My name is Holly Longair, and I am a PhD candidate in the Philosophy department here at Vanderbilt, as well as this year’s Graduate Fellow at Vanderbilt University Press. I specialize in political philosophy and feminist philosophy, and my dissertation focuses on developing a conception of what it means to relate as equals in the way that is necessary for a just society. It is my final year in my program, and amid job applications and dissertation writing, the experience of working at VUP has been a welcome change of pace that provides an invaluable window into one of the aspects of academia that most graduate students know nothing about.
I think it is a common experience among philosophy grad students (and those in many other fields) to start thinking about a Plan B early in the PhD. There are few jobs in our field for many talented applicants, so even those of us who want to find a faculty position will generally put some time into considering what else we might want to do. I have always loved books, both the philosophical texts that are part of my research and the novels that I read avidly in my free time. Perhaps naively, that has made me think for the last few years that the obvious alternative career path for me would be publishing. I was already thinking about that possibility, and what I would have to do to make myself appealing to a press (academic or otherwise) as an employee, when my advisor sent me the application information for the VUP Graduate Fellowship. When I received the email offering me the fellowship, I was ecstatic.
No matter which direction my career goes once my PhD is finished, this opportunity with VUP will help me navigate the varied circles of scholarly writing. If I am hired as a faculty member, the insight that this fellowship is giving me into university press publishing will be both an indispensable resource for my own book projects and a boon for colleagues and graduate students in any department that hires me. If, on the other hand, I do not end up finding a faculty position, this experience at VUP will be the best launching point for a career in publishing (academic or otherwise) that I could ask for.
Even just two months into my year-long fellowship, I have worked on projects across myriad stages in the transformation from idea to manuscript to book. I learned about the role of the faculty editorial committee and their oversight of the Press’s title output. I worked with acquisitions editor Zack Gresham to prepare the docket for these crucial meetings where the editors make their case for why a book should be published. In the process, I not only read over the details of each proposed manuscript to provide an accurate short summary, but also had the opportunity to read the expert peer reviews and the authors’ responses. I also got a small glimpse of the satisfaction (and relief) that Zack must feel when a project he has worked on is accepted, as all six books for the first meeting of the year were approved.
In the weeks since, I have had the opportunity to search for peer reviewers for manuscripts that have been submitted for review, helped put together “pitches” to get the approval of the rest of the VUP staff to take on new projects in development, and worked on various stages in the preparation of a manuscript that has been completed and approved before it gets made into a real book. From the small, invisible aspects of the copyediting process (I never knew how important hyphens and spaces could be), to the big picture discussions of sales patterns and marketing strategy, I feel like I am getting to know the different steps and roles that go into publishing a scholarly monograph.
While I have had my hands deep into individual books in progress, I also have been exposed to conversations about the various trends and concerns that impact the decisions made in scholarly publishing, especially in a higher-ed context. Hearing from Zack about the kinds of books that appeal to VUP and academic presses in general (they don’t want your dissertation!) has been particularly useful as I am thinking about research statements for academic job applications. Casual discussions with Gianna Mosser (the director of VUP) about the economics of book publishing have given me a greater understanding of why scholarly books are so expensive and what strategic decisions must be made to balance mission with financial stability. Learning from Joell Smith-Borne (the managing production editor) about the ins and outs of formatting a manuscript to be copyedited has made me realize how much work goes unnoticed until it is done wrong. I have also found out more about Nashville and its history in the last two months than I had in the four years I have lived here, while working with Betsy Phillips (the marketing and sales manager and regional editor) on a manuscript about part of the local history of desegregation.
One of the aspects of this fellowship at VUP that I am most excited about is the chance to get outside of philosophy. VUP’s main specializations are in disciplines such as Latin American studies, anthropology, and history. Although I have interests in those fields, and my own work in philosophy overlaps with many of the topics that are at the heart of the books that VUP publishes (topics such as race, gender, human rights, etc), I have had little experience in academic disciplines other than my own. The opportunity to get interdisciplinary exposure, sparking new ideas for my own research by seeing what is happening in other fields, is very intellectually stimulating at a point in graduate school where I know sometimes enthusiasm grows thin. I look forward to everything else I will learn in the rest of my time at VUP!