Laura Godsoe, Acquisitions Editor
-BA (Honours), History, Mount Allison University
-MA, History, York University
-PhD, History, York University
Acquisitions Editor, Canadian Scholars’ Press/Women’s Press
Laura Godsoe holds a PhD in History from York University, with a specialization in modern France. After starting out in a promising academic career, Laura chose to transition into a new career path in the Canadian publishing industry. She is currently an Acquisitions Editor for Canadian Scholars’ Press/Women’s Press, and previously worked as a Content Editor for Lycaon Press, a publisher of fiction for young adults. In this interview, Laura shares how she chose a new postacademic career path, provides advice on job hunting for grad students, and offers encouragement to PhD students who are in the process of reinventing themselves as postacademics. Many thanks to Laura for her frank and helpful interview.
Could you tell us a bit about your graduate work? What was your area of research?
My field of study was modern France. My dissertation examined the portrayal of women’s colonial work in women’s magazines during the period between 1870 and 1914. I argued that French women were heavily involved in a variety of ways in the colonial project during this period and that this involvement—which was publicized and celebrated in dozens of women’s magazines—was seen as an important duty that women could perform to prove their loyalty to the Republican state (the idea being, for many, that this loyalty would then be rewarded with the vote). I was really interested in the ways that these women, and the producers of these women’s magazines, manipulated colonial propaganda to their own benefit. I was also interested in contributing to the scholarship connecting feminism and imperialism: there’s obviously something deeply troubling about women arguing for increased rights while, at the same time, contributing to the disenfranchisement of vast numbers of people in France’s overseas territories.
You’re now an Acquisitions Editor for Canadian Scholars’ Press/Women’s Press, and were previously a Content Editor for Lycaon Press. How did you transition from being an adjunct professor to working as an editor?
I knew that I wasn’t interested in pursuing an academic job fairly early, probably two full years before I defended. It was still really important to me to finish, and making the decision to leave academia was a great motivator—I was eager to “get on with my life” so to speak. I loved my research and I’m really proud of the dissertation that came out of it, but the idea of spending the rest of my working life on that kind of long-term project, and working in such a singular and solitary fashion, just didn’t appeal to me.
After I defended, I spent a few months working with two career counselling services—one was geared to professionals looking to transition to a new career, and the other specifically to those looking to become “post-academic.” I found this process really helpful. I picked up some useful tips around networking, writing good cover letters and CV’s, and interviewing effectively. While I was undergoing this process I was also applying for any job that seemed at all suited to my skill set. I probably applied for hundreds of jobs over the period of a few months, I measured a “good” day as having applied for at least two or three jobs. In retrospect this was probably not a valuable way to spend my time.
Part of the career counseling process involved doing personality and skills based tests (I did the “Career Leader”, “Work Personality Index,” and “Strong Interest Inventory” tests as well as the “Myers-Briggs” test). I started to really examine what I wanted to do with my life. It sounds cheesy, but some really helpful information came out of that process.
In the end, the best general advice I took from the career counselling was that you shouldn’t just apply for jobs across the board (it took me awhile to figure this out!): instead, you need to really figure out what you want to do and focus on that. People can sense that you’re unfocused when you simply apply for any and every job and it doesn’t make you an attractive candidate. It’s worth spending some time determining where you want to end up and focusing your job search accordingly. I know that’s hard when you’re feeling the pressure to get a job, but if you can work out a way to take that time, I think it pays off.
The job with Lycaon was a big learning experience for me. The press, which publishes YA fiction, was just launching and I was lucky that the publisher wanted to take a chance on me. I didn’t really have any formal editing experience, or any formal publishing experience at all. I did know how to spot a good story, and I was familiar with YA fiction (a big not-so-guilty pleasure!) so I knew what kind of tropes worked in that genre. Once I was hired I was sort of a jack of all trades—I did acquisitions, stylistic and structural editing, and a bit of copy editing. I also helped to manage timelines and kept the books on schedule. I worked there for just under a year and by the end had become the de facto “Managing Editor” which was exciting. The only problem was that it paid really, really badly. I took on a teaching job to help pay the bills. In order to keep my sanity, I had to think of it as an internship, which, in a sense, it was. I left Lycaon to have a baby and then, when my daughter was about 6 months old, I started to get back into the job hunt. I spotted the job at Canadian Scholars’ Press and, even though I wasn’t ready at that particular time to go back to work, I applied. It worked out really well in that they were willing to delay my start date for a few months.
Could you tell us a bit about what being an Acquisitions Editor entails? What drew you to this area of work?
