Scaling the BELS Wall

BELSI have never been good at marking or recording career milestones, but this one feels like one of those odd moments that I need to post about before I get overtaken by events and it completely slips my mind.

During the course of my early start as a copyeditor, BELS (Board of Editors in the Life Sciences) certification was always one of those things that stood out like a giant landmark — a huge street sign emblazoned in bold letters — that looked imposing even from a distance. You could find a way to ignore it, but you know the issue will always be there.

In a vague sense, it feels like a mountain that a science editor would need to scale if (s)he wants to be taken seriously in this field. Back then, it was easy to set aside because of several roadblocks. For one thing, the test was not offered locally. The BELS certification exam, which is run and administered by BELS (St. Paul, MN, USA), was routinely given in the United States, Europe, Australia, and some parts of Asia (India, Japan, South Korea), but going to those places (to take the test) was just too prohibitively costly.

That all changed in 2015. Thanks to the tireless efforts of Jam P. of Synchrogenix, BELS finally agreed to hold the test here. After hearing that welcome news, I set out collecting all the documents I needed to qualify for the exam.

The BELS exam was held in Makati last March 12, 2016. I went through the questions with mounting trepidation and varying degrees of reaction — some questions were thankfully easy to deal with, some were rather tricky, and there were others that stumped me. The one thing that buoyed me through the rough patches was my editing experience, years and years of it.

I wasn’t gung-ho about my performance, but I was fairly confident with some of my answers. When the test finally ended, I felt drained and uneasy. I knew the next stage was going to be murder on my nerves — waiting for the results. The proctors told us that results would be sent by mail (snail mail!) and would likely reach us within 6 weeks. To maintain my equilibrium, I blocked all thoughts about the BELS exam from my mind. I wasn’t entirely successful, but I kept myself busy in the mean time.

And then last week came in with all the grace of a haphazardly launched cannonball. The results started arriving (barely 4 weeks after the test). I was basically on tenterhooks until my own results arrived — in a large white envelope. When I noticed a slight “bulge” in the lower left corner of the envelop, I heaved a giant sigh of relief. I knew it was the BELS lapel pin (picture), which BELS gave out to successful examinees.

I finally scaled the BELS wall.

BELS pin

For freelancers like me, this is a huge moment to be filed away and revisited when things get a little challenging. I know the glow will eventually fade away and feel comfortably familiar like a well-worn glove, but for now my biggest lingering doubts have been laid to rest. Where I’m headed after this is anybody’s guess. Adding those 3 letters (ELS) after my name feels a bit odd though. Maybe in time I will feel comfortable about using them, but the BELS pin feels and looks nice.

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On a related note, I feel like this needs to be said. Among the 20 examinees (plus one foreigner who was in our batch but whose fate is unknown to us), 11 passed — of whom 8 were former office mates (some of them have moved on to other firms, and two turned to freelancing, like me). That passing rate blew our mind because we never expected to get that far (9/11). To me, this was icing on a lovely cake. 🙂

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