SD/PEN Member Profile: Jim Hesson

SD/PEN regularly selects members at random and profiles their background and experience in an interview-style blog post. These are valuable opportunities for members to introduce themselves to other members and prospective clients through this newsletter and on SD/PEN’s website and social media outlets. This profile features Jim Hesson, a longtime professional copy editor of scientific manuscripts and owner of Academic English Solutions.

How do you describe what you do to someone whom you’ve just met at a networking function?

I revise the English language of research papers written by scientists who are not native speakers of English. I also teach English classes by Skype, primarily to people in other countries. I specialize in teaching English for Academic Purposes, including classes on writing research papers and preparation for the TOEFL test, which measures a student’s ability to survive in a college classroom taught in English.

What made you decide to become a professional editor?

While my wife was earning her degree at the University of São Paulo, Brazil, her colleagues asked me to edit science papers that they needed to publish in English. Sorting out what the authors were trying to say and then rewording it to help them tell their best research story was intriguing and rewarding, sort of like solving a fun puzzle that I was good at. I also enjoyed that clients were very positive about my contribution and grateful for my help. Also, as a layperson to science, I felt like I was invited along on an amazing adventure through a magical landscape. I continue to be fascinated by research papers I read, as well as by the complex workings of living organisms and the physical world and the role of science in addressing so many urgent and pressing questions facing us.

What accomplishment are you most proud of professionally?

After editing 1,700 research papers written by Spanish and Portuguese speakers, I came to realize that the bulk of errors I revised were the result of “interference” due to literally translating from their first language to English, where this sometimes produces ungrammatical and confusing sentences. I wrote a book focusing on these prototypical errors, along with exercises to correct them. The book, English for Research Papers: A Handbook for Brazilian Authors, is approximately 800 pages and includes lessons on the conventions and structure of Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion (IMRAD) papers, as well as tips on writing more clearly, concisely, and coherently.

Which quality or qualities would you most like your clients or professional colleagues to remember you for?

I would like clients to see me as someone who is conscientious, responsible, meticulous, and thorough, while delivering timely, cost-effective, high-quality work.

Tell us about a book you recently read that you would recommend.

One book that I would recommend as a must-read for editors is The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century by Steven Pinker. Pinker shows how so many rules prescribed by the so-called language mavens are actually arbitrary, contradictory, illogical, and pretentious. Pinker challenges many commonsense notions of language offered by most writing guidebooks.

Where would you like to go on your next vacation and why?

We plan to go to the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument for a week of camping, backpacking, and hiking. It’s one of the national monuments that Trump reduced so that it could be exploited for coal mining, but this is being contested in a lawsuit led by Patagonia. It’s in one of the most remote and least populous areas in the US, with some of the most spectacular natural arches, slot canyons, and geological formations in the world.

Describe your ideal weekend.

My ideal weekend would involve taking a rejuvenating hike in nature. I especially like exploring our national parks.

Describe a volunteer activity or cause you are involved in.

For the last two years, I was an Assembly District Election Meeting delegate to the California Democratic Party. I promoted and canvased for local progressive Democratic candidates who supported Medicare for All, a living wage, rent control, and tuition-free colleges and did not take corporate donations. I also worked as a volunteer promoting Bernie Sanders in 2016, and I hope to do the same in the coming 2020 election.

Describe one thing about yourself that most people don’t know.

When I was a teenager, my father, a boilermaker by trade, suffered a major heart attack and discovered that his lungs were filled with asbestos fiber. This forced him to stop working at a young age, and our family struggled on a limited income from disability payments for many years. This experience seemed to make me ripe to embrace the message of a priest, teacher, and social activist who spoke out against race, class, and gender oppression. He inspired me to attend college and earn a degree in Social Thought and Political Economics. He also inspired my social activism and political volunteer work.

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