Publishing as a general area seemed a natural fit once I started to seriously consider it. I know everyone says this, but I love books! I think all academics do, so that may be one reason why you see so many academics in publishing. Essentially, my job requires me to seek out and contract books for my company, but there are a lot of different components and responsibilities associated with that process. I do market research in order to determine areas where a new book is merited, and research authors to target to write books for us. We get lots of unsolicited manuscripts but we also solicit manuscripts directly from academics in areas that we feel are growing. Once I have a promising proposal in hand, I organize a peer review of the proposal and then draw up an editorial plan to reflect the feedback we received from the reviewers. At this point I will also do more detailed market research and put together a portfolio of sorts outlining the strategic plan for that title. So, it’s a lot of research, a lot of meeting with authors to discuss their visions and ideas, and a lot of creative thinking. I also have a marketing component to my job, which I have found more interesting than I expected.
Which job hunting methods did you find most useful as an early career post-academic? Did you have the most success replying to job ads, networking, or other techniques? Do you have any suggestions for readers about how to land that crucial first post-academic position after graduate school?
I hate to say it, but networking for sure. Networking is sort of excruciating. You feel terrible bugging people and a bit goofy doing “informational interviews” but it really is a valuable process. As I said above, the career counselling was also really helpful for me. I think some of the biggest challenges facing academics wanting to transition are that we have a hard time translating the skills we’ve acquired in graduate school, or teaching, into the kind of skill that people outside of academia value and understand. Another challenge is that many academics aren’t willing to start at the bottom and learn a new industry. I was lucky to be able to jump, after a year, to the rank of Acquisitions Editor, but I think that’s pretty unusual. Working at Lycaon was very humbling in some ways—as were all the rejections I amassed during my job search, but I think sometimes you need to be humbled to develop a realistic outlook on your job hunting strategy.
How did you explain your academic background to prospective employers? Did you find it a help or a hindrance?
A help! A lot of people told me to downplay my education during my job search, and really made me feel like I had wasted my time in grad school while “real adults” were gaining “real work experience” and I just don’t think that’s true. Grad school prepared me pretty well for my current job and I think it would have prepared me equally well for any job that involves critical thinking and effective communication skills. I know I said we need to be humble, but we also shouldn’t overdo it, we have a valuable skill set that a lot of employers recognize. It’s just a matter of finding the right fit (in terms of workplace culture and values) and communicating that effectively in an application.
I think something that helped me was that I was very careful to explain that my transition out of academia was not simply about the job market but that I genuinely wanted to be in a new industry. I told them point blank that I was not applying for academic jobs—and I wasn’t. I was seriously committed to working in publishing and I think they sensed that. I think a lot of people are leery of hiring an academic because they don’t want to be a place warmer while you wait for a tenure-track job to open up.
Many students might be loath to leave the academy because they enjoy certain aspects of the job. How have you managed to integrate your favourite parts of the academic experience into your current job?
Well, research is still a big part of my job. I do less writing now than I used to, and I miss that, but I still have opportunities to write when I put together reviewer synopses or proposals to publish a book. One thing I always enjoyed about the academic life was that you were constantly learning new things, whether because you were at a conference or teaching a course outside of your field (is there any other kind?). In my current job I still get to do that. I investigate new fields for us to publish in every day and I get to talk to really fascinating people. Yesterday, I had the pleasure of meeting with a man who founded a home that is used a safe, healing space for children who have been abused (The Gatehouse) and last week, I got to chat with the coordinator of the Brewmaster program at Niagara College (such a cool program!), so there’s a huge amount of diversity in my day.
What do you like best about your career path outside of academia? Is there anything you miss about the academy?
I miss the flexibility of an academic life. Having only two weeks of vacation a year is a big adjustment! To be honest, that’s about it. For me, one of the best things about being in a non-academic job is working in an office. I love collaborating with my colleagues, and having face time with people every day. I’m lucky that my colleagues are all really awesome! I also love the variety of tasks, if I’m stuck on something or not enjoying it, I move to another task for a few hours. I also like working 9-5: I leave my work at work and when I’m home I’m way more relaxed than I used to be. I hated the blurry distinction between work and home that I felt as an academic, it created a constant sense of guilt.
If you could go back in time and have a chat with yourself while you were in the midst of your PhD, what would you tell yourself? Is there something that you’d do differently if given the chance to do it over?
I wouldn’t really do anything different professionally (personally, maybe… but that’s another matter!). I loved grad school—I met amazing people, traveled, pushed myself intellectually—I did a lot of things I never would have thought I was capable of. I don’t regret the time I spent on my education. I think it served me well, as I use the skills I developed as an academic each and every day.
Do you have any final words of advice or encouragement for current graduate students who are considering making the transition into a non-academic job career path?
Get as many eyes on your CV and cover letters as possible and customize them for each and every job that you apply for. Be patient. Try to focus your job search. Talk to as many people as you can, and don’t be embarrassed to ask for help. I asked for help pretty widely and aggressively when I was job hunting and since I’ve been employed I’ve had a lot of people ask me for help or advice, so it all balances out.