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Happy Father’s Day from PLoS ONE! An interview with Alex and Steven Theg

Here at PLoS ONE we are proud to have a father-son team on staff. Alex Theg (AT) is a Publications Assistant for PLoS ONE, and his father, Dr. Steven Theg (ST), is a PLoS ONE Academic Editor. We asked Alex and his dad a few questions about what it’s like to work together.

Steve and Alex at PLoS in San Francisco (6/3/2012).
Steve and Alex at PLoS in San Francisco (6/3/2012).

What does your dad do?

AT: “My dad is a member of the Department of Plant Biology at UC Davis.  He is the PI of a research lab that studies protein assembly and import into chloroplasts.  I know that like many others, he spends a fair amount of time procuring funding, working with grad students and post docs, and reviewing papers.  He teaches biochemistry, memorizes all his students’ names, and sometimes wonders why they wear pajamas to his class.  I think he also does paperwork.  Outside of work, he plays basketball at unreasonable hours in the morning and is a bass guitar dynamo.”

What does Alex do?

ST: “Before he told me much about it, I thought Alex served as the interface between authors and a few academic editors, picking out the right ones to handle papers, making sure things went through in a timely manner.  Since talking to with him I realize there is a lot more to it, matching a long list of topics with areas of expertise in a large database holding information for thousands of academic editors.  It’s a much more complicated process than I had thought.

“I had a fun moment a few months back when I received an email from Alex that was sent out to all the academic editors regarding a clarification of policy that we all needed to be aware of.  On the one hand, it was an email from Alex, which is personal.  On the other, it was a thoroughly professional note, clearly written, and reminded me of the correspondence I’ve received over the years from other editorial assistants at other journals.  I knew some of the things that Alex is good at—running, saxophone—but apparently not all of them.  It was interesting to see this side of him, and to have him in both my personal and professional life.”

Does the Theg family have a history of working together?

AT: “Yes, of course. My two brothers play trumpet, I play saxophone, and my dad plays the bass, so we’ve been playing music together for as long as I can remember. My science fair projects were done with some minimal technical assistance from my scientist father (maybe a bit more).  Suffice to say they were amazingly elegant for a 4th grader. My dad and I once made a model airplane (he does not remember this).”

Have you learned more about your dad’s professional life by working with him at PLoS ONE?

AT: “Yes, but it’s been on a more general level.  Working at PLoS has given me a better understanding of what a researching scientist does on a day-to-day basis.  It’s also meant that my dad and I have more conversations about what we’re doing at our jobs each week.”

Have you gleaned any special insights about PLoS ONE from working with Alex that you would want to share with other Academic Editors?

ST: “I hadn’t realized how big an operation PLoS is, and how many papers it publishes every month.  I have visited the San Francisco office a few times, which I wouldn’t have done if Alex wasn’t working there, and found it to be a very pleasant environment.  I like having an image of the workspace, and I would recommend to the other academic editors that they visit the office if they get a chance.”

What attracted you to serve on the PLoS ONE Editorial Board? Why do you support open access?

ST: “The fact that the PLoS journals are open access was attractive because I like the idea of disseminating research information as widely as possible.  I have over the years received requests to send my papers to persons who didn’t have subscriptions to the journals in which they were published, and it made me realize that I was in a privileged position compared to many other interesting and capable scientists.  I like being part of an organization that removes this impediment to their work.

“It’s an honor, of course, to be asked to join the editorial board of a journal, so when I was asked to join at PLoS ONE, I was inclined to do so.  It was funny that in the same week that I was contacted by PLoS ONE Alex told me he was going to be interviewed for his current position.  A few people have wondered aloud to me whether I got Alex the job (as if I had any influence), or whether he got me the spot on the editorial board (more likely, they think).  But in fact they were unrelated though simultaneous, a nice coincidence.”

What this the best thing about being part of PLoS ONE?

AT: “I certainly enjoy working at an organization that is disruptive to the status quo and moves it towards greater equality and fairness in publishing.  I can point to what PLoS does in the world, and it makes me feel like I’m doing something worthwhile on a day-to-day basis.  It’s great to be part of something that shows up regularly in the news:  I like to see the updates about legislation and debate surrounding publishing models, and it’s fun to stumble upon PLoS ONE articles while I’m reading news.”

ST: “Let’s say the best things, plural.  I like having some influence in making sure worthy papers are published, although I have yet to disagree with reviews of papers I have been responsible for at PLoS ONE.  Also, PLoS ONE is a well-known journal, and my colleagues react favorably when they learn I’m on the board, often with the accompanying jokes about my papers getting published more easily.  But the thing that impresses people the most is that Alex works there as a publications assistant.  Everybody knows lots of editorial board members at various journals, but I’m the only one whose son works on the inside at a major journal.  My most respected colleagues say to me, ‘Your son has a real job?  Wish mine did.  And at PLoS ONE, no less?  Wow.’

“Plus I really like the mug.”


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