“How and why did you move from TEFL into scientific editing?”

I didn’t actually make a conscious decision to move from TEFL into scientific editing (i.e. correcting and proofreading research papers and proposals written by people whose first language is not English). The conscious decision was to get out of TEFL and try to get some kind of secure job with regular hours, and then I ‘ended up’ in scientific editing.

Getting out of TEFL

I had a variety of TEFL positions in different contexts and while I really enjoyed coming into contact with so many different groups of people – in intensive language classes for the German armed forces, evening conversation classes, business classes in banks, or advanced grammar classes at university level – I found the irregular hours draining, as well as the not knowing from one month to the next how much work there was going to be and, in consequence, how much money I was going to be able to earn.

So, I quit. After a few different part-time secretarial positions, I got a position on the project team of a large-scale educational study being conducted by an institute at the university. Once that study was completed and I had returned to work after two periods of parental leave, I basically just ‘ended up’ becoming a scientific editor for the institute – without a conscious decision on my or even on the institute’s part for that to be my further job.

The upsides of being an in-house scientific editor

I started out as basically just a native speaker who was asked to check the text but, over the years, and thanks to one great colleague who encouraged me to seriously look for some further training, I have learnt a lot and developed competencies in scientific editing. So the upside is that I love my job. Maybe this is because I have always loved languages – and editing is intense language work. Or maybe it also has to do with the fact that I am very lucky with the permanent in-house position I have at an institute that works in a field that really interests me – educational science and psychology – and is also incredibly family-friendly.

Qualifications needed for being an in-house scientific editor

I have a degree in English Literature and Germanic Languages and Literature. But I don’t have any qualifications in translation or editing. So it’s all been learning by doing.


The main downside of my job is the fact that I work in isolation – entirely at home since the pandemic, with very little personal contact. This is obviously the complete opposite to my previous experience working in TEFL, though it actually quite suits my introverted personality. I get most of my work via email. I mostly don’t even speak to people on the telephone and I very rarely get any feedback on my editing, or even just any questions about my edits or comments. A lot of people I work with don’t really want to invest that much time in getting their articles corrected.

Editing can lead to other work in academia

Although scientific editing is a field I ‘ended up’ in, there’s no real ‘end’ about it. There is always more to explore and learn and it can even lead to further career opportunities. In fact, I could easily combine aspects of TEFL with scientific editing and move into English for Academic Purposes (EAP) as my institute offers workshops for doctoral students on academic writing in English.

Gráinne Newcombe graduated from Trinity College Dublin, Ireland with a Master’s degree in English and German. She has been living in Germany for 22 years. She taught general and business English at a private language school and at Kiel’s university of applied sciences and worked as a project assistant on the PISA 2006 study before becoming an in-house editor at a Leibniz institute affiliated with Kiel University. Gráinne has over 10 years of experience in editing academic texts in the fields of education, psychology, methodology, biology, mathematics, and chemistry. She lives in Kiel with her husband and two children.

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