On 11 June, after 27 long months of Zooming, SENSEMed members finally met in person in Utrecht for a one-day workshop on working with medical texts. Daphne Visser-Lees kicked off with a lively session on translating medical texts from Dutch into English. She explained which texts might need expert medical knowledge to translate (such as case reports and articles) and which ones probably don’t (leaflets for patients, medical insurance documents). She then led us through two translation exercises. The first highlighted common terminology issues we might face when translating medical texts from Dutch into English – for example, Hernia typically refers to a herniated or slipped disc in Dutch whereas it generally means an abdominal hernia in English. The second explained how to decipher and translate case notes from a Dutch GP (not always – or never – easy!). Daphne’s extensive medical experience serves her well when tackling these difficult jobs and we were all grateful for the opportunity to learn from her knowledge and expertise.
Sally Hill and Curtis Barrett were up next with their editing slam. Sally and Curtis had both edited an abstract from a medical research article and presented and explained their changes sentence by sentence. This was an engaging session with plenty of questions and input from the audience. Sally and Curtis had both improved the clarity and readability of the text with their changes – but they did not always agree on what changes were best. This session highlighted just how subjective editing can be and that there is never one right solution to a difficult sentence. It also highlighted how we need to be aware of changes in scientific style and keep in mind that our own preferences (such as whether to use the Oxford comma or italicize Latin words) may not align with the style guide our client has to follow. Sally and Curtis finished up by giving a useful summary of what they do before starting an editing project and before delivering an edited file, both of which involve careful and specific communication with the client. A very enlightening session overall.
After a tea break, Sally was up again to talk to us about medical writing. Sally moved from freelance to in-house work last year after accepting a job as a senior scientific writer for the biotech company Merus. The goal of her talk was clear: to make us aware that medical writing exists. Job done. She explained what kind of texts medical writers are typically asked to produce (broadly divided into regulatory writing and medical communications) and what skills a medical writer should have (writing skills, scientific expertise, document expertise, and project management skills). To highlight how important (and complicated!) project management can be for a medical writer, Sally led us through a short exercise where we had to list the things we would need to consider before developing a timeline for a proposed writing project. The session was informative and inspiring, and Sally may well have succeeded in recruiting some future medical editors into her fold.
The participants were all grateful to Curtis, Daphne and Sally for taking the time and trouble to organize such a great workshop. We were all delighted to see each other in person again and are looking forward to many more such events in the future!
SENSE’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) is always held at the end of March. It is when the Society’s members get to hear what the Executive Committee (EC), the Special Interest Groups (SIGs) and various volunteer teams have been up to. We approve the previous year’s finances, approve the budget for the coming year, thank outgoing EC members and vote in new blood. We also thank the other volunteers who have been offering their time and help – often behind the scenes. In pre-pandemic times, the AGM was also a great opportunity to meet new members and catch up with each other at the coffee machine outside the meeting room.
Whether or not you attended this year’s online AGM, if you’ve been paying attention you will know that I was recently elected as SENSE’s Chair. For me it’s a great honour and, since we did not have a dedicated chairperson last year, this will put the EC in a stronger position as it steers the Society out of the pandemic. I’m sure that, like me, many of you are keen to start meeting up in person again. In this, we will be ably assisted by the two other people just elected to the EC: Curtis Barrett as the new Treasurer and Maaike Meijer as the new CPD Coordinator.
Becoming Chair has reminded me just how far I’ve come personally within SENSE. It seems not so long ago that I was new to the profession, very much in awe of the experience and knowledge of other SENSErs. Back in 2009, I had left my job as a biology teacher to become a freelance medical translator. I had no language or translation or editing qualifications, and precious little experience – I felt like such an impostor! Who was I to expect to be paid for translating or editing? Surely others were much better at it? What were other SENSE members going to think of someone like me?
It was not long after I joined that, with some trepidation, I posted my first terminology question on the members’ Forum, which in those days was an email-based system where your question got sent to the entire membership. I must have spent about three hours composing a 228-word email asking whether I should use the -ise or -ize spelling in translated textbooks for Dutch bilingual secondary schools. I was so afraid of making a mistake, or sounding stupid, or asking something so darned obvious I’d be laughed out of town. But of course, I needn’t have worried. Fourteen friendly SENSE members took the trouble to reply and offer their advice and opinions, which greatly helped me to decide – if you’re curious, I went with -ise spelling.
