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Name: Joanne
PhD discipline: History
Area(s) of work: Publishing
Year of graduation: 2002
Date of Interview: 18/06/2008

Joanne - finishing up and moving on
Joanne recounts finishing her PhD, reconsidering the possibility of pursuing an academic career path and then deciding that a job in academic publishing was ultimately more appealing than academia itself.

So can you talk me through now the period of time where you submitted your PhD, you're waiting for your viva and you're doing some temping and then you successfully pass your viva, with minor corrections, and then what happens after that?

Well then I suddenly thought 'ok, I suppose I'd better try being an academic' (laughter), sorry, sorry. So I was thinking 'oh well, ok you know maybe, maybe it would be quite nice to be an academic', I mean still in this very kind of ponderous way really rather than in a quite aggressive careerist way. So I did, umm, I submitted some papers to conferences that were coming up and I gave a, we had a sort or seminar series at the university in the history department and I gave a paper there and I sort of, I applied for some jobs and I had interviews for a couple of research jobs which I, you know obviously didn't get and then I would, so yeah so I was kind of, should of, in a very belated way looking at being an academic. 

Do you think that getting through the viva and getting that validation gave you a burst of confidence?

Yeah, I've never thought of it like that actually but I really do actually. I think it was a kind of the first points where I felt I had kind of achieved something. And that's actually very interesting because I'd always, also before my MA I'd always loved my, A-levels, I loved doing my A-levels, so I loved that sense of you're constantly being validated aren't you? You're constantly being told, yes you're doing well enough, you've passed this bit and you've got the next bit to pass so it's all broken down into handy chunks. Whereas with your PhD, yeah, that's the only point where you get examined and you get told 'well done, you've passed this bit'. Maybe if you had to do something to pass your first year you know that would have spurred me on in different ways, but yeah maybe I'm probably someone who needs to be told that I'm doing it right and I think I always felt during my PhD 'am I doing this right'? And of course my supervisor was looking at my work and saying you need to change this or you need to do this but I think I didn't really, I suppose, I didn't sort of thrive in that kind of, being left alone to get on with it environment. And I would, I probably needed a bit more support and hand-holding I suppose or you know that I was doing it the way I should be. So yeah, when the final exam came and I had passed it, yeah it suddenly felt 'yeah, ok, I can do this'. Yeah, that's quite an interesting way of looking at it.

And what happened next? 

What after, at that sort of…?

So, after you'd applied for these academic positions, at what point…?

It's horrible kind of dwelling on, sort of going back to this. You know thank god we're here to talk about my current career in a minute! (laughter) So it all turns out ok, it's not a very glorious moment. What happened actually was I applied, I was going to apply for, I can't even remember what job it was, whether it was a research job or a lecture job, and I asked my external examiner to be my referee and he said no, that he was going to, that he was supporting someone else and he didn't want to do it. I think at that point, and I'd also been teaching as well as sort of applying to do papers and stuff so, you know I was doing a bit of temping but also teaching so you know looking at doing, trying to now build my career but at that point when he said to me 'no, he wouldn't be my referee' I kind of didn't have any external people to draw on to be a referee actually at that point. So yeah, I mean I had people at my university but I didn't have those networks to say, oh no you're not going to do it but I know this other professor who'll support me. I just thought 'well I'm not, going to, if he's not going to be my referee then you know I (laughter) what am I going to do?' So and I can't really remember the timeline but at about the same time I happened to see in the Manchester Evening News a small advert for editorial clerical assistant at Manchester University Press and I think they must have happened around the same time and so I thought well I might as well apply for this, I'd always had academic publishing at the back of my mind and it was for a part-time job, very you know, lowest of the low in editorial. So, and I applied for that and then I got that job and so those two things, him saying no he wouldn't be my referee and the job kind of in my mind came, looking back, happened sort of simultaneously. Then when I got that job I was like 'ok, I'm here to do this and I can leave that behind at this point'.

How did your previous work experience at the National Portrait Gallery in the publications department tie in with this job that you'd seen advertised?

Yeah, I'd worked for five months before starting my PhD at the National Portrait Gallery as a Retail and Publications Assistant and so yeah I'd had a little bit of experience of working in a publications department of a gallery and they commissioned their own, their own books as well as produced the kind of material for the gallery. So, but I think at that point I was more interested in working in galleries or museums so I'd got into that for slightly different reasons for than I went into academic publishing later. Actually, partly during my PhD I had worked in a bookshop and actually working in the bookshop I saw as a kind of career move. I thought – well at that point I thought – 'well I'm not going to be an academic but if I've got some bookshop experience I can put on my CV later that will look good for when I go into publishing'. So actually yes, there was a point during my PhD when I was thinking I terms of career but not in terms of an academic career. 

At the interview at Manchester University Press, were they impressed with your previous experience at that publications office and by the PhD? How did they respond to you? 

