AUPresses 2023 Annual Meeting: Professional Development Panels and Initiatives

Dawn Durante Discussion

A post from Feeding the Elephant: A Forum for Scholarly Communications.

Post by Dawn Durante, assistant editorial director of the University of North Carolina Press and member of the Feeding the Elephant Editorial Team

Wondering how to build a successful career in scholarly publishing? Professional development is the subject of many sessions at this year’s virtual AUPresses annual meeting. In this post, Feeding the Elephant co-editor Dawn Durante summarizes the discussions and initiatives university presses are engaging in about the best way to make their industry welcoming and supportive for a wide variety of people.

If you’ve been able to tune into the Association of University Presses’ annual meeting, you may have noted the professional development programming work being done by the organization. Professional development was a prominent theme through the first week of the conference (June 5 to 9) and continues into the second.

The meeting kicked off with an Early and Mid-Career Meetup on the first day that provided a space for people at multiple career stages to network and connect. Another informal networking opportunity occurred during the Mentorship Meet-UP for mentors and mentees newly paired through the long-running AUPresses Mentorship Program. This event is designed to foster these relationships, which are facilitated by the association’s Professional Development Committee. Historically more mentees sign up than mentors, so the Elephant encourages AUPresses members to volunteer as mentors for next year’s program.

The first professional development-focused panel, “Internships: Strengthening Ties Between University Presses and Their Institutions,” discussed the ways that university presses can leverage their relationships and the resources of their parent institutions to provide publishing experiences for students, while those interns then support day-to-day needs of the press. Panelists discussed the ethical and legal issues of unpaid internships, the importance of requiring little or no publishing experience from applicants, and having a clear sense that internships are about discovery for the intern, in contrast to the role of entry-level employees. The panelists shared exciting visions of what multi-press, multi-city, multi-organization intentional internships and professional development initiatives could look like. (Alison Syring offered some ideas along this line in her post “The Apprenticeship Model in Publishing.”)

The week rounded out with panels about “Career Building Blocks: Building and Applying Transferable Skills” and “Career Transitioning: How to Pivot into a New Role Within Publishing.” In the first session, panelists talked about how to apply organizational strategic planning ideas (like SWOT analysis) to your own individual career trajectory. In practice, this could look like assessing your skills, passions, values, and experience and using those elements to develop your personal vision statement, mission statement, and definition of success. There was insightful discussion about the importance of both informal and formal mentorship, bringing curiosity and openness to exploring the next career step, and finding a profession that aligns with personal considerations. The panel included a robust Q&A in which panelists shared their own experiences and challenges with finding strategies to propel their careers.

In a similar vein, the “Career Transitioning” panelists began by sharing their own professional journeys. Among the noteworthy issues addressed were the impact of personal considerations (particularly having children) on professional decisions and the fact that it is never too late to think about a career change, either because you aren’t seeing the upward mobility you want or you have natural interest in another professional direction. Panelists also talked about strategies for preparing for a move, like exploring the AUPresses mentorship or residency programs, signing up for the association’s listservs beyond your home department, and looking at job descriptions to understand what prerequisites and soft skills you need.

The second week of programming from June 12 to 16 (after this piece was written) includes some equally informative panels about navigating professional trajectories. Whereas most of the panels and meet-ups are understandably geared toward early and mid-career professional development, the panel “Things I Wish I'd Known Before Becoming a Director” addresses people who are later in their careers, featuring a panel of current directors who took a variety of paths to their leadership roles. Another panel, “Neurodiversity in University Press Publishing,” promises to offer practices and strategies that workplaces and managers can use to best foster the success, retention, and professional development of neurodivergent staff.

The conference ends with panels on two very active professional development initiatives within AUPresses. In “The Many Paths of Mentorship,” the Paths in Publishing cofounders and their colleagues grapple directly with tricky situations, such as the challenges of finding and developing a relationship with a mentor, and especially when your mentor is your supervisor, which can make it harder to get support when considering a job move. This panel offers advice on how to navigate this terrain responsibility and ethically. Lastly, the “BIPOC Toolkit” session shares the origins of the toolkit, its future iterations, and what its sponsor, C4DISC, hopes the toolkit accomplishes as a resource for BIPOC publishing professionals at all levels.

Overall, the AUPresses community is having a robust discussion of professional development. Too often discussions like these are just discussions that don’t lead to the implementation of meaningful structural changes to support staff at all stages. I hope that the university presses continue to turn their verbal commitments into diverse hires and integrate sustained, intentional professional development with inclusive, respectful workplaces.