At the time, although I was still very much a starter in the translation and editing world, this positive experience made me realize that other members might be more approachable than I thought. And with time, I also gained enough confidence to offer my own opinion on questions asked by others. In fact, a science-related question that I was able to answer led to someone asking me to help teach a course in scientific writing. That was the first of several such courses that I ended up teaching at Dutch universities, and all thanks to SENSE; not to mention all the other translation and editing work that came in through word-of-mouth referrals.
Fast forward 13 years, and I’m no longer a starter and no longer a freelancer, but still a keen and active member of SENSE. Now I have made it all the way to Chair of the Society, I feel much less of an impostor. And in fact that’s my main message: if you’re new to SENSE and perhaps lacking in confidence, I want to encourage you to get out of your comfort zone like I did and connect with other members. The pandemic has naturally prevented in-person networking for a couple of years, but until that picks up again, you could consider posting something on our closed Forum, attending a SIG meeting, or volunteering your time for SENSE. That way, when you attend your first live SENSE workshop, not everyone will be a stranger. For introverts – or in fact for many of us who have been unable to attend professional events during the pandemic – it can be quite stressful to turn up not knowing anyone. And I’m speaking from experience.
Of course, as I’ve mentioned before, volunteering for a professional organization is an excellent way to network with others and showcase your knowledge and experience, which the Society will be glad to make use of. And if you are a freelancer or have your own business, it’s free marketing! You can read more about how I used networking to build my business in an article I wrote for SENSE back in 2016.
The newly composed EC is already hard at work. The first EC meeting is scheduled in the first half of April, with a more comprehensive meeting at the end of May. One of the topics we are already discussing is of course in-person meetings – where, how, and when we are going to get together as members of the Society. I sincerely hope that SENSE will soon be able to offer you a programme of both offline and online events. This includes the SIG meetings which are often a first point of contact for new members. If you are interested in setting up a new SIG or helping an existing SIG to arrange meetings, the EC is available to help in any way we can.
I hope to meet many of you in person sometime soon. In the meantime, if you have a question or would like to share your thoughts, do feel free to drop me a line at email@example.com.
At the 18 February UniSIG meeting, SENSE member Linda Jayne Turner talked about her experience working for clients in academia in Germany and the Czech Republic. A teaching job at Charles University brought Linda to Prague in 2004, and while she has remained there, she also has many clients in Germany, where she lived previously. She mostly edits journal articles written by academics to be submitted to journals (mainly in the social sciences); she also edits colleagues’ English translations from German and Czech.
In her talk, Linda touched on some of the differences between working for clients in the two countries. In general, she thinks her Czech clients are more diffident about their prowess in English and more relaxed about deadlines. Her German academic clients pay higher rates and expect to be invoiced per hour’s work (that’s generally equivalent to editing about 1000 words), whereas in the Czech Republic she is expected to charge per page (assuming 1800 characters per page), but can also charge an hourly rate in some cases. Her German clients often have to request bids from three language professionals, but don’t always go for the cheapest, preferring instead to give the assignment to Linda, whose work they trust and appreciate. Invoices issued to German universities should ideally be paid into German banks to avoid additional paperwork, so Linda has kept her bank account in Germany.
It seems that the bugbear in both countries is Kafkaesque bureaucracy. Although Kafka’s depiction of the Czech establishment arises from his own experience of the system in Prague imposed in the days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Linda thinks present-day German bureaucracy is even more convoluted.
Linda makes a point of visiting Germany several times a year, under normal circumstances, and when she does, she contacts her clients in advance to invite them to meet up with her. These informal meetings are usually at the end of the working day and take place in a café, restaurant or bar. Chatting over coffee, a meal or a drink is a good way to get to know more about clients and to get useful feedback from them. It also makes it easier to deal with any subsequent issues that might arise while working together.
At this lively UniSIG meeting there was plenty of input from the 24 attendees. It was pointed out that in Germany and the Netherlands, agencies corner editing and translation work through aggressive marketing, and the texts they supply to their university clients are sometimes in poor English. Linda’s mention of her arrangements for receiving payment from German clients sparked recommendations for companies to use for receiving payments from non-euro clients: PayPal, Wise (formerly TransferWise) and Stripe (cheaper than Paypal).