by Joe Fruscione
In the year since I left academia and began writing things for The Professor Is In, the biggest difference I’ve seen between the academic and post-ac worlds is the attitude toward collaboration. My experience collaborating in academia consisted exclusively of planning one conference and a few panels. I didn’t coauthor or coedit anything, in part because I knew such projects wouldn’t have the same CV weight as the articles and book I published, and in part because coauthorship isn’t too common in the Humanities. It’s been much the opposite in the post-ac world—thankfully. Collaboration is both more possible and more valued in the private sector. Since the post-ac world rewards experience and collaboration, tackling a project cooperatively can boost your resume, expand your network, and strengthen your skill set.
For instance, I’ve worked with fellow editor Bridget Rector (Tall Sister) on a few M.A. capstone projects: I handled the final rounds of copy editing, and Bridget handled APA formatting and citations. This was a pragmatic decision for us in terms of time management and playing to our strengths. Most recently, I’ve been working with freelancer Lisa Munro on copy editing a scholarly collection. I got this project through word of mouth: a colleague remembered my Facebook posts about changing careers and contacted me to help polish the collection’s 15 essays before it went to press. After communicating about the scope, timeline, and price, we had an arrangement. (This is an important step: don’t forget it.) I brought in Lisa because of her abilities and because splitting up the editing worked best with our schedules. Once we got a batch of essays, Lisa and I worked on the same draft and compared notes to make sure we were essentially doing the same things. From there, halved the remaining work, and we communicate regularly about issues or judgment calls that arise.
All of this is to say that collaboration in the post-ac world is helpful, valuable, and—especially as you’re starting out—necessary. For Lisa:
One thing that I think is interesting is that in so many disciplines (at least in history), the individual monograph and independent research are considered the gold standard. It’s been surprising to realize how different things are outside academia: it’s been more of a Here’s a problem, how can we best solve it? approach that welcomes working with others. I’m hard pressed to think of times when I’ve used that approach in academia.
So far in this project, I’ve seen how freelancers can learn from and help each other. Like Lisa, I’ve been impressed by my post-ac colleagues’ openness to working together or sharing experiences and advice. I’d like to see new or would-be post-acs do the same thing. (More collaboration inside academia could be good as well, as Gregory Semenza has recently written about.) Collaborating with a fellow freelancer can help both of you gain experience, connections, and knowledge, as well as prepare you for tackling future projects jointly.
Blogging or tweeting about your experiences can help other post-acs see the benefits of collaborating. #Postac Twitter is a wonderful resource for networking, sharing ideas and experiences, and coming to terms with a new career, as well as potentially getting new projects. Most current and future post-ac tweeters I’ve met have been open to sharing advice about topics ranging from finding work and contacts to handling taxes and payment logistics. If you’re not already doing so, join these conversations to expand your network. Jennifer Polk, founder of From Ph.D. to Life, runs the #WithAPhD chat and is working on a “Hire a Ph.D.” page to help prospective clients find experienced freelancers. As she told me recently, “I feel much more part of a community now than I did dissertating. Community is huge for me.” Find and follow Jennifer, Lisa Munro, me, and such post-ac tweeters as Liana Silva, Katie Pryal, Kelly Baker, and Chris Humphrey. I’ve traded notes and ideas with them and many others, which has helped all of us navigate the post-ac journey. For Katie, “collaboration is a path to success in a way that it never was during my eleven years within academia. There, we’re siloed in our institutions, our departments, even in our offices with our own research agendas. Beyond academia, we accomplish more together, as part of a network. My friends are writers, coaches, editors—but more importantly, they are there for me, for just about anything that I ask for.”
As I’ve written before, always be looking for new colleagues, new clients, and new opportunities to collaborate. The more you connect with others doing the same kinds of work, the more likely you are to find an ideal collaborator: perhaps someone who needs your sharp proofreader’s eye after doing the developmental editing. Regardless of who does what, you’ll teach each other a few things along the way.
Effective collaboration depends, of course, on effective communication: before you start this kind of work, make sure you’re on the same page as your collaborator regarding how you’ll handle the work, deadlines, and method of payment. Think about logistics, too. If you’re working on two parts of the same document, decide early who’s responsible for merging the files or otherwise combining the work for the client. When I cowrote this piece with Allessandria Polizzi last year, we first identified what we’d each bring to the discussion: Allessandria wrote from the perspective of a long-time corporate educator, and I wrote from that of a new post-ac shedding academic language in my professional correspondence. We shared a GoogleDoc and Skyped a few times. The work went smoothly because we communicated throughout the process about our experiences, writing habits, and progress.
Much private sector work involves collaborating—e.g., writing and editing multiple stages of a project, or publishing something as a cohort without attributing individual authors. Doing joint work as a freelancer can give you valuable job experience, resume language, and material to share in an interview. Since many of us have worked independently in academia, working collaboratively on writing or editing projects may seem unusual or unwelcome. Try your best to get past this mental hurdle. The more you’re open to collaboration and networking among colleagues, the more you’ll be in a position to add to your experience and skill set.