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A sketch from the Managing Editor: Celebrating Public Understanding of Science

By Susan Howard.

I’m writing this blog post as part of the journal’s 30-year anniversary, to give a glimpse behind the scenes of the editorial team: it’s part record, part nostalgia. I am a little taken aback to be writing that I have been the managing editor of PUS for 13 years, starting in the role in the spring of 2009. That’s a good portion of the journal’s history. I’ve watched it go from 6 issues per year to 8, from around a dozen submissions a month to 3 times that; seen production in the UK move to production in India; I’ve worked with three editors each based in a different country with different priorities and editorial styles.

Photo of Susan Howard, Managing Editor of Public Understanding of Science
Susan Howard, Managing Editor of Public Understanding of Science

Martin Bauer supervised my PhD (in stereotypical images of scientists) and we worked on several projects together. When I completed my thesis, very (very) certain that I didn’t want to and shouldn’t be an academic, and starting to train as a counsellor, I was casting around for a job, and Martin roped me into the role with his characteristic enthusiasm. We started off our team meetings at the London School of Economics while I was still working there as a researcher, and after I left the university altogether, these were transferred to the more convivial dining table of his home in North London, and sometimes the cheap and cheerful Turkish restaurants of Green Lanes.

Massimiano Bucchi was kind enough to extend my contract (and my respect for a very good lunch) and Hans Peter likewise has kept me on, to my surprise and gratitude. Meetings with all three editors have been educational, inspiring and often very humorous – it’s not a frivolous journal but Martin, Massi and Hans Peter all have, along with firm respect for our colleagues and contributors, big hearts and a light touch.

Pre COVID-19, at seminars, conferences, or lunches with our connections at SAGE, our publisher, with the board, with the web of people that are part of the journal’s history, who continue to support the journal in a myriad of ways, I have met some of the scholars who were to me as a student revered and (probably mis-) cited authors – Rom Harré, Jane Gregory, Petra Pansegrau – and online worked with other distinguished figures, Alan Irwin and Brian Wynne, Steve Miller, and our book review editor Brian Trench. Not to mention Hans Peter Peters! I used to be daunted and continue to appreciate how I work so often with such impressive and generous people.

Not to be too saccharine, but is an honour to be a part of this endeavour, I really enjoy the role, and I’m proud of the journal’s success and my share in it. For me it’s always sat alongside training in, and now practice in counselling, and the now familiar, methodical, routine of the journal has often been a balm when the therapeutic side of my working life proved thorny.

I’ve learnt only through this special issue’s interviews that before Edna Einsiedel advocated for it, this was not a paid role, and I’m cheerfully grateful to her for making this a ‘job’. This means I can put in a few days’ work a week. For the most part, what I do involves a whole lot of liaising and mediating – communicating with authors and reviewers on submission, feedback and publication – seeking reviewers, answering queries, processing manuscripts, and subediting accepted articles.  

My part in the journal is facilitative rather than decisive, and I often have friendly interactions with authors and reviewers that might be harder to sustain as the editor in chief, who sometimes makes unpopular decisions that authors dispute. I’ve nonetheless made some woeful mistakes courtesy of autocorrect, my own impatience/inattention and the endless revelations of what ScholarOne does when I’m not looking. It is a relief that those on the receiving end are so gracious about these gaffes.

On my side, of course it’s more fun to give good news, and I still get a proper delight in seeing articles go from draft through review to publication, especially from newer scholars who get a buzz from being published. I thank the authors and reviewers I have worked with, along with all the past and present editorial and advisory board members, and our compatriots at SAGE, for being such stand-up colleagues and making this job a pleasure.

Susan Howard is Managing Editor of Public Understanding of Science. Her background is in psychology, and she is interested in representations of science, especially psychology and the mind. She practises as a counsellor in London.


  1. Hans Peter Peters11 May 2022, 19:58:00

    As journal editor I have to say that Susan Howard is grossly understating her role in the editorial team.

    Two years ago, when the COVID-19 pandemic began, I started worrying about what might happen to the journal if she or I became sick and would suddenly drop out. Considering emergency plans, it quickly became clear to me that my drop-out could much easier be compensated that hers.

    If I would be unavailable, Sue could ask members of the Editorial Board and former editors to temporarily take over my tasks. However, in the case of her drop-out, there would be nobody I could ask to step in. All formal communication with authors would instantly stop, no reviewers would be assigned, no decisions executed, and no final manuscript would be transferred to SAGE production.

    From her 13 years of experience she knows most of our reviewers well, and I am often amazed about her ability to match reviewers with manuscripts. While assuming sole accountability for decisions about manuscripts, I often consult with her before deciding and cherish her opinion based on good judgment and 13 years of experience.

    Thanks for productive and enjoyable cooperation in the first three years of my editorship, Sue!


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