Thoughts on life after the PhD
This is the fourth and final in a series of posts on “Alternative Careers for Humanities PhD’s,” a roundtable organized by my university on May 10, 2010.
Our fourth speaker, “Mary,” came to editing and publishing like a lot of people–she fell into it. The editing / publishing world does seem to be a fallback plan for a lot of academics, though I’ve known a few who worked in publishing for several years before deciding to go back to grad school for a humanities PhD. While the academic publishing industry (humanities-focused publishing, that is) is struggling along with the rest of academia, library and museum publishing is, according to Mary, very much alive and hiring.
Mary emphasized the fact that there are plenty of specialized skills required for publishing–strong writing skills, experience with graphic design, and an artistic eye for layout and formatting of full-color books (this mostly for the museum publishing world). Strong writing skills, in particular, are rarer than you might think, and this is one skill set that most humanities grad students definitely have.
For those interested in publishing / editing, Mary had a few suggestions:
1. Take a job with any organization you’re interested in where some kind of editing is taking place–chances are they’ll ask you to do some editing at some point and you can start to gain experience. If you have experience teaching composition this will look particularly good to a prospective employer.
2. Work with one of your professors who is about to publish something. Proofread, edit, and then the professor can recommend you to their publisher–publishers are more likely to work with editors who come with a professorial recommendation.
3. Take a course in graphic design–most community colleges offer them.
4. Don’t email your resumes or writing samples. Layout is important, and snail mail will showcase your skills in this area much more effectively.
Several people in the audience mentioned publishing workshops that take place all over the country. One that came highly recommended was The Publishing Institute, a 6-week course at the University of Denver. With these courses it isn’t necessarily what you learn but who you meet–a lot of people make valuable contacts that can help them get a foot in the door. As always, network and call everyone you know.
All in all, this roundtable discussion was incredibly productive, and while the facts were grim I feel like most of the participants left feeling a lot less helpless and a lot more motivated to take charge of their post-graduate school futures. There’s a follow-up discussion in the works, this time to talk about writing a non-academic resume. Until then I’ll probably be writing about new recipes for chili as I enjoy my brief period of post-quals inactivity.
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