New Editor for the American Journal of Physics Sought

David Jackson, AJP Editor

The American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) is seeking applications and nominations for a new Editor of the American Journal of Physics (AJP). Below is an editorial that first appeared in the November 2015 issue of AJP (Am. J. Phys. 83, 909-910). More detailed information about the position of AJP Editor is available at

Should you be editor of AJP?

It is hard to believe that more than four years have passed since I became editor of this journal. When I was first considering whether or not I should apply for the editorship, I thought long and hard about a number of questions. Ultimately, as I wrote in my first editorial [1], the question I felt was most important was “Why be editor?” And the answer to this question—because AJP is my favorite journal—turned out to be a very good reason for becoming editor of this wonderful journal. If AJP happens to be your favorite journal, then I strongly encourage you to think seriously about whether you should be editor.

Soon after stepping into my new role, I received a number of congratulatory messages. A few of these came from past AJP editors, and these messages gave me a real sense of connection to the journal as well as to those who did the job before me. One of these previous editors gave me a piece of advice that surprised me. He suggested that I do the job for 5-6 years and then think about moving on. At the time, I figured I would remain editor for closer to 10 years, as my most recent predecessors have—and there was a piece of me that thought I would stay on even longer. Indeed, there is a piece of me today that wants to remain editor, and I wonder if in the future I will regret my decision to step down.

Why am I stepping down? As has been stated by numerous previous editors, there is no other journal like AJP; it is truly unique among physics journals. Being editor of this journal has been extremely rewarding, and may very well end up being the most significant achievement of my career. Being editor has also been thoroughly enjoyable, particularly when a new issue arrives in the mail and I am reminded of all the articles I helped prepare for publication. But in addition to being rewarding and enjoyable, being editor of AJP is a big job and it takes a lot of focused energy to keep everything running smoothly. Overall, I think my skill set and personality type have been well suited for this job. That said, I have found it difficult to maintain a sustained focus on other professional activities while being editor, with the result that my to-do list has been slowly but steadily growing longer. And though I long ago gave up the fantasy that I could ever accomplish everything on this list, there are certain things I do not want to put off too much longer. Thus, I am beginning to feel the urge to move on.

My second term as editor will come to an end on August 31, 2017. At that time I will have been editor for six years, and while this is not the 10+ year tenure I had originally imagined, it does seem like an appropriate time to step down. Although this date is still a long ways off, I felt it was best to announce my decision as early as possible so there is plenty of time to find a replacement and to allow some potential overlap with the new editor to help make the transition as smooth as possible. I can personally attest to the fact that there is a lot to learn, so such an overlap will likely prove useful. While the nominal start date will be September 1, 2017, the new editor may want to ease into the position by working as an associate editor, perhaps as early as the fall of 2016. The details of the transition are flexible and I am happy to work with the new editor to come up with a plan that is agreeable to everyone involved.

So what exactly does it take to be editor of AJP? It is a job that requires a lot of different skills. Anyone with even a passing interest in this position should read the editorials written by some previous editors to see what they had to say on this topic [2-5]. The workload is high, so you need to be efficient and well organized. AJP receives nearly 1,000 new submissions per year, and you need to decide which ones should be sent out for review and which ones should not. Then you need to manage the review process, which often involves several revisions. And finally, you need to decide which of these manuscripts to accept and then help prepare them for publication.

Ultimately, AJP publishes about 20% of the manuscripts received. Unfortunately, this means you will end up having to reject a lot of papers. Many of these rejections are for manuscripts that are clearly outside the scope of the journal. Those decisions are easy. Also easy are decisions on the well-written manuscripts that you know right away will interest many readers. The difficult decisions are those that fall between these extremes: those that are correct but perhaps not very novel or only of limited interest. Like it or not, the heavy workload limits your ability to spend too much time on these decisions, so it can be a challenge to feel 100% confident with every decision. On the positive side, the editor has a lot of power to guide the focus and direction of the journal. But of course, with such power comes great responsibility. In the end, the final decision of what gets published rests solely on the shoulders of the editor.

A large and growing part of the editor’s job is spent helping authors improve their manuscripts. There are a host of issues that can lead to a manuscript being more confusing than necessary: awkward wording, incorrect grammar or punctuation, poor organization, and unclear logic, to name a few. One frequent problem is when authors assume that their audience is as well-versed in the subject as they are. As I often tell my students, one of the most important aspects of writing a paper is to know who your audience is. While AJP is a scholarly journal, it is not a research journal. The readership of AJP is extremely broad, and we are constantly asking authors to supply the complete explanations, technical details, and motivation that is necessary for this broad readership.  While the process of editing manuscripts can be somewhat time consuming, it is also one of the more enjoyable aspects of the job. I have learned a lot of fascinating physics by reading through and editing manuscripts in detail and bringing questions to the attention of the authors. In fact, it is not entirely uncommon to find a significant problem that has eluded the reviewers, and which authors are grateful to have the opportunity to fix. Over the years I have found that most authors are a genuine pleasure to work with and they are truly appreciative of our efforts along these lines.

Besides being efficient and well organized, what other skills are necessary for the AJP editor? You certainly need to be a competent physicist, but you do not need need to be an expert in all areas of physics; after all, there is a lot of expertise in the form of reviewers and advisory board members to draw upon. It is more important to have a broad general knowledge of a lot of different areas, and to have a genuine curiosity and interest in learning new physics. It is also important to be acutely aware of your limitations and to be quick to seek advice when necessary. You need to have a lot of college teaching experience, particularly at the advanced undergraduate (or graduate) level, and preferably in many different areas. You should have a reasonable publication record, and enjoy the process of writing and editing. You should have an eye for detail and a compulsion to get details correct. Perhaps most importantly, you should be quite familiar with AJP and have a clear vision for the journal’s role as well as its future. Such a vision will be your guide as you revise the editorial policy and it will help provide some of the emotional strength that is helpful when making difficult decisions.

Robert H. Romer, AJP editor from 1988-2001, said [6] that editing AJP is “one of the most important responsibilities one could aspire to in physics.” I wholeheartedly agree. AJP is the most widely read physics journal in the world, and in my opinion this makes it the most important physics journal in the world. Being AJP editor is certainly demanding, but it is also immensely satisfying. I have no regrets whatsoever about my decision to become editor. And if AJP is your favorite journal, you owe it to yourself to consider becoming editor of this magnificent journal. It is a great feeling to be the editor of AJP; I invite you to try it on for size.

More details about the editor search will be available in the coming months. Those interested should check the AAPT website, and look for announcements in future issues of AJP.

David P. Jackson, Editor

[1] D. P. Jackson, “Editorial: Why be editor?,” Am. J. Phys. 79(10), 989–990 (2011).
[2] J. Tobochnik, “Editorial: Search for a new editor,” Am. J. Phys. 78(11), 1079–1080 (2010).
[3] R. H. Romer, “Editorial: Why not be editor?” Am. J. Phys. 68(3), 209 (2000).
[4] J. S. Rigden, “Editorial: The American Journal of Physics and its editor,” Am. J. Phys. 55(7), 587 (1987).
[5] E. F. Taylor, “Editorial: Why not be editor?” Am. J. Phys. 45(4), 323 (1977).
[6] J. S. Rigden, “Announcement: Robert H. Romer, New Editor of American Journal of Physics,” Am. J. Phys. 56(5), 394 (1988).

Disclaimer – The articles and opinion pieces found in this issue of the APS Forum on Education Newsletter are not peer refereed and represent  solely the views of the authors and not necessarily the views of the APS.