train3So there I was on Friday evening sitting in the train back to Zwolle after the recent UniSIG meeting in Utrecht. I’d had time for a quick drink with other attendees before heading to the station and was feeling fired up from the stimulating discussions with both new and more established SENSE members, both during and after the meeting.

And then I suddenly remembered what had happened in the train that afternoon just as we were approaching Utrecht station. Oh. My. Word. Did it really happen?

I’d been totally absorbed on my laptop, giving feedback in Word on a student paper. These particular students are novice writers so my edits and comments should not go too far. It’s an educational exercise to help them practise scientific writing and get feedback from a scientific editor. So the text doesn’t have to be perfect and I must be careful not to make unnecessary edits, or perhaps edits I’d make for a client whose text is going to be published.

So there I am, deep in concentration, when the lady sitting next to me reaches over and points to a word on my screen: influences. ‘Why don’t you make that the subject of the sentence?’ she says in Dutch. ‘It’s such a Dutch construction otherwise.’

I was speechless. What a nerve! She admitted she shouldn’t have been looking but couldn’t help herself. I already knew she was a teacher because she’d been reading the teachers’ union (AOb) magazine but never in my wildest dreams had I imagined she’d chip in and help with my onscreen efforts.

I stammered something about it being a student text and hastily packed my laptop away. Thank goodness it was time to leave the train. I was mortified. Partly because I didn’t have a snappy response (I couldn’t work out whether or not she was right, argghh) and of course mainly because she’d been prying.

So if any of you ever find yourself sitting next to a stranger doing some editing on their laptop, and feel tempted to make some suggestions, just don’t. Restrain yourself!

Blog post by: Sally Hill
LinkedIn: sally-hill-nl
Twitter: SciTexts

network event

Perhaps you attended my presentation on networking at the Professional Development Day in September 2017, or at the SENSE Jubilee Conference in November 2015. Or perhaps you read my 2016 article in eSense 40. But even if you’ve never heard of me, you will likely know that freelance language professionals need to use their networks to bring in new clients and stay up to date with developments. (By the way, I hope those of you who attended the conference have, like me, gone on LinkedIn and connected with all those new people you met at the conference. That’s what those business cards are for – then you can throw them in the paper bin!)

Not taking my own advice

Despite all my well-meaning advice to other freelancers, I recently found myself telling myself off at a networking event. It’s so easy to forget those ground rules! The rule I broke? – remembering that not only are the people in your own network potential clients, but also the people in their networks.


I moved house several months ago to a massive new housing development that the Dutch call a Vinex-location (did you know that Vinex stands for Vierde Nota Ruimtelijke Ordening Extra?). It turns out that the Stadshagen development in Zwolle not only houses more than 20,000 people, it also has a local business network. The Stadshagen Ondernemers Platform meets regularly just two minutes’ walk from my house, so how could I not go?

Disability insurance made interesting

The theme of their June meeting was – most excitingly – insurance for business owners, which is actually a topic close to my heart as I am currently sorting out disability insurance and liability insurance for my business. (More about that in another post soon I hope – I’m still getting the paperwork sorted.)

A fellow freelancer from my Broodfonds in Zwolle first gave a presentation about the concept (see my previous article in eSense 44 for more info on this) and about her own experiences after having to report sick. This was followed by a presentation on insurance for business owners, disability insurance in particular, given by an insurance broker who has his own company – very down to earth and easy to follow I must say.

So what went wrong?

After questions and plenty of discussion about the various options for insuring yourself, but before the networking borrel – probably what many of us came for – it was time for a couple of agenda items from the organizing committee. One was a reminder to email them a business card to ask to be profiled on the SOP’s Facebook page to promote our businesses. After all, the page has 250 followers and the freelance florist who was on there recently got several hundred likes.

And here it comes: ‘So what?’, I thought. ‘There’s no point in me advertising my services to other business owners in the area as this is not where my clients are. My potential clients are at universities, hospitals and private companies, not here in the neighbourhood. That’s more for the freelance florists, coaches, event planners, financial advisers and online marketing consultants, not for me.’ WRONG! All those freelancers have their own networks. And the people in their networks may need scientific reports writing or manuscripts editing, or be looking for someone to teach a writing course at their company/lab/university/department.

Just tell people what you do

So as I wandered out to the terrace with a drink in my hand, doing my best to overcome that fear of not knowing anyone and wondering what to say, I ended up giving myself a good talking-to and made sure that I let people know what I did, that I enjoyed what I did and that I am good at it! And yes, I will be sending in my business card to profile my business on the Facebook page – you just never know.

Do you have a networking story to tell? One that led to work? Or even one that went badly? Add your story to the comments or write your own post for the blog. We’d love to hear from you.

Sally HillSally Hill is an editor and writer for the SENSE blog and newsletter and a British biologist-turned-linguist who runs a business called Scientific Texts.


