Well, I made it through my first week of graduate school. Granted, I haven’t actually started classes yet, but I have made it through half of my training for the assistantship I will hold this academic year. I will be an editorial apprentice for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture. The Institute publishes the William and Mary Quarterly and several dozen academic books per year.
The job itself is pretty self-explanatory. You receive an article or a book chapter and you fact check it. Part two may include some proof reading, but I’d say it’s more like 80% fact checking, 20% proof reading.
This is pretty unfortunate because, as it turns out, I am an excellent proof reader and a fairly mediocre fact checker.
I work with seven other apprentices, who are all history graduate students, with the exception of the other American Studies graduate student, but even he is history based. I am the outlier in so many ways. I am the only Black one, so obviously the only Black female as well; I’m English based, not history based; my research interests are in no way connected to Early America; and because I’m English based, I am the only one not familiar with Chicago style formatting.
Fortunately, I learn fast.
I discovered that while my language background gives me a leg up when it comes to proofing, English and French majors don’t do a lot of hard core researching that requires the exposure to niche databases that a degree in History or Politics might. I am able to do very basic researching, enough to get me through my papers with relative ease, but it was clear the other graduate students were on another playing field when I saw them able to find original sources within minutes, while I struggled to find even one.
While doing an exercise with the American Studies and History librarian which consisted of finding 7 sources mentioned in different scholarly articles, I succeeded in finding only one source, only to discover, in front of the entire class of apprentices, that it was not the original source, but a book review.
And cue the doubts.
Graduate school, particularly getting a Ph.D., strikes me as one of those things where you will doubt whether you are good enough to be here about 3-4 times a week, probably every day towards the end of the semester. As a person of color and a woman at that, the pressure is on to prove you merit a place at the table. The truth is, I’ve already proved that I deserve a seat at the table, just by getting here. And honestly, I’ve got enough work to do without the added performance games, so I’m making a deal with myself right now not to fall for it. My goal is to get through these next few years with as much sincerity as possible.
But back to the work itself. Suffice to say, it’s hard. It is some of the hardest work I’ve done. To be fair, UVA does an excellent job at refining your ideas, but not as much with refining your prose. I’m pretty sure I skated by for most of my years on unique ideas and better than average delivery, but I never did hard core refinement of those ideas. In this way, I’m truly grateful to have this apprenticeship. My footnotes on papers in graduate school are going to a work of art because of this training. I know how to use databases. I know how to avoid the grammatical errors that would otherwise lower my grade. I got into grad school on ideas, not technique, but I’m getting that now, right at the beginning, which is invaluable. The tools I’m getting now are things I honestly think should be taught to anyone entering graduate school for the first time, because I don’t know when else you’d get it, if you’d ever get it.
Not to mention learning about publishing scholarly articles and books so early on in your career and getting to talk to editors about what they’re looking for and how to get noticed is SO HELPFUL.
PRO TIP: Go to as many conferences and talks as you can. Present. Keep a running document with samples of your work or latest project updated and on you. Publishers are going to be at these conferences and they are going to be looking for publishable projects. While a lot of books and journals do take on pieces through submission, many more are brought in from solicitation at these conferences. Preparing to submit sounds daunting; a proposal is a really specific document and it seems like it would be easier to prepare if you know going in that the publisher is interested in your idea.
I don’t think I’d ever go into editing or publishing as a profession, but this whole experience is honestly invaluable to a hopeful author seeking publication. It gives you insight to the other side and a newfound respect for the process. The truth is, editors understand you’re giving up your first born child in the hopes that they will make it better–the best possible version of itself.
We’ve also just done some pretty cool stuff. William and Mary is a hop and skip away from Colonial Williamsburg so Tuesday we went over to the print shop and had a private workshop on how to typeset and print on a colonial print press. That was very cool. I tried to take pictures for my dad, who loves stuff like that, but it was hard to pay attention and take pictures. But I did get to take my print home with me, so I took it to him when I went to visit at the end of the week. We’re going back this week to try our hand at book binding.
I’m excited to know whether I’ll be working books or Quarterly in the fall. (They split you up into two teams; half fact check for the Quarterly and the other half for books.) When you work the Quarterly, your name appears in the front of the issue you work as an editorial assistant, which is so cool! But then again, I’m generally an excitable person so maybe that’s not that exciting for other people. I’ve already got a reputation for the excitable one– I was delighted to see the pile of presents at my seat when I walked (late) on the first day. They gave us physical copies of the Chicago Manual of Style, Omohundro notebooks and travel mugs, as well as the appropriate documents and packets we would need to do our jobs. Those notebooks, by the way, were embossed Moleskines, which are my favorite kind of notebook, therefore I knew immediately that I was going to really enjoy this job.
Omohundro likes to equip you in every possible way to produce the highest quality work and while it is sometimes overwhelming, it is something for which I am exceedingly grateful. They treat us and our work as valuable assets to the integrity of the mission of the Insitute, which makes me humbled to be a part of this team and makes me take my job more seriously than I ever did before. So, I’m excited to start my next week, to learn everything I can and then to do my best to produce the best work I can as an apprentice.
More to come next week!