Alumni Spotlight: Dr. Adriana D. Benavides, Associate Editor for Cancer Immunology Research for the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR)
Dr. Adriana D. Benavides is the Associate Editor for Cancer Immunology Research (CIR) for the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR). She graduated in 2014 with a Ph.D. in Microbiology and Immunology. She was a member of Dr. Ellen Kraig’s lab studying the effects of aging on the immune system, with a focus on evaluating the use of rapamycin in the elderly.
When did you first become interested in science?
I have been interested in science for as long I can remember. I was that kid walking around with my microscope, wanting to look at everything and anything I could get my hands on. However, I found my passion for doing research as an undergraduate at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA). I entered my first year as a pre-med student. When I joined the Honors College and did a two-year research project for my undergraduate thesis project, I fell in love with doing research.
Why did you pick The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and your program and what year did you graduate?
I graduated in 2014 with a Ph.D. in Microbiology and Immunology (now the Molecular Immunology & Microbiology discipline of the Integrated Biomedical Sciences Program). I was a member of Dr. Ellen Kraig’s lab studying the effects of aging on the immune system, with a focus on evaluating the use of rapamycin in the elderly. When interviewing for graduate school, I was primarily focused on microbiology but was not sure what aspect of the field to which I wanted to commit. Many institutions had programs with specific sub-fields of microbiology but I found the program at UT Health San Antonio allowed me to explore my interests. Unexpectedly, I found out that I had an interest in immunology, and that is how I chose Dr. Kraig’s lab. At that time, she had one of only a few labs focusing primarily on immunology.
Tell me more about your career path.
After obtaining my Ph.D. at UT Health San Antonio, I wanted to devote my postdoc years to performing translational work in a clinical setting. I chose a postdoctoral fellowship at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. My work centered on characterizing the immune tumor microenvironment in neuroblastoma and the immune effects of treatments currently being investigated in clinical trials. It was here that I gained my background in tumor immunology, managing workers, communicating science to a broad audience, and writing proposals for equipment, grants, and travel. Aside from the scientific experience, I also further developed my communication skills. There were several events around the area that focused on presenting research to the general community and involved many of the area’s universities and hospitals.
All through my undergraduate, graduate, and postdoc years, I always had an interest in what were considered alternative careers, and when my postdoc was nearing its end, I explored my options. I came across several scientific writing and editing jobs, but the post from Cancer Immunology Research really caught my eye. This position allowed me to be in the center of the cancer immunology field, and my educational and communication background was highly sought after.
Tell me about your current career, what do you do?
I started out as assistant editor for Cancer Immunology Research (CIR), one of eight peer reviewed journals for the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR). I am now CIR’s associate editor. I work directly with CIR’s executive editor, Dr. Linda Miller, and editors-in-chief, Drs. Robert Schreiber and Philip Greenberg. CIR focuses on research highlighting the interplay of the immune system and cancer. As associate editor, I contribute to many aspects of the journal, from both the scientific and business standpoints. I assess incoming submissions and make decisions on whether to send them out to review or reject, and I also look over the reviews of our papers. I represent CIR and the AACR at conferences, and I attend anywhere from 4–8 scientific conferences a year, both domestic and international, in order to stay up-to-date with the most current research and topics. I write in several sections of the journal with the aim to attract more readers, as well as a broader audience, to the journal. I assist Dr. Miller in putting together the journal issue each month. Also, when needed, I act as lead editor in Dr. Miller’s absence. From a different perspective, I participate in developing the marketing plan for the journal, and I contribute ideas to the content and direction of CIR.
A big part of my job is scientific editing, which is more than just copy-editing. We like to refer to this as our “boutique editing” service for authors, and it ensures ease of readability, clarity of presentation, and scientific accuracy and transparency. In order to do this, I must use my expertise so that I can edit while maintaining the author’s voice and take complicated topics and make them more accessible to a broader audience without changing the scholarly nature of the paper. The AACR emphasizes reproducibility, and I have to be familiar with the various methodologies researchers use to ensure their work is transparent and reproducible. I also help in identifying what paper gets the issue cover, and I also work with our figure artist to make understandable, stand-alone figures and diagrams when needed for our papers.
What is a day like in your job?
