In July 2022, Princeton University Press welcomed its second-year Publishing Fellows. The Publishing Fellowship was created in 2021 to address a lack of diverse representation across the publishing industry, as part of a Press-wide Equity and Inclusion strategic initiative launched in 2018. Purposefully designed for individuals with no prior publishing experience, the program supports two fellows annually in full-time, salaried positions where they are supervised and mentored by hosts in their respective departments and offered many meaningful opportunities to engage with colleagues across the Press.
Jaden Young, an assistant production editor at PUP—and former PUP Publishing Fellow—had a chance to sit with our second-year fellows, Morgan Spehar (Editorial) and Akhil Jonnalagadda (Digital Content), and hear their ideas and reflections on their experiences so far.
JY: Can you give us a bit of background on yourselves?
MS: I graduated from Ohio University in May of this year with degrees in journalism and environmental studies, as well as a minor in history. While in college, I founded and wrote for an online magazine that focused on science, research, technology, and the environment. I also worked in the university library’s communications department and spent six months as a virtual intern for a communication team at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
AJ: I grew up in Houston and studied history and religion at Rice University. Upon graduating, I managed an after-school program for refugee youth for two years. After years of being curious about the publishing industry, here I am! Outside of work, I enjoy laying with my cats and watching low-rated movies.
JY: What sparked each of your interests in publishing?
MS: I’ve always loved writing and editing, so as graduation approached, I started searching for jobs that would allow me to use those abilities. Publishing piqued my interest because it seemed like I would be able to put a lot of my journalism skills to use while learning about an entirely new field. I became interested in academic publishing specifically through my work at the university library, where I was able to interview many authors who were writing and publishing through university presses. I also had a chance to talk with the director of the Ohio University Press about her work, and once I saw PUP’s fellowship listing, I was sold.
AJ: I spent a lot of time in college studying and writing about translation—as a historical process, as a literary effort, and as an intercultural necessity. Even outside of school, much of the literature and cinema I enjoyed were translated from other languages. I was always curious about publishing broadly, but I was specifically interested in how publishers render texts from across cultures and languages as intelligible to readers around the world. I’ve learned from a few independent presses about what this process looks like for them, and now I get the chance to see it first-hand with a press as global (and remarkable) as PUP!
JY: What do your current duties look like? Our fellowship positions always include a special project that the fellow will work on—what’s yours?
MS: Part of my role involves gaining experience as an editorial assistant, mentored by Senior Editor Bridget Flannery-McCoy, by helping on some lists and doing coverage on others. I’ve been writing dossiers for editorial board, creating initial write-ups for projects, contacting peer reviewers, and soliciting blurbs, among other things. I spend the bulk of my time working on my fellowship project, where I’m designing initiatives and programming to build in more community-building opportunities and support for PUP authors. It’s been wonderful to talk with people around the Press about this initiative and learn about what they do and how they interact with authors. I’ve also had a lot of fun talking with the authors themselves about their experiences at PUP—they’re such interesting people! Hopefully, I’ll be able to pilot some initial programming by the end of the fellowship.
AJ: Much of my work is centered around PUP’s Ideas page, which is essentially an online magazine that highlights PUP’s wonderful authors through short-form essays, Q&As, podcasts, and more. On a day-to-day basis, I’m mentored by the Senior Curator for Ideas, Debra Liese, and help brainstorm and commission Ideas pieces for upcoming book releases, edit and finalize drafts, and otherwise contribute where I can to PUP’s digital marketing projects. The opportunity to talk to authors and actually work with their writing has been incredibly generative for me. My fellowship project involves integrating the press’ diversity and inclusion goals into the Ideas page. Currently, I’m working on projects to expand coverage on Ideas for underrepresented scholars and research, including monographs and publications by first-time authors. I’ve also been collaborating with Debra to flesh out the long-term role and mission of the Ideas page in order to understand and realize its full potential for the press and its readers.
JY: PUP is a staff-choice hybrid organization. How has it been settling into a new industry in a hybrid working environment?
MS: I’m very grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to work full-time in the Scribner office in Princeton, because I feel that being in-person has allowed me to really integrate myself into the Press and have some great, spontaneous face-to-face interactions. That being said, meeting colleagues and gathering on Zoom has also been incredibly enjoyable (in part because the digital culture at PUP is so friendly) and has allowed me to meet people, like our UK colleagues, that I may not have met otherwise.
AJ: It’s been great! I work mostly 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 cherish the time I spend in-person—after nearly three years of Zoom calls, I’m loving the social interaction—but the ability to choose and curate my work environments has been helpful for me. The culture of remote work at PUP has also been surprisingly thoughtful and fun! Overall, I appreciate the effort put into giving people what they need to feel supported from wherever they choose to be.
JY: What’s something that has surprised you about PUP (or about academic publishing in general)?
MS: So many things have surprised me about publishing! For example, I had no idea how many stages of approval a project had to go through, from initial approval within the acquisitions department to external peer review and approval by PUP’s editorial board. Perhaps the biggest surprise was that the production editorial department exists to edit, design, and lay out the book, although I’m not sure how I thought books went from a Word-Document-manuscript to a published product before I learned that!
AJ: If you asked me about my assumptions about university presses a year ago, I’d have said that they’re probably a bunch of old, stodgy institutions that purely cater to academics. Just a few months in, PUP has blown me away with its agility, creativity, and its commitment to publish books relevant for everyone. I’ve also learned that the worldwide community of university presses is so wonderfully collaborative and mission-oriented, which keeps me feeling inspired.
JY: What’s one thing you’d like people who are considering applying to the fellowship or otherwise entering academic publishing to know?
MS: There’s so much to learn—about your own role, about publishing in general, from the books that 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 plenty of questions, and be prepared to grow!
AJ: Don’t be afraid to get 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 on!