Neural Pathways: Dr. Jean Mary Zarate

In Episode 1 of the Neural Pathways podcast, we were thrilled to get a chance to talk to Dr. Jean Mary Zarate, Senior Editor at Nature Neuroscience, about her the path she took to her current position. To hear the full interview, listen to the episode here.

As a Senior Editor at Nature Neuroscience, Dr. Jean Mary Zarate says that she feels privileged to be constantly learning outside of her neuroscience specialty. Her role at Nature involves seeing submissions assigned to her through the review process: reading every component from the cover letter to the research behind the paper, deciding whether the research question is interesting, and assessing the work against the journal’s editorial bar to determine whether it’s a good fit. Jean’s days include many emails, collaborating with her editorial colleagues to share opinions on manuscripts, and reaching out to peer reviewers. Between these tasks, Jean and her colleagues attend a number of conferences to personally interface with potential authors and reviewers, and keep informed about the latest research.

Jean carried out her Master’s research at the Douglas Mental Health University Institute, where she studied genetic factors underlying treatment of schizophrenia. She then obtained her PhD at the Montreal Neurological Institute, researching the brain regions involved in regulating vocal pitch while singing. As a long-time violinist and singer, Jean’s PhD project spoke to her personal interests, which made her particularly invested in her work. She found out about the opportunity through her involvement in a band with other McGill graduate students. Jean believes that every experience during graduate school, both in and outside of the lab, is an invaluable life lesson that can be reimagined as a marketable skill. “You now know how to manage projects,” she explains. “Every grant is a budget, every paper is a deliverable.”

During her graduate studies, Jean believed her career would be academically or clinically related. While completing her M.Sc., she thought about pursuing pharmaceuticals if she didn’t obtain a professorship, and during her PhD, she decided that her path would be fully academic as she didn’t see many opportunities past that. It wasn’t until her post-doctoral studies at New York University that she was exposed to career development programs and learned of more options available to her. At the end of her Post-Doc, she cast a wide net, applying to professor positions at the same time she applied to Nature. When she found out that she didn’t get a professor position, she reached out to the chief of Nature Neuroscience to find out if she was close to making the cut—and she was! Jean was hired on a temporary nine-month contract covering for another employee. She then re-applied and was re-hired at the Associate Editor level, eventually moving up to her current position as Senior Editor.

Jean encourages trainees to remember that they have the skills they need to find a pathway to a job. “It may not be the job that you wanted at the beginning of your degree, but trust that you will have the skills to get to where you need to go. Every single bit of life experience counts, it’s just a matter of how you reframe it for yourself.”

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