Jackie Senior, a founder member of SENSE, has officially retired. But only from the Department of Genetics at the UMCG in Groningen – not from editing, and certainly not from SENSE. As an occasional editor and translator for the department during busy times, I was invited to Jackie's farewell do at the university medical centre on 12 June. Never one to shy away from a networking opportunity, I accepted the invitation.

The ceremony was held in a seminar room at the European Research Institute for the Biology of Ageing (ERIBA), the building that houses the department. Jackie was surrounded by her four daughters and by colleagues from the genetics departments in Utrecht and Groningen where she helped many a researcher with their grant applications and scientific papers, and many a PhD student with their thesis.

From geologist to freelance editor

I learned that after obtaining a geology degree from Bristol University, Jackie had a brief stint at Elsevier before starting work as a geologist at Shell International in The Hague. As Jackie mentioned in her presentation, she was lucky to be a geologist during a time of major discoveries in the oil and gas industry. And after moving into the investment banking sector as an editor, there was never a dull moment in the years leading up to the dot com crash, as her editing work was always interesting. And now she’s been working in genetics for more than twenty years, witnessing the completion of the human genome as well as all that exciting new technologies have led to in this fast-moving field.

For the younger researchers present, Jackie was keen to point out how editing was done back in 1973 when she started out: with coloured pens and proofreaders’ sheets. It’s hard to imagine now how much time editing a manuscript actually took back then, when all pre-publication processes had to be done by hand and marked-up papers physically transported by post. The digital age has sped this up no end.

Having an in-house editor is worthwhile

Jackie’s position as an editor is rather unusual for a clinical and research department at a Dutch university medical centre, and many researchers consider Genetics a privileged department. Her former boss, Professor Cisca Wijmenga (a winner of the prestigious NWO Spinoza Prize), was the one who insisted that Jackie move with her from Utrecht when in 2007 Cisca took up a position in Groningen. She needed help to make the department an international leader and wasn’t going to be without her editor!

Jackie is convinced that this was one of the key reasons for the department’s continuing scientific success – not only in terms of the numbers of papers and PhD theses that have been published, but also regarding the impact factors of the journals accepting their work for publication. Although Jackie was only planning on staying with Cisca for one year, the reason she ended up staying for 11 was not just her wonderful colleagues, and the research retreats she helped organize, but the sheer amount of work that needed doing.

The never-ending pile of work is also why Jackie is very pleased that the department had the foresight to appoint a younger editor after her retirement: Jackie has been co-working with fellow SENSE member Kate McIntyre over the past five years and Kate is now well prepared to take over.*

Scientists and MDs should be scientists and MDs

Jackie was keen to point out to the researchers listening to her talk what her work involves and how it has contributed to the department’s success. She also talked numbers, explaining why an in-house editor also makes financial sense. For example, if a four-year PhD project in the biomedical sciences costs the university about €250,000 and the PhD student writes four or five papers for publication, the costs of getting those papers edited will only be about 1% of the entire project.

She also pointed out that editing teaches PhD students to be more aware of their use of English and how to express their thoughts clearly and concisely. But editing is not just good for PhD students: an editor can save principal investigators several hours of correcting per paper and allow them to concentrate on the scientific issues raised. After all, says Jackie, ‘scientists and MDs should be scientists and MDs.’

One department’s loss is another society’s gain

Jackie is not planning on resting on her laurels or ‘sitting behind the geraniums’, as the Dutch expression goes. Once an editor, always an editor. She will take on some freelance assignments and get more involved again with her beloved Society. Jackie has made numerous contributions as a volunteer since she helped found SENSE back in 1989 , including positions on the EC as treasurer and chair, and she was made an honorary member in 2010. Now the distractions of her departmental work are fading, we hope she can also be persuaded to become a regular contributor to the SENSE blog!

* Read more on Jackie and Kate’s editing work at the Department of Genetics in an interview in the June 2018 newsletter of the university’s Research School for Behavioural and Cognitive Neurosciences (BCN), in which SENSE also gets a mention. And for readers of Dutch, an article on the significance of Jackie’s work can also be found in the May 2013 issue of Transfer magazine, published by Nuffic (the Dutch organization for internationalization in education).

Sally Hill

Sally Hill is an editor and writer for the SENSE blog and newsletter and a British biologist-turned-linguist who runs a business called Scientific Texts.

GDPR1After seeing GDPR and AVG abbreviations popping up all over the place – in emails from Google, from the freelancers’ platform PZO, and on social media – and with 25 May fast approaching, and having missed SENSE’s January workshop on data privacy and information security, I thought I’d better take a look at what all the commotion was about. Read on to find out what I dug up and how it applies to freelancers.


What is the GDPR?

The General Data Protection Regulation – or Algemene verordening gegevensbescherming (AVG) as it’s known here in the Netherlands – will soon come into force across the EU. It’s basically a privacy law that tightens up the rules on providing third parties with our data, so that we know what will be done with it and why before we give our willing consent. The new laws are relevant to both our professional and personal lives, as Marianne Orchard indicates in her review of John Yonce’s data privacy workshop: ‘professional because we must protect any personal data of others that we have access to and personal because we should protect our own data.’

