Mellon Mini-Course: Editorial and Translation Work Within and Beyond Academia

By Elizabeth Nabney, PhD Candidate in Classical Studies

I decided to attend the 2016 Mellon mini-course, “Editorial and Translation Work Within and Beyond Academia” because I wanted to learn more about alternative career options beyond academia where I could still make use of the skills I developed during my degree and potentially stay in an academic environment.  The course exceeded my expectations by taking a very broad definition of ‘editing’ and by informing me about a wide variety of careers across several industries in which editing and translation skills are used, many of which I didn’t previously realise constituted viable career paths.  For example, some of the careers which we discussed during the course include publishing acquisitions, series editing, freelance editing or translating, editorial management, and copyediting.  We discussed different types of editing ranging from large-scale structural editing down to proof-reading and the consistent application of a style-guide, as well as editing work by non-native English speakers.  The translation part of the course was similarly broad-ranging, covering various different types of translation career including literary translation, academic translation and more technical translation disciplines.

Elizabeth Nabney

During the course, we heard from speakers from many different career backgrounds ranging from freelancers to established academics to members of large organisations such as JSTOR and Brill, from people at different stages of their careers who work in Michigan, the rest of the USA and even in Europe, all of which contributed to a positive feeling that many career possibilities await at the end of a PhD which are as exciting as a traditional academic career and can offer rather more flexibility.  It was immensely beneficial to hear directly from people working in these fields so I was able to ask questions about their daily working activities and how they managed to establish their careers, especially in the initial stages.

I also learnt a lot about how editing skills intersect with an academic career, particularly in the cases of editing journals and multi-authored volumes: I think that having a greater understanding of the editorial process and production schedule behind a peer-reviewed journal will help me improve the quality of my own journal submissions in the future.  The course took into account the latest developments in the relevant fields, and we examined questions relating to open-access scholarship compared to traditional subscription journals, online-only publications, public engagement with academia and the future of academic publishing.

One of the most valuable insights I received from the course was practical advice on how to go about building a career as a freelance editor or translator without the structure provided by working for a press or other institution, including how to set up an effective website and dossier, building a clientele and networking methods.  There were also sections on how to get and make the most of internships, and job postings and the application process for editorial and translation jobs.  We also spent some time thinking about and discussing the marketable skills possessed by a typical graduate student which would potentially transfer to non-academic workplaces, and engaged in other practical activities such as writing sample translation proposals and figuring out how to use various relevant online tools, which I also found really helpful.  The course leader, Professor Ryan Szpiech was also interested in tailoring the activities to our individual interests so we could maximise the value from the course and the invited speakers.

I can certainly envisage using skills and information I gleaned from this course both in the long term for planning my future career, whether or not I decide to stay in academia, and also in the short term while I complete my degree.  I would definitely recommend the experience to anyone in a humanities graduate program, whether or not they currently plan to continue in an academic career after they graduate.

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