even negative ones–can help us to get there. Negative reviews more often reveal disciplinary divides, opportunities to expand or clarify, or differences in audience expectations than genuine deficiencies in a project or a proposal. There’s no reason to approach the review process with trepidation!
How can authors get in touch with you?
Lots of us who’ve been through PhD programs have internalized the message that it’s a faux pas or worse to approach an editor before completing a polished draft manuscript. This is as much a myth as elementary school teachers’ warnings that somewhere there’s a file recording every time you passed a note or talked in class, dooming you to a lifetime of unemployment. Scholars at any stage of their career (and journalists, activists, and industry professionals, too) should feel free to reach out to me at email@example.com to float some ideas for a project or just get a sense of how the publishing process works and what publishing with UC Press would be like. Those expansive, exploratory conversations at the very beginning of a project are some of the most fun I have as an editor.