Guest post by Sarah Felde, Special Projects Manager for WilliamsTown Communications
Does the acronym BELS ring a bell? If you’re a writer, editor, or publisher of biology-related content, it might. Founded in 1991, the Board of Editors in the Life Sciences—or BELS—is a professional organization that awards credentials to manuscript editors with expertise in the life sciences.
If you’re not familiar with BELS, don’t worry! I first heard of BELS only a few years ago—and when I did, I was immediately interested in the organization’s Editor in the Life Sciences (ELS) certification. Why? For one, I knew that by passing the ELS certification exam, I’d have a quick and objective way of showing clients I was a skilled editor who specialized in life science content. But just as importantly, I’d be able to prove this to myself!
A quick check on the BELS website revealed I met the two main eligibility requirements for taking the exam: I held a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university, and I had at least two years’ experience as a manuscript editor in the life sciences. In fact, I’d been working with biology content for over a decade—so passing the certification exam would be a cinch, right? All I needed was a chance to take the test.
That chance came this summer, when BELS offered the exam in conjunction with the 2014 American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) Indiana Chapter Conference. When I opened the test booklet, I found lots of things I expected—namely, questions on topics as diverse as:
- General rules of grammar, punctuation, mechanics, and usage
- Proper execution of the scientific method
- Creation and interpretation of tables and illustrations
- Mathematics and units of measurement
- Documentation of references
- Ethics of publishing and scientific research
What I didn’t expect was how difficult the test would be. For a majority of the questions, there was no one answer option that was obviously right. Narrowing down which of the plausible answers was “most correct” took a great deal of time—so much, in fact, that I was unable to complete the entire test (for the first time in my life, might I add!)
As I left the testing room, I was convinced I’d failed. So, imagine my surprise when a few weeks later, a thick envelope arrived from BELS, telling me I had passed! I could now join the roughly 1,100 editors across the globe who write the letters “ELS” after their name.
Interestingly enough, of that select group of editors, three of us—Linda Blevins, Karen Kassel, and I—are staff members at WilliamsTown Communications. I’d wager that few, if any, organizations of our size have this many BELS-certified editors on staff. It’s just another indicator of the unique advantage WilliamsTown brings to projects involving healthcare and the life sciences.