Yeah, I think they were kind of bemused by me and my kind of you know, stressing that this was, you know, I was just looking after contracts all day and it was only part-time. So they were bemused about why I wanted to do it, to do the job while having a PhD and I remember when I started there as being a big – oh the most qualified person here is doing the lowliest job here – which was kind of… But so I really had to stress in the interview that I didn't want to be an academic and that I wanted to get into academic publishing and this was a great way for me to do it. So I remember having to make a case, kind of against my PhD, ignore the PhD, I'm doing you know, this is what I want to do as a career now, but yeah, so I think they were a bit confused by that. 

Do you think in part they might have been confused because with the PhD you could have gone into a career at a higher pay grade and that you actually, by starting where you were starting, you were underselling yourself, maybe in their minds? 

Yeah I kind of, I knew I could have found, oh no there were so many things, I could have found an editorial assistant job which is the usual first job in publishing but I didn't really at that point want to leave Manchester. And I wanted to get some kind of proper work experience, you know, I wanted to be able to say to other publishers 'look I went in, I know I've got a PhD but I went into this job part-time, terribly paid job, very basic job, I'm really committed to this career in academic publishing, I was prepared to take that really low job to start my career that I'm not just something that actually wants to just go and be an academic'. So I felt that that was quite strategic in doing that. 

When did you move on from that job? 

I was there for a year and in that time I was promoted to editorial assistant but it was only maternity cover so I was working on the history and history of art list which was great and then I knew I was going to have to, that it was such a small press, I knew I was going to have to move back down south to Oxford or London. And I saw that there was a perfect job, my next job at Routledge working on a history list again. So again it was, it enabled me, that job, to say 'all my interests lie in history because I've got this great academic career of having you know studied history and then, it was the perfect next step and it should have been really what I had done (pause) should have been my first job'. But I was able to say 'I've had this year's experience of working in academic publishing. I'm not just someone that wants to be an academic secretly'. 

And can you talk to me about the interview for that job? 

It was a really tough interview, they made me do some maths in the interview which was horrible. (laughter) They made me do some percentages which is, you know you do need that kind of stuff. I remember that interview, I kind of remember it being tough but kind of enjoying it or kind of feeling this feels tough for an entry-level, for your first job in publishing. I think there were questions about, you know, 'why didn't you want to work in academia' but by that time I was able to say 'well I've left that behind and I've done a year working in academic publishing and I'm building my career here', I felt that I had that sort of… 


Yeah, exactly, I had evidence of what I wanted to do in the future and I had a lot of, and we didn't really, again I was not talking about my PhD there at all, it was all about, I remember she brought out a book and said why do you think this book didn't do very well? And all the, I had you know really great experience from working at MUP to know why the book hadn't done well and to talk about that in a publishing way. So it was that experience I was drawing on. Although I remember that talking afterwards to someone else who was working on the list with me, one of the things that impressed the commissioning editor for history was that she'd asked, 'if you had lots of work to do, if you were massively busy and there was loads and loads going on, what would you do, what would be your strategy to deal with that?' And my answer was 'well, I would stay late so you know I wouldn't, I don't see it as a nine to five job' and I suppose that comes from what we were talking about a bit earlier about, you know, your PhD instils in you a sense that your job is not just nine to five although it's handy when it can be. But that, you're sort of, you're putting something more of yourself into the job than that it's just a way to earn money I guess. So that willingness to work beyond my hours impressed her and I suppose came from my sort of experience of doing my PhD. 

How many people were on the panel? And who were they?

It was just the commissioning editor for history in both interviews but there were two interviews for that job which seemed sort of a bit heavy for an editorial assistant job but it's pretty much the norm. 

Is that because it's so competitive? 

Probably, yeah, yes. 

And then what did that job involve? 

That job was err, that job involved, so you're the assistant to the commissioning editor, you're doing, you're getting all the, you're chasing all the manuscripts to come in, to make sure that you've got a certain amount of publishing within a calendar year. So you're chasing all the authors all the time. You're, when a manuscript comes in, you sort it out so it can then go to the production department, so you're finding book covers, you're clearing commissions for any images, or you know other articles that you're using again in the book. You're sorting out the kind of admin stuff like you're doing, sorting out all the contracts, making the order that they go in, for authors and contributors, they go in and come back and you're finding reviews for book proposals or manuscripts. So it's very administrative. 

And did you find that having the PhD helped you in terms of your personal organisation? Because I imagine you'll have to have a high level of organisation to keep track of all of those activities. 

Yeah, I think my PhD helped me, I kind of know how I work, in a way, maybe. I don't know. I don't know if this is necessarily just a PhD thing but I suppose I know my weaknesses I guess in a way, I know I have to be really organised or I'll forget things and that I, yeah, I have lot of folders and that I have a sort of clear folder system. I have lots of spreadsheets and I have to have everything, you know, clearly set out so I know where all my bits of information are. So, like information management, I guess, yeah is an important thing in your PhD and how to put it all together.

