Developing Professionals: The Iowa Press-English Honors Internship

The University of Iowa Press had considered developing an internship program for several years—thinking of what the Press wanted and could offer, planning the logistics of recruitment, and researching other internship programs on and off campus. Yet it wasn't until the spring semester of 2005 that the idea took root.

Having been invited to give a talk about a career in publishing to the undergraduate students enrolled in the university's English Honors Program, Holly Carver, the Press Director, met her counterpart, Mary Anne Rasmussen, the Director of the undergraduate English program. The two quickly found themselves on the same page regarding a formal internship program. "It's the sort of thing everybody loves," said Carver. In part, it provides the kind of hands-on experience for undergrads that leads to jobs, while pushing the university to further recognize the advantages of having a press.

The relationship between the press and the English Honors Program imparts prestige to the internship and ensures that the Press receives high-aptitude students. "Publishing has become more and more professionalized, it's become much more of a career," said Joe Parsons, Acquisitions Editor, University of Iowa Press. "We are reflecting that professionalization."

Several of the students who attended Carver's talk would later become some of the first interns in the program. "The point of the talk was to introduce English students to what they could do," remembered Sarah Remington ('06). "Holly spoke, and her words, I'll never forget them, 'Publishing is an excellent place for high performing introverts.' That struck a chord.... The first feeling, in a long time, that there was a place for me in the professional world."

Applying to become an intern at the Iowa Press is the same as applying for any other job. Prospective interns fill out a general application, and a few are then chosen for in-person interviews. The last hurdle is a difficult copyediting test. Once chosen, interns are asked to work 10-15 hours per week on top of their regular course-load. Students register for the internship each semester with the university's registrar. Although they don't receive course credit for the experience, the registration ensures that the experience shows up on their transcript, providing the student with an incentive to work for free. "I knew publishing was a competitive field—all those English majors that don't go to grad school," said Laura Avey ('06). "I wanted the experience before I tried to get the job."

In Iowa's program, intern tasks are standardized in the form of a checklist. The intern meets with the director and editors twice a year to go over the duties they've been given. These can include evaluating manuscripts, finding readers for a manuscript, filling out Library of Congress forms, writing rejection letters, and fact-checking, among other tasks. The program culminates in a final project that often tests the intern's abilities—a book launch. "I hand off the project to each of the students," says Parsons, "and they launch the book, running the agenda at the launch meeting. Some find that task very intimidating. They come into the meeting and get unanticipated questions." But it is their chance to stand at the "head of a conference table and present the material to colleagues."

Bringing along interns at this speed does require significant time from the staff. Asked what her duties are when it comes to the interns, Charlotte Wright, Managing Editor, responds, "I help interview and then choose the interns, work with them to set up their work schedules, introduce them to the primary reference books...teach them the various procedures necessary for the work that comes out of my office, check their completed projects, and make myself available to answer any questions they have about publishing." The natural follow-up question was, "Is it worth it?" To which Wright's reply was, "Definitely."

The interns bring a number of intangibles that go beyond the completion of office tasks. Parsons remarked enthusiastically that, "the interns are enthusiastic, everything is new to them.... It forces us to think again about the jobs we do. It keeps the job fresh for us. In the process, we reconsider the way we do things." Wright complemented this view with the observation that, "We get to meet the young, motivated individuals who are in all likelihood the future of university press publishing. Often, we are their first contact with the publishing world, so we have an incredible opportunity to influence their philosophy and work ethic."

For the interns' part, they enjoy the experience of working at the Press and being involved in the workflow. "I spoke with Joe every day and Charlotte almost every day," Avey remarked. "Joe would come down to the kitchen and tell me about a manuscript, about his sales pitches to get an author to publish with Iowa...but it wasn't all work. We would also talk about politics, local events, and sports." Sarah Remington added that, when the internship was over, "I felt comfortable operating in a work environment. That was something I couldn't learn from school. Something I could have only learned from [the Press]. Little things, like when to 'cc' people...what to say in a meeting, what things are helpful, how to ask colleagues to do something for you."

So far, the program has been a success. Of the four interns to go through the Iowa program, "one is at Chicago, two are at Michigan, and one hasn't graduated yet," remarked Carver, "We're batting 1.000." And whether it is setting up informational meetings between interns and potential employers at the AAUP Annual Meeting, or other general lobbying on their behalf, the Iowa Press graduates top interns that find their way back into scholarly publishing.

"At Iowa, Joe, Holly, and Charlotte realized that even though we were 'just interns,' we were intelligent people who could handle difficult tasks," said Avey, who now works at the University of Chicago Press. When asked about any tasks she didn't like, she responded, "making copies. But alas, that is part of the point of having interns. I have a student now that I have make copies. I've learned to delegate."

Michael McCutcheon
Communications Assistant, AAUP