Monthly Archives

May 2016

Editorial Assistant, Graduate English, Opportunities for Graduate Students

Editorial Assistantship

Grace Beekman is in her final semester in the graduate program. This year she has been working for Dr. Alexis Easley as an editorial assistant for Victorian Periodicals Review. Dr. Easley is also Grace’s advisor for her capstone essay. Grace will present her essay, titled “Emotional Density, Suspense, and the Serialization of The Woman in White in All the Year Round” at our Master’s Essay Presentation event on Wednesday, May 18th. Grace also writes for her own lifestyle blog titled  Sometimes Gracefully.

Dr. Alexis Easley and her graduate editorial assistant Grace Beekman

Dr. Alexis Easley and her graduate editorial assistant Grace Beekman

Before working with Dr. Alexis Easley as an assistant editor to Victorian Periodicals Review, I thought editors were simply the academic world’s grammar police, patrolling the streets of each paragraph for any comma or semicolon that looked suspicious or out of the ordinary. But this initial impression of an editor’s job was only partly true. My year spent editing for VPR and learning from Dr. Easley changed and expanded my understanding of the editor’s role in the academic world.

At the sentence level, this editing assistantship challenged me to not only identify a submission’s grammatical errors but also understand why these errors made the piece unclear and how I could fix them in a way that honored the author’s voice and argument. VPR is published using rules from the Chicago Manual Style guide, and I spent many hours pouring over each submission with my massive edition of the style guide open next to my computer for quick reference. I worked through each submission slowly, not because I was solely hunting for syntax errors or style guide mistakes but because I wanted to know the writer’s message as clearly as possible. Only then would I be able to give helpful revisions that would not detract from the article’s meaning. Editors are required to think in terms of both the author and the journal’s reading audience: Is the author’s message clear in this paragraph? Does this sentence support the author’s claim? Will readers understand the meaning of this section? While I was certainly required to “police” any suspicious sentence constructions, what I found most enjoyable was investigating ways in which confusing sentences or paragraphs could be revised so that they were not only understandable but also enhanced the message of the article.

victorian_periodicals_reviewThis editing opportunity also introduced me to the mechanics of the publishing world. I participated in each aspect of the publishing process, from the heavy edits on the initial submission to the final read-through before the issue went to print. Each issue of VPR is produced by a collaborative network of editors, reviewers, and publishers who operate under strict deadlines and work hard to create an organized journal that serves the Victorian periodicals research community. After spending weeks editing every page of VPR’s forthcoming issue, I found it incredibly satisfying to hold and read through the finished product knowing that my editorial suggestions had helped each scholar showcase their work.

Editing for VPR allowed me to work closely with scholars from around the world and keep up with new research being explored in a field that I found fascinating. I helped revise essays that explored topics ranging from the Battle of Waterloo to nineteenth-century health advice in popular periodicals. Editing these innovative pieces inspired new directions for the research I was conducting in class, and one particular essay directly impacted the shape and direction of my master’s thesis. I was even able to contact the author and discuss certain aspects of her research that were in conversation with my own. Furthermore, being immersed in such scholarly work and continually reviewing my editorial guidelines improved my writing and reading comprehension throughout the year. This assistantship provided me with insight and hands-on experience in the publishing world, and I am excited to use the editing skills and techniques that I have gained in my future academic pursuits.

Graduate English, Opportunities for Graduate Students, Research Assistant

Human Rights Research Assistant

Pearl Nielsen is in her final semester in the graduate program. She works as a graduate consultant in the St. Thomas Center for Writing as well as being a research assistant for Dr. Kanishka Chowdhury, an experience she describes below. Dr. Chowdhury is also Pearl’s advisor for her capstone essay. Pearl will present her Master’s Essay, titled “Citizenship, Violence, and the Black Body: (Trans)National Belonging in Coates’s Between the World and Me and Cole’s Open City” at our Master’s Essay presentation event on May 18th. We hope you’ll join us in celebrating Pearl and all the other graduates.

Dr. Kanishka Chowdhury and Graduate Student Pearl Nielsen

Dr. Kanishka Chowdhury and Graduate Student Pearl Nielsen

During the second and final year of my MA English degree, I have served as a research assistant for Dr. Kanishka Chowdhury as he prepares to write a book on human rights. When I began this project, Dr. Chowdhury asked me to conduct a review of recent literature about human rights discourse. I found and read articles and books from the last 3-5 years that look at human rights concerns, particularly the language of human rights in contemporary discourse. To align my research with Dr. Chowdhury’s particular interest in transnational human rights, I aimed to make connections between texts to illuminate how human rights discourse takes shape across national borders.

As I reviewed the literature, I tried to get a sense of the patterns that seem to repeat themselves in this discourse. Some key inquiries guided my research: What sorts of rights concerns seem to dominate? What concerns seem to be ignored or underrepresented? Is most of the discourse coming from Western sources? Do the so-called scholarly sources seem to focus on topics that are significantly different from the more popular sources (NYT, The Guardian)? Can I notice distinctions in patterns and priorities depending on the origin of the source (that is, do NGO publications, popular sources, government documents, and scholarly literature seem to agree or disagree with one another on rights issues)?

I began by conducting a wide-ranging review of recent texts, and I later narrowed my focus to examine the precise language these texts were using to discuss, promote, or hinder various human rights concerns. In particular, I collected sources that discussed specific topics including economic injustice and inequality, transnational environmental violations of rights, and gender injustice (including how and why NGOs seem to play a prominent role in this area). Later, I began looking over chapter drafts to help Dr. Chowdhury identify areas that could use clarification or documentation. I read through his drafts and added relevant footnoted information, source citations, and suggestions for areas that might be developed further.

This project helped me conceptualize and reaffirm ways in which my field of study is relevant and applicable for helping to solve serious world issues and improve the lives of others. As I conducted my search for materials and my review of existing literature, I uncovered more and more social and cultural information and views which broadened and deepened my own worldview as well as my understanding of the trajectory of human rights. Furthermore, this research will hopefully contribute to Dr. Chowdhury’s writing, which will in turn make useful interjections and contributions to continuing discourse. I enhanced my organizational skills, learning to better focus my research while still keeping an open mind toward interesting tangential topics which emerged along the way. Though I was given guidelines and guidance throughout the project, I still made decisions about how heavily to weight various topics, where to find my sources, and how to interpret the language used in source materials. These responsibilities helped me hone my research process and develop my own understanding of contemporary human rights instead of having a particular understanding delegated to me. As I continue to work on this project, it has been exciting to see how the work I do while earning my degree can contribute to helpful scholarship on human rights and also prepare me to be a better-informed and more active citizen.