Editor in the Spotlight - Charles Sheppard

"A journal is only as good as its reviewers."

Charles SheppardProfessor Charles Sheppard is Editor-in-Chief of Marine Pollution Bulletin.

Q. What aspect of being an editor do you find most rewarding?
A. I suppose seeing some neat, new and important results. In the field of marine environment there is a lot of need in many places. Finding a way to proceed with a difficult issue is always rewarding.

Q. Can you describe how it feels when you come across a groundbreaking paper?
A. I get a couple of new papers every day but every once in a while you get a Eureka moment. Things that would be helpful not just to other scientists but to governments as well. It’s really gratifying because my field might have been wrestling with a problem, perhaps a pollution event, and it feels good that they’ve selected my publication to submit their paper to. It is always nice when we find something good.

Q. What advice would you give to a new editor?
A. Always be friendly to your authors. Don’t be arrogant and build up a good and reliable network of reviewers. A journal is only as good as its reviewers. They need to be able to distil out of the manuscript to find out if the core of the science is good and worthy of publication.

Q. When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A. I was going into a medical stream but I started to go scuba diving. I was able to change at the beginning of my PhD to a marine biology stream instead of a clinical stream. It’s just a cliché to say that it’s another world, but it is. I was brought up in the tropics. It was a kaleidoscope of colors. I suppose I could have become a diving instructor but I wanted to know more about it. It’s always a challenge and it’s always interesting. I think probably the variety is what is so appealing.

Q. Tell me about collaboration. What is the secret to success?
A. There is more than one thing. You aren’t always going to agree, a good scientist is willing to keep his mind open to changing their view. You have to be prepared and possibly happy to say: “I’ve been wrong all these years.” You have to be as enthusiastic about finding things that are wrong as much as proving things that are right. The coral reefs that I personally study, no one would be happier than me to find out that I’m wrong when I say that they’re undergoing a collapse. The other thing is fairness. The person who did the most work should be the first author. I am really thrilled when one of my students gets published. That person is the first author and I’m absolutely delighted for him or her.

Q. What gets you up in the morning?
A. It’s enthusiasm. I enjoy things. Right now I’m planning a field trip to the Indian Ocean where there’s a reef that hasn’t been impacted by direct forms of pollution, only by climate change.I use these trips as my reference control to compare with damaged reefs.

Q. What is your biggest achievement?
A. Undertaking my direct, own research. In my own small way, the work on reefs and their decline I think is important. The other one is turning the journal into one that people really want to publish in. When I do an editorial, I am aware that I am increasingly meticulous in what I write because I realize that it is widely read.

Q. What would you like your legacy to be?
A. In the scientific context, it is always nice to be thought of as a good scientist but more than that, a useful scientist. It’s also very important to me to encourage young scientists.

Q. What do you like to do for fun?
A. We have a sailboat and I like to go sailing with my wife in many parts of the world. It’s not that it’s restful. It requires careful planning and it feels really good when you pull it off well. If you get the sails right, it’s a miracle. Even the experts say they’re learning all the time.

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