Board of Editors in the Life Sciences
The Board of Editors in the Life Sciences (BELS) is a professional organization that awards credentials to exemplary manuscript editors in the life sciences (e.g., medicine, biology, agriculture). Here, the term “manuscript editor” refers to both authors' editors and editors employed by academic publishers (often called copy editors). Individuals who demonstrate excellence in editing and an understanding of the ethical principles of publishing—both of which are assessed through a certification exam—are awarded the title Editor in the Life Sciences and may use ELS after their names.
BELS was founded in 1991 and offers certification examinations several times each year at various locations across the United States and in other countries. Once certified, BELS members can access other members’ contact information, job openings, and links to similar editorial associations through the BELS Web site. All organizational functions of BELS are performed by volunteers among its members.
ELS – Basic Certification
Those wishing to attain the ELS credential are required to pass a certification examination. To be eligible to sit for the exam, applicants must have earned a bachelor’s degree (or equivalent) and must have at least 2 years of experience as a manuscript editor in the life sciences. The registration for the certification exam requires the submission of a resume, an application fee, and three letters of reference from professionals who can attest to the candidate's experience as manuscript editor. Most registrants hold degrees in physical or life sciences, English, or journalism. The 3-hour exam consists of about a 100 multiple-choice questions; BELS issues a study guide to prepare for the exam.
ELS(D) – Diplomate Status
ELS-certified editors may apply for diplomate status by submitting a portfolio of edited material and documenting at least 6 years of experience as a manuscript editor in the life sciences. A person whose portfolio passes detailed review and evaluation is deemed a Diplomate Editor in the Life Sciences, ELS(D).
ELS(H) – Honored Status
BELS grants the title of Honored Editor in the Life Sciences to distinguished editors of its choosing. Those with this status may use the credential ELS(H).
The concept of BELS was formulated in the early 1980s, and the organization was founded on January 23, 1991, in Maryland. Charter members were Martha Brookes, Gillian Brown, Gil Croome, Susan Eastwood, Norman Grossblatt, Carol Kakalec Kohn, Walter Pagel, Frances Porcher, Barbara Reitt, and Martha Tacker.
The first BELS exam was held on May 4, 1991, in Denver, CO. Twenty-three candidates attempted certification and 14 passed the exam. In 1992, BELS hosted its first annual meeting in Pittsburgh, PA, which a majority of the membership attended.
The first BELS exam conducted in Australia was held in 2001; 3 of 5 candidates passed. By 2005, the BELS membership included 13 Australians. In November 2008, BELS offered two exams in India. All applicants held degrees in science, and about two-thirds passed the exam, a pass rate similar to that in the U.S. at the time.
BELS initiated a newsletter, the BELS Newsletter (later known simply as the BELS Letter), in the spring of 1993, distributing it to members and related organizations.
A total of 33 editors were certified in the life sciences in 1991, the first year in which the organization offered the exam. By April 2001, BELS had more than 300 members, and a total of 51 scheduled exams had been held. By July 2006, BELS membership had reached 550, and by 2007, the number of editors holding the ELS credential had increased to almost 700. As of 2011, about 1,000 BELS-certified editors can be found worldwide.
- American Medical Writers Association
- Council of Science Editors
- European Association of Science Editors
- Mediterranean Editors and Translators
- National Association of Science Writers
- World Association of Medical Editors
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