But did all that come from you, the strategies for organising yourself or did you learn that from colleagues along the way as well or…?

Yeah, yeah I think you pick up things from your predecessors and how they've done things or by sort of trial and error. But I know that other people do things in very different ways that would make no sense to me at all. So I think that, this is so boring, this is very dull, but I think it's very important how you store your information and I tell my, when I get a new assistant, tell my assistant how I do it because I think that's a good way but umm so I suppose there's, that does come from the PhD a bit, but I'm sure everyone has their own sort of systems. 

Why did you decide to leave that job and how did the other job come up?

Well, I think I'd got very, I loved my job at Routledge, it was a fantastic job and I, it was, it was, it was very busy and there was lots going on. It was working on history which was, you know, quite exciting and it was a really nice atmosphere and I really enjoyed it and I really, I didn't want to leave because I did enjoy it a lot. But I really by then had a sense, I think I'd been there maybe about a year, I left after eighteen months there but by about a year I thought, you know for my career, I was then maybe about 33, and most other editorial assistants are 24, 26 you know it kind of felt, I needed to get a move on with my career. I couldn't, you know, I wanted to move on with it and I, there weren't any kind of openings at Routledge at that point or otherwise at that point. So yeah it was definitely like 'right I need to sort of get a move on now' and so I was looking at assistant editor or development editor jobs mainly, which are the next kind of natural step rather than commissioning editor jobs. So, yeah.

And where were you looking for the jobs?

What, do you mean physically?


Places like the Bookseller, the website the Bookseller or the magazines usually around the office or the Guardian website or the websites of all the you know, the presses usually like OUP, Oxford University Press have vacancies on their website, Macmillan have vacancies on theirs. Where else did I? What were the other places? Yeah, so just checking those really quite regularly. 

And then another job came up? 

Yeah, there was a job, it was assistant editor/commissioning editor for, in social sciences. So I went for it as a kind of, for the assistant editor element to that because that was always the next step. 

What was the interview for that like? 

Again, that was, so that was two interviews, the first interview was with my then, the woman who is my boss, who became my boss. The second interview was with her and the director of the division. And again that wasn't really talking about my PhD and I was keen to stress my experience and in my, as an editorial assistant I had always been keen to, you get as much out of that as possible, so I'd done things that weren't particularly relevant to the role but just for career development. So, whereas I'd never done this in my PhD, I was now very aware of, or kind of knew what I needed to do that would look good on my CV for the next step up. 

What kind of things were you doing? 

I was, I went out with my, I went out with the development editor on the list, going academic calling so I was kind of shadowing her while she was academic calling which is like a huge part of the job as the commissioning editor, to kind of see how that was done and the kind of questions you would need to ask or just the process of doing it. I, I mean I'd ask to do, so when I was having appraisals I was asking to do things like manage my own series which I never did in the end but I was given research projects to do, so I think I did some research into medieval history publishing and what we were doing and what we could do. I think that was quite, it seemed quite good and I was given other research projects to do so I was always kind of asking 'I want to do more, here and here and here'. (laughter) 

And, so the interview for the job that you're currently in… 

Yeah, I didn't think I, I didn't think I'd got the job, I think by the second interview they were clearly, because it had been a job advertised as an assistant editor slash commissioning editor and I very much at that stage felt, you know, it's the assistant editor bit I will be going for and by the second interview they seemed to be interviewing me in this kind of commissioning editor way and although I'd done as much as I could as an editorial assistant to get extra experience I'd never done any commissioning. So it felt like a very much – and I suddenly realised they were interviewing me as a commissioning editor which I felt was confusing but I very much then was like 'well I'm going to have to make my case for being a commissioning editor'. So I was trying to spin, no well I had to say up front 'well I've never done any commissioning' which I kind of felt was ruling me out for the job straight away because it seemed to be that was what they were talking about. But then I remember sort of having to kind of spin it and say 'well I haven't done this but I've done all this other stuff and the only thing I haven't done was commissioning', and to try and sort of build my case but I remember coming out of it thinking 'well they want a commissioning editor and there's no way they'll give it to me'.

But they did. 

Yes (laughter) but I think that's, but I would say looking back now that there's a specific, because of the books they are and possibly because of, maybe a bit because of my background, that it was, I could see why now, why I could have got that job and the way the company works. I suppose I can see now why they wouldn't have given me assistant editor in that company because I had done a lot of the stuff that assistant editor would do in my current company.

Why did you decide to move from Routledge to Palgrave?

I knew I had to move to get a promotion, you know to open up some career opportunities beyond what were available at Routledge at the time.