KOK Edit: Your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM)
KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) Katharine O'Moore Klopf

Monday, October 22, 2012

When Opportunity Knocks

As an editor, you don't always know exactly what your authors think of you. On the few occasions that they make quite clear their view of you and your work, take such revelations as the gifts that they are and relish them.

I work with a lot of physician–researchers from around the world for whom remaining competitive in their profession means that they must always be working to get their research published in English-language medical journals. In addition to doing ESL (English as a second language) or EFL (English as a foreign language) editing for them, I always take special care with these authors to treat them with great respect, because not only do they have to be proficient in medicine and research but they also must deal with the sometimes frustrating US peer review and publication system. In addition, they must do all of that in English, which is their second or third language. I can't help but admire their perseverance a great deal.

Yixin Zhou, MD, PhD
Yixin Zhou, MD, PhD
One of my longtime authors is Yixin Zhou, MD, PhD, whose journal articles on orthopedic surgery I've been editing since 2005. He is the chairman of the Department of Adult Joint Reconstructive Surgery of Beijing Jishuitan Hospital, where the number of joint-replacement procedures performed increases annually by 20% to 30%. I will soon start editing number 15 in the steady march of articles I have polished for him. He tells me that my name is well known at his hospital; it is common knowledge, he says, that when I edit a manuscript for any surgeon, it usually gets published.

Being told that, after having corresponded with him by e-mail for years, was wonderful enough. But recently, Yixin e-mailed me to say that he was traveling to New York City for a medical conference and would like to meet with me. So on Saturday, October 20, I took a 1.5-hour ride on the Long Island Rail Road to Penn Station and then walked just over 1 mile to the Sheraton Hotel at 52nd Street and 7th Avenue, where Yixin and his colleagues were staying.

I was prepared to show Yixin and his colleagues my great respect for them by saying a few phrases in Mandarin. My colleague Jim Jones, a technical editor and Chinese-to-English translator, created an mp3 file for me so that I could listen to him saying the phrases and could then practice them. But once Yixin and I were talking, I remembered only to say, "Ni hao" ("hello"). He told me that my Chinese was good. But I know he was just being kind.

A gift of tea
A gift of tea
Yixin and I had drinks at the hotel's restaurant and chatted about the paths each of us had taken to get where we are in our respective professions. He had planned for us to have dinner with several of the younger surgeons in his department whom he is training, but they got stuck in Manhattan traffic. So Yixin and I went on to a nearby seafood restaurant, where we dined with several others who were in town for the same medical conference. One of them is a surgeon at another hospital (not Yixin's hospital), and three are sales representatives for Zimmer, a major supplier of orthopedic prosthetics (for the hip, shoulder, and knee) for surgeons around the world. They were all quite interested to hear that I am Yixin's editor, and he told me that he was telling them all about what good care I take of him and his manuscripts.

Yixin knows how much I love Chinese and Japanese whole-leaf teas, so during our meeting he presented me with a magnificently packaged gift of Chinese pi lo chun green tea, sometimes called biluochun. According to the one English sentence that appears amidst the Chinese characters on each wrapper, the tea will "pick you up, help you lose weight, break down cholesterin, as well as benefit those with blood pressure and heart problems." This is in line with what Yixin said to me when we were making our farewells later, at the end of the evening: "Please take good care of yourself, because you are important to us. Smile often, eat good food, and take care of your health."

But the highlight of the evening was this: Because the Chinese government is throwing money at its researchers, there is a big push for every specialist physician to do research and get it published in English-language journals. Yixin is training his younger colleagues in scientific writing, but he wants to pay my way to Beijing sometime within the next year so that I can teach them, working with the aid of an interpreter. Many of my international authors live in Asia, so it has long been my dream to meet them in person and talk with them.

But even in my most creative dreams, I never pictured myself traveling to Asia to teach physician–researchers! So even though I am an introvert and a homebody, I will take this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity if it does indeed finally present itself. Why? Because, as it says on the "About" page of my business web site,

It is enormously satisfying to help authors who are non-native English speakers communicate their research to their peers worldwide. I like to believe that what I do makes at least a small difference in the world in two ways:

  • Helping physicians communicate research that will enable other physicians to treat their patients more effectively
  • Increasing cross-cultural cooperation and communication one pair of people (an author and me) at a time

It is a privilege to be entrusted with polishing an author's work, one for which I am always deeply grateful. I can often be found drinking a cup of tea brewed using fresh tea leaves from China, Japan, Taiwan, or India in honor of my authors' publishing successes.

The most obvious benefit of Yixin's plan is that will I get to teach young researchers how to write for an English-language audience, which means that they will be able to communicate to a much wider group of readers the scientific advances they make, thus potentially helping many more patients around the world. But the best benefit, one that is quite humbling, is that I will have the chance to learn by immersion about another culture, one that I greatly admire. I hope that how I work with those researchers will, at least in a very small way, enhance Chinese–American communication, to make the world a friendlier place.

As events take place to make the possibility of my teaching in Beijing a reality, I will keep everyone posted through this blog.

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