Each day is different, and one can never really be sure what your day will entail. I carry out the duties specified above, but my typical day will include assessing submissions and discussing them with the CIR team, as well as scientifically editing our provisionally accepted papers and communicating our editorial edits to the authors. However, there are department meetings and marketing meetings that get intertwined into my day. We receive many emails and phone calls from authors, which we must address promptly. We also assist our editorial staff members with any questions they may have regarding manuscripts and author inquiries. I also manage CIR’s Twitter account and write most of the tweets for CIR. If I am attending a conference, however, I have to prioritize my duties accordingly.
What is the most challenging part of your work?
Being an editor for a science journal is a job where one can always learn something new, including, but not limited to, new research or methods, the editorial world, or good business and marketing practices. This makes “keeping up with the times” a vital, and challenging, aspect of my job. The cancer immunology field, as well as the publishing realm, is very fluid, and I must keep up with emerging topics in reference to both research and publishing. Being able to recognize trends in the field as they are happening and trying to get ahead of them to provide the most up to date information and policies is key. Being able to think on my toes when I notice something has come in handy many times.
Another challenging aspect of being an editor is making decisions on submissions (i.e., send to review or reject) and handling responses, which can sometimes be quite colorful, from authors who may not entirely understand what my assessment entails or who are not familiar with the education and research background I have. Not all academic journals have professional editors with Ph.D.’s in the journal’s field. I am fortunate that the AACR does. This allows me to use my expertise every day in my job.
What is the most rewarding part of your work?
Interacting with authors (researchers) and hearing their feedback on my editing. As I mentioned, I perform more than just copy-editing, and this truly has a lasting impact with our authors. Hearing authors say that my editing has made their research clearer and more impactful always reassures me that I am doing my job right and puts a smile on my face.
What has been your proudest achievement?
Finding a career that makes me happy and excited to go to work every day and finally finding a work-life balance that works for me (and my family and friends)! This has been a struggle throughout the years, and with my current job, I can gladly say I have found that sweet spot that allows me to excel in my job and my life outside of it.
How did the education you get at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio prepare you?
UT Health San Antonio is a very collaborative campus, and the collaborative environment really fueled my interest in building bridges between disciplines and starting lines of communication among people in different fields. My project was interdisciplinary, and I frequently interacted with many people in different departments and campuses. This gave me a great breath of knowledge, which I use every day in my current job. I find it easy to talk to people, whether a student, physician, technician, patient advocate, or bench scientist, about their work. Additionally, I was very fortunate to be in a lab that encouraged science communication, as well as to be in a program that required you to give yearly seminars on your project. I grew to love talking about my research, and science in general, to anyone who would listen.
What are your favorite memories at UT Health San Antonio?
There was always something going on that allowed you to unwind from the hectic day and just relax with friends and colleagues in a casual setting. These were some of the best times.
What would you tell a current student interested in your career? Any advice for life in general?
Build your communication skills: talk to people about their work, ask questions at seminars, attend workshops or events gearing science to the general community. This is starting to become a vital feature to just being a part of science in general, and it is key to advancement in whatever career you choose.
What are some options that a graduate student can do to gain experience in your field now as a graduate student?
Get writing and communication experience. This can even include reviewing papers or writing abstracts in lay terms. Make note of anything where you have taken a technical topic and presented or written it in a way to reach a broader audience. This job also requires skills not related to “the science”, such as working in a team, managing projects or people, art skills, or coming up with a business or marketing plan. Make note of situations where you have demonstrated these kinds of qualities and do not forget to include situations outside of the lab like volunteering, committee/society work, or event planning. There is more to being an editor than just the science!
What do you like to do outside of work? Any hobbies?
I am a total beer enthusiast and foodie. My husband and I are homebrewers and try to brew experimental recipes at least four times a year, which we share with friends and family. The greater Philadelphia area is a craft beer lover’s dream. I was a foodie while in San Antonio, and once I moved to Philadelphia, that did not change. I attend several food events or festivals in the Philadelphia area throughout the year. I also love the outdoors, and the area has many national parks, beaches, trails, gardens, and nature reserves to explore. I am also trying to take up winter activities, now that I am in an area that sees a good amount of snow. I really like snow tubing, and I am still getting my “winter legs” when it comes to skiing. Philly is a historical city, and I love going to museums in the area and taking a stroll or drive through historical sites. Lastly, both my husband and I are frequent goers to concerts that tour this area, which there are many!