The Trajectory of a Career with Some Observations – Part 1-The Path

Laura A. Lander | November 27, 2018

My career entry into scholarly publishing happened in a round-about matter.  After college, and having studied and lived in Germany for two years, I returned to the States and sought the advice of friends’ parents concerning a possible career path. I did not (or even know how to) dress conservatively enough for the bank management training program I interviewed for, but a number of the elders had also recommended publishing. Instead, I settled on the incentive travel industry.  

One day, in mis-dialing the number of a travel-oriented company, I ended up speaking with a man who did not understand the type of work I was looking for. However, he did understand that I needed a job – and I got that he needed an employee. He was undertaking the publication of an investment-related newsletter, and since I was already open to publishing, I interviewed with him that same day and started work the next week.

That first “real” job, and my German-language knowledge, set the trajectory of my professional life. After growing out of Outstanding Investor Digest, I worked with a bi-lingual language agency and ended up as an editorial assistant at the old Springer-Verlag.  I did not need to use my German, but in those days, it was still spoken around the office. My boss there, Philip T., and I worked well together and he soon took me with him to a new division of Frost & Sullivan called Faulkner & Gray. STM Publishing was a small world, and I was eventually wowed away by a small Dutch medical conference proceedings publisher, Simon K., whom I had met at a trade show while working for Springer.  As the U.S. representative based in NYC, I wore many hats.

My boss died, the company was in disarray, and I did not like the direction in which my career was heading. I was not mature enough to take on the role of acquisitions editor and was not a great fit for sales jobs.  I seemed to have few other options. Trade publishing, which I found quite attractive, would have taken me on a deep dive down the pay scale. So, after a break due to health issues, and resorting to my continued fluency in the German language, I ended up working for a German trade show company in NYC, and then moved on to a museum of German and Austrian art. In 2009, after over seven years there, I lost my job. (I blamed this on the market downturn but it really had to do with a challenging boss, whom I finally dared to challenge in return.)  Having maintained contacts to my friends and former colleagues in STM publishing, I reentered this world after a dozen so years, ending up back at Springer.

The publishing industry had greatly altered in the interim, having warped into more of a business than a gentleman’s profession and pink-collar world. There were consolidations, equity investors, and something called EBIDTA. And of course, we no longer received manuscripts written on paper bags sent via air mail from India.  The business had entered the brave new world of electronic publishing. This was shocking. Submissions systems were another language to be learned, and I relied heavily on my junior colleagues to translate what I was looking at on the screen. Despite this, I gained respect and status, and the confidence to move on to the next position. I landed here at ACM.

My career in scholarly publishing has taking a long and winding path. Professional growth has been intentional but not always linear.  As a critical thinker, I solve problems and take on challenges I could not have handled earlier in my career. As a woman who started her working life in the early 1980s, looking at gal Friday ads in the migraine-inducing New York Times classifieds and taking numerous typing tests, I can safely say that opportunities for women were not quite the same as for men.  However, for the most part, I feel that I have been treated with respect in my career, and it was often men who encouraged me and gave me a foot up along the way. The rest happened according to my own strengths and weaknesses.

In my next post I will write about the role of mentorship along the way.

After having been both in and out of the STM publishing business for years, Laura A. Lander has been working as Journals Manager at the Association for Computing Machinery for over the past seven. Her time at ACM has allowed her hands-on management experience in many areas of publishing, not only editorial and peer-review management, but also production, rights and permissions, ethics and plagiarism, IT, finance, membership, and marketing. She has some degree of insight into almost every operation of the organization, as well as the scholarly publishing industry itself.