In July 2022, Princeton University Press welcomed its sophomore publishing fellows. The Publishing Fellowship was established in 2021 to address a lack of diverse representation in the publishing industry, as part of a press-wide program Strategic Equity and Inclusion Initiative launched in 2018. Purposefully designed for people without prior publishing experience, the program supports two fellows each year in full-time salaried positions where they are supervised and mentored by hosts in their respective departments and provide many meaningful opportunities to engage with colleagues from the press.
Jaden Young, Associate Production Editor at PUP – and former PUP Publishing Fellow – had the chance to sit down with our second-year fellows, Morgan Spehar (editorial) and Akhil Jonnalagadda (digital content), and hear their ideas and thoughts on their experiences so far.
JY: Can you give us some background on yourself?
MRS: I graduated from Ohio University in May of this year with degrees in journalism and environmental studies, as well as a minor in history. During my university studies, I founded and wrote for an online magazine focusing on science, research, technology and the environment. I also worked in the communications department at the university library and spent six months as a virtual intern for a communications team at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
A J: I grew up in Houston and studied history and religion at Rice University. After graduating, I managed an after-school program for young refugees for two years. After years of being interested in the publishing industry, here I am! Outside of work, I like to lay with my cats and watch poorly rated movies.
JY: What triggered each of your interest in publishing?
MRS: I’ve always loved writing and editing, so as graduation approached, I started looking for jobs that would allow me to use those abilities. Editing piqued my curiosity because it felt like I would be able to put a lot of my journalism skills to good use while learning about an entirely new field. I became interested in academic publishing, particularly through my work at the university library, where I was able to interview many authors who wrote and published in university presses. I also had the opportunity to speak with the director of Ohio University Press about her work, and once I saw the list of PUP scholarships, I was convinced.
A J: I spent a lot of time in college studying and writing about translation as a historical process, literary endeavor and cross-cultural necessity. Even outside of school, much of the literature and film that I loved was translated from other languages. I’ve always been curious about publishing in a broad sense, but I was particularly interested in how publishers make texts from all cultures and languages intelligible to readers around the world. I’ve learned from a few independent presses what this process looks like for them, and now I get to see it firsthand with such a global (and remarkable) press as PUP!
JY: What do your current roles look like? Our Fellow positions always include a special project the Fellow will be working on – what’s yours?
MRS: Part of my role is to gain experience as an editorial assistant, mentored by Managing Editor Bridget Flannery-McCoy, helping on some lists and reporting on others. I’ve written briefs for the editorial board, created initial reports for projects, contacted peer reviewers, and solicited blurbs, among other things. I spend most of my time working on my fellowship project, where I design initiatives and programs to create more opportunities for community building and support for PUP authors. It was wonderful to speak with people from the press about this initiative and to learn what they do and how they interact with the authors. I also had a lot of fun talking with the authors themselves about their experiences at the PUP – they are such interesting people! Hopefully I will be able to pilot some initial programming by the end of the fellowship.
A J: Much of my work centers around the PUP Ideas page, which is basically an online magazine that showcases wonderful PUP authors through short essays, Q&As, podcasts, and more. On a day-to-day basis, I am mentored by Senior Ideas Curator, Debra Liese, and help brainstorm and commission idea pieces for upcoming book releases, edit and finalize drafts, and contribute where I can digital marketing of PUP projects. The opportunity to talk to the authors and actually work with their writing has been incredibly empowering for me. My scholarship project is to integrate press diversity and inclusion goals into the Ideas page. Currently, I am working on projects to expand coverage of ideas for underrepresented scholars and research, including monographs and first-time author publications. I also worked with Debra to flesh out the long-term role and mission of the Ideas Page to understand and realize its full potential for the press and its readers.
JY: PUP is a hybrid organization of staff choice. How did he settle into a new industry in a hybrid work environment?
MRS: I’m very grateful to have had the opportunity to work full-time in Scribner’s office in Princeton, because I think being in person allowed me to really fit in with the press and have great spontaneous faces. face-to-face interactions. That being said, meeting colleagues and getting together on Zoom has also been incredibly enjoyable (partly because the digital culture at PUP is so friendly) and allowed me to meet people, like our UK colleagues, that I don’t might not have encountered otherwise.
A J: It was great ! I mostly work from home and come into the office once a week, so the hybrid environment has really given me the freedom to experience the best of both worlds. I treasure my in-person time – after almost three years of Zoom calls, I love the social interaction – but the ability to choose and manage my work environments has served me well. The remote work culture at PUP has also been surprisingly thoughtful and fun! Overall, I appreciate the effort to give people what they need to feel supported wherever they choose to be.
JY: What surprised you about PUP (or academic publishing in general)?
MRS: So many things have surprised me in editing! For example, I had no idea how many stages of approval a project had to go through, from initial approval within the procurement department to external peer review and approval by the editorial board of PUP. Perhaps the biggest surprise was that the production editorial department exists to edit, design and layout the book, although I don’t know how I thought the books went from a Word-Document manuscript to a product published before learning it!
A J: If you had asked me about my assumptions about university presses a year ago, I would have replied that they were probably a bunch of old, indigent institutions that cater only to academics. In just a few months, PUP has blown me away with their agility, creativity, and commitment to publishing relevant books for everyone. I also learned that the global university press community is so wonderfully collaborative and mission-driven, which inspires me.
JY: What is one thing you would like people considering applying for the scholarship or going into academic publishing to know?
MRS: There’s so much to learn – about your own role, about publishing in general, about the books the press publishes, etc. – that it can be overwhelming at first. But academic publishing is a wonderful field for the curious, so don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions and get ready to grow!
A J: Don’t be afraid to be creative! I thought academic publishing was a highly technical and ironed out process, but I couldn’t be more wrong. There is so much room for all your ideas, interests and visions, so bring them!