Newsletter — January 2013

Chapter Leadership Update

Ruth Taswell is the new president-elect for the North Central chapter,  beginning her term on January 14, 2013. Dr. Joy Frestedt began her term as co-treasurer in November 2012. Theresa King-Hunter, Alexandra Woods, and Carolyn Peterson are continuing their terms as president, co-treasurer, and secretary, respectively.  Karen Steinhilber is serving as past-president. Read their profiles.

We are looking for a volunteer to serve as co-secretary for the chapter, the term beginnning in October 2013.  The term is three years, the first year easing into the duties sharing the role with the current secretary, the second year is spent serving alone, and in the third year you train the new secretary.  If you would like more information on the tasks, or would like to nominate someone, please contact secretary (at) amwanorthcentral (dot) org.


Asilomar Conference Registration Now Open

The AMWA Pacific Coast Conference will be held April 28 – May 1, 2013 at the Asilomar Conference Grounds in Pacific Grove, California.   Over the 3 days there will be small-group workshops, fireside forums, and provocative conversations with writers, editors, scientists, and other medical communicators in this beautiful, relaxing retreat setting.   The Keynote Session will be Globalization’s Impact upon Health in the Developing World, by Michele Barry, M.D., F.A.C.P; Senior Associate Dean for Global Health/Director Global Health Initiatives, Stanford University.  The early bird rate for the conference ends January 31, 2013.  For more information, see the Pacific-SW Chapter Website,

One new feature of the conference is the Pacific-Southwest Asilomar award. Established to support ongoing education of medical writers, the award recipient will receive free conference registration.  All current/aspiring medical writers are welcome to submit an entry.  For more information and an entry form, visit the Pacific-SW Chapter Website. Entries are due by January 31, 2013. The winner will be announced February 15, 2013.


AMWA Chapter Monthly Conference Call – December 2012 

The national AMWA website now includes an updated chapter conference web page. All chapters that host conferences during 2013 will post information specific to their conferences on that website. The social media committee is looking for things to tweet and welcome information from chapters about conferences, other meetings of interest, or local news that may affect larger community.  Tina Wasson-Blader (Administrator of Online Community and acting chair of the social media committee) has developed a “submission form” to share with chapter leaders to aide her in providing that outreach. The form is available on the national website. The national AMWA EC has approved a plan to open up the AMWA LinkedIn discussion forum to non-AMWA members. This will make the group fully open (anyone can join, no approval necessary).  The Chapter Relations Committee is looking for volunteers to serve on the Chapter Handbook Update Task Force.  Ideally members of this task force should be current or former chapter leaders.


Sharpen Your Number 2 Pencils: the Editor in the Life Sciences (ELS) Exam and Certification
By Linda S. Raab, PhD, ELS

If the new year finds you making professional as well as personal resolutions, you might consider obtaining the Editor in the Life Sciences (ELS) certification as a professional goal for 2013. The ELS certification is offered by the Board of Editors in the Life Sciences (BELS;, founded in 1991 by a group of editors who wished to develop a certification process through which manuscript editors in the life sciences could demonstrate editorial proficiency. Interest in developing such a program stemmed from a need identified by both editors and their potential employers for some objective measure of editing skill. More than 1000 editors worldwide have passed the exam since its inception, and the number of active (dues-paying) BELS members currently tops 400. The 5-state region of Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin currently has 19 active BELS members. Of the 133 active members of the North Central chapter of AMWA, 12 identify themselves as having the ELS designation.

To earn ELS certification, editors must pass a 3-hour scientific-editing exam consisting of around 100 multiple-choice questions. Although the multiple-choice format means that the exam does not ask test-takers to edit any text, it does include questions that address copyediting and style issues as well as substantive editing skills. Among the topics covered by the exam are grammar, mechanics, usage, organization, numbers and units, tables and graphics, and publishing principles. BELS exam applicants must have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university and 2 or more years of experience as a manuscript editor in the life sciences. Application materials include an application form, a résumé, 3 letters from clients or employers that describe the applicant’s editing experience, documentation of the applicant’s educational training, and a $50 application fee.

The BELS exam is offered at least 3 times a year in different locations around the world (, including at every AMWA national meeting. Candidates interested in sitting for a particular exam must submit a registration form and fee of $200 prior to that exam’s registration deadline to reserve a spot. BELS provides a study guide ( on its Web site to assist candidates with their preparation. The Study Guide provides registration details, information on the content tested, sample questions with answers explained, and a list of resources and test-taking tips. However, BELS advises that an editor’s everyday work provides the best way to prepare for the exam.

Candidates who successfully pass the exam can choose to use “ELS” behind their names. Those who do not pass have the opportunity to retake the exam as often as they choose during a 2-year eligibility period. The registration fee for all repeat exams is reduced to $150. Once the ELS certification is earned, an editor never needs to requalify. To remain active in BELS, ELS editors pay a $25 annual membership fee, the benefits of which include access to the BELS online jobs board.

ELS certification provides editors a credentialing they can use to indicate their proficiency in, and commitment to, the field. Furthermore, as ELS certification becomes better known, it is beginning to be a requirement (or, at the very least, included as “BELS certification a plus”) in some job postings, meaning that ELS certification either qualifies an editor for certain jobs or better positions an editor as a job candidate.

Lastly, for editors who have been working in the life sciences field for 6 or more years and have been BELS-certified for at least 2 years, BELS offers a diplomate certification program. This process requires submission of a portfolio of 15–30 pages of scientific text (including at least 1 table) that the candidate has edited, as well as 2 essays on topics selected from a list provided by BELS. Three diplomate BELS editors evaluate the candidate’s submission based on BELS guidelines. No travel or oral exam is required. Successful candidates for diplomate status can choose to use “ELS(D)” behind their names.

By using the online Study Guide to review sample exam questions, you can quickly get a sense of how you might do on the exam. So take a look at the guide—perhaps the exam is in your future. AMWA recognizes its members who have recently passed the BELS exam in the AMWA Journal. I hope to see some new North Central chapter members on the Journal’s BELS list this year!


Free Download: A Guide for Estimating Medical Writing Projects

This useful guide recently came to our attention.   Writing Assistance, Inc. (WAI) is offering a comprehensive Guide to Estimating Medical Writing Projects. When you go to the website, it brings up a 4-page table with time estimates for various writing projects.  The table was created for people/companies seeking the services of a medical writer, but would be useful for a free-lancer to plan their time.  Writing Assistance, Inc. is a staffing company for professional writers located in Plymouth, MN, Web Address:


North Central Chapter Book Club

The North Central Chapter Book Club will meet on Monday, January 28 to discuss The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements by Sam Kean.

The Book Club meets at 11 a.m. at The Egg & I (2550 University Avenue, in the northwest corner of the old International Harvester building, now renovated, just west of Highway 280 near the Minneapolis-St. Paul border — with 2 free parking lots, a small one north of the restaurant and a large one east of it). RSVP by 9 a.m. on Book Club Monday, so that the coordinator can call ahead to have a table waiting.

Mary Knatterud is the North Central Chapter Book Club Coordinator. E-mail Mary at MKna….