For a perfect example of why such a regulation is needed, we need look no further than the Facebook–Cambridge Analytica data scandal, in which the data of millions of Facebook users was handed over to a political consulting firm without those users’ knowledge or permission.

Of course, it’s easy to say, ‘Well what do you expect if you’re on Facebook?’ But even if you’re aware of their business model – ie, that the advertisers are the real clients and you are just the product – most Facebook users, myself included, have not been persuaded to delete their accounts. Naive it may be, but we assume that companies use our data respectfully and comply with what regulations are in place, for the simple reason that we can no longer do without the plethora of apps and websites at our fingertips.

After all, how else do we keep up with friends and families in other countries and with our kids’ online activities, not to mention our professional networks? How else do we comply with requests for information from our clients, agencies and business contacts? Whether moving house, writing a will, buying insurance, joining a professional association, enrolling at a new translation agency or using our clients’ complicated billing systems, we are continuously filling in our personal data online.

When will it be enforced and to whom does it apply?

The GDPR comes into effect on 25 May 2018 throughout the EU, from which point any large companies found to be in breach can expect large fines. Great news for consumers as it means greater protection of our personal data, including sensitive information such as religion, racial or ethnic origin, political opinions, religious or philosophical beliefs, trade union membership, genetic data, biometric data, data concerning health or data concerning a natural person’s sexual life or sexual orientation.

According to this website for small businesses, the GDPR applies to any business that processes the personal data of EU citizens. This includes customer, supplier, partner and employee personal data. In addition, companies processing data that have more than 250 employees, or for whom processing data is a core activity, must appoint a Data Protection Officer or DPO – someone up to date on data protection practices and the legal framework and who is responsible for ensuring that unambiguous consent is obtained from ‘data subjects’, i.e. EU consumers and citizens.

What do freelancers need to do about it?

Naturally, freelancers are way below the threshold of 250 employees. And another nugget of information I found on this website for startups is the following: ‘The Regulation only applies to personal data if it is processed wholly or partly by automated means or is part of a sophisticated hard copy filing system.’ Aha! – nothing to do with me as I’m not processing data.

But does this mean that I can ignore it entirely? I’m still in two minds. My gut feeling and pure logic says no: I have no automated mailing list for sending round emails to clients or business contacts. I have no form on my website for people to get in touch. The only personal data I have of clients that is not already publicly available is the data the tax office requires that I put on my invoices. Some clients ask me to address the invoice to their private address, and some clients’ business and home addresses are the same. Colleagues to whom I sometimes outsource work also give me personal data in their emails and invoices. But who is going to be bothered about me having that data on my computer? Surely I can’t run my business without it?

But on the other hand, regardless of whether or not the risk of a fine is minuscule, it’s no bad thing to think about what data on other people I have on my computer and how it is protected, right? I found more information on how freelancers can prepare for the GDPR on this website of a collective of freelancers in healthcare communications.

Is there anything in particular that editors, translators or copywriters should consider?

When I put this question to the SENSE members forum, several people confirmed my initial gut feeling that this does not apply to freelancers. But others are not so sure. What about personal information in medical, legal or HR-related files that we edit or translate? From my days as a medical translator I remember one particular agency that rarely took the trouble to remove personal information from the texts they sent me, which was clearly in breach of privacy legislation.

In this respect, it seems I need a privacy notice, available on demand or downloadable from my website. This is a public statement of how a company – whatever its size – applies data protection principles to processing data. And I assume this applies to personal data that clients and colleagues provide me by email. The privacy notice tells them what I’m going to do with any information they provide. Fair enough.

Fellow SENSE member and translator Robert Bradley recently had a privacy statement drawn up. He says:

To me, it's worth it, and I suspect it might be for quite a lot of translators: not so much because people might start demanding to see what data we have on file, but because we have clients who are subject to the stricter rules and who need to demonstrate compliance. That means that they need confirmation from their suppliers (that's you and me) that everything's sorted out. I'd rather not lose any clients over this.

Meanwhile, over on good old Facebook, a translator based in the Czech Repubic (or Czechia if you prefer) has set up a group called GDPR for Translators (you’ll need to log in first) which has plenty of discussions on the topic, plus resources and tips for both agencies and translators who want to make sure they are GDPR-compliant. There are questions and answers on topics such as deleting old emails and email addresses, cloud storage, websites and privacy statements.

So what is SENSE doing about the GDPR?

Sally Hill

Clearly, SENSE as an organization also needs to be on the case with regard to the personal data it collects from members. But more about this in a follow-up post!

Feel free to post your comments below or get in touch to share your experiences with the GDPR.

Sally Hill is an editor and writer for the SENSE blog and newsletter and a British biologist-turned-linguist who runs a business called Scientific Texts.

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