The Monthly Q&A: Gillian Dite

Gillian began working as a freelance editor in 2013 in a change in direction after a long academic research career as a genetic epidemiologist and statistician. She loves working on anything related to science.

How has your month been?

The past month, and all of this year, has flown by. I've been working on PhD theses, practice maths exams, business reports and a botany book with chapters written by 19 different groups of authors.

I've just finished editing a lengthy molecular biology literature review for an international PhD student. Underneath the veneer of imperfect English, the student had a brilliantly structured description of incredibly complex molecular processes. His ability to pace the presentation of information is a rare skill that few can master. I'm excited to be able to help the work of exceptionally talented international students shine through like this, and these are the jobs I remember most vividly.

What are the biggest challenges you face in your work?

Managing my workload can be difficult, especially when clients expect me to be able to take on large jobs with no notice. I'm getting better at clarifying with clients what is and isn't possible. I have well-developed organisational and project-management skills and I use these to keep myself on track to complete my work. I pride myself on delivering work on time because I know that my clients are often facing strict deadlines.

I've had to adjust to the uncertainty of life as a freelancer and one of my current challenges is working out how to broaden my client base. I'm also learning to juggle the competing demands of my current workload, business development and personal interests.

What do you love most about your work?

After almost two decades in academia, the freedom of self-employment is empowering. I am no longer bound by the ridiculous bureaucracy of a large organisation that meant I had to ask (beg) an administrative assistant for a new pencil. (I now unashamedly shop at Smiggle for pencils that are decorated in pink or purple glitter and have leads that are in the sweet spot between HB and 2B.)

I love the variety and flexibility of my work. I never know what's going to land on my desk. I really enjoy working with international students. Higher degrees are difficult enough for local students, and it must be incredibly difficult to come from a different cultural background to study here.

At the completion of a job, I love getting heartfelt thanks from the client. These small gestures are wonderful and make everything I've been working towards worthwhile.

How did you get here?

After a few university degrees and after working as a genetic epidemiologist and statistician for 15 years, I decided to work out what I really wanted to do. Where previously I had taken employment opportunities as they arose without a great amount of thought or planning, this was the first time that I asked myself what I wanted to do.

As well as writing academic research papers, I've always dabbled in writing for fun - at university and for friends' websites. But my most important realisation was that, in all my work and hobbies, I am best at and most enjoy working at a fine level of detail. After a lot of thought and eventually discounting making crochet doilies as a career option, I realised that I could do what I had always done in the workplace - help others with their writing. I enrolled in the Postgraduate Diploma of Arts (Editing and Communications) at the University of Melbourne and loved it. Going back to university gave me the breadth of knowledge I needed to move into freelance editing and gave me the confidence to feel that this was the right move for me.

Starting a freelance editing business was both scary and exciting for me. Coming from academia rather than a publishing background, I didn't have a network of like-minded people for support. Joining Editors Victoria filled that gap for me; the professional development courses and the social occasions, in particular the freelance lunches, are invaluable to me. The Secret Editors' Business Facebook group is another important resource because of its mix of amusement and sensible advice.

Changing careers has reinvigorated me. I'm inspired to learn more about the publishing side of the industry, and I'm looking forward to the upcoming Editors Victoria ebooks course.

What is your average weekly workload? Does it vary throughout the year?

Being relatively new to freelancing, I'm not too sure what an average week is like. I make the most of the flexibility of self-employment and often work evenings so that I can take the time to enjoy the daylight hours, especially in winter. I'm lucky because one of the only constraints on my time is when my two canine office assistants insist on being taken for a walk to the park. Apart from this, I get to choose how I manage my days.

If you didn't have the job you are in now, what would you like to be doing?

My dream job is to be a costume designer for the Australian Ballet. I am in awe when I see ballet costumes on stage and I'd love to work with the sparkly fabrics and adornments that we don't see in our everyday lives.

Thanks so much Gillian!

You can find Gillian at gillian.dite@gmail.com and her website is gilliandite.com.au.