While I was still in graduate school, a fellow student called me “true believer.” I ran into her at the library, midway through a day of writing and research at the graduate carrels. She meant that I seemed like the type who was determined to make a career out of academia, no matter what. At one point, she would have been right.
I went to graduate school in the humanities for reasons that many other people who went could probably relate to: I had always enjoyed and done well in school, had tied that deeply into my identity and sense of self-worth, and wasn’t ready to leave the college atmosphere after earning a bachelor’s degree. So I continued, earning a master’s degree in Cinema Studies at New York University, the same field and institution where I got my bachelor’s (talk about arrested development) and then set out to earn a PhD. What I was doing was fun, and the prospect of researching and teaching film history for a career sounded immensely appealing. This was 2003 or so, and by then I was already aware that the internet had destroyed most of the prospects for my dream job as a film critic (not that this was a lucrative job market in, say, 1993 – I sense a pattern emerging…) and an academic job felt like a back door into writing about film and getting paid for it.
The prospect of that career drove me for quite some time – I was probably quite naïve about it. That naiveté drove me until I was writing my dissertation, and staring the academic job market in the face. Suddenly panic and despair set in: I was tired of working all the time, without any separation between my work and life, and was preparing for more of the same. Finally, I didn’t want to have to move where the market took me; I wanted a choice in the matter.
So I came back to New York, after leaving some six years earlier, with an unfinished dissertation and no idea what to do next. Coming back made a lot of sense: New York had more to offer than Michigan in terms of opportunity for someone like me, who had lots of education and relatively little “real world” experience. I adjuncted at CUNY community colleges to pay the bills, finished my dissertation, and applied for “real” jobs – for the first time in years, without any idea what I was doing or what I was really qualified for. In my experience, this was really the worst part of the transition – not just having no idea what you can really do, but having no idea how to figure that out and get paid enough to live in the meanwhile.
I looked everywhere a confused humanities post-academic would look: non-profits, museums, media companies. I ended up in that refuge of former academics, publishing. Thankfully I had worked as an assistant on pair of academic journals during the first few years of my PhD program; I managed to get a few interviews with academic publishers and finally was hired by Berghahn Books in September 2012 – about a week before I was scheduled to defend my dissertation!
Berghahn Books is a small, independent (i.e. not associated with a university or institution) academic press, specializing in the social sciences, especially anthropology and European history. For the next week I’ll narrate my daily routine and experiences working as an Editorial Associate; I hope it will be of interest and value to anyone thinking about working in publishing or even in a small office environment.