Recently, a question came in to the Kitchen from a reader. They were curious if having a Master’s in Publishing would make them more attractive to a potential publishing employer. They also wanted to understand if the education they received as part of that program was likely to make them a more successful new hire. This seemed like a perfect question to pose to the Chefs. In an effort to gain additional perspectives, we also posed the question to some guest contributors.

The question this month is: What is the value of a Master’s in Publishing?

recent graduate

David Thew (Executive Search and Recruitment): I confess I am a bit of a skeptic. A vocational qualification in Publishing can be of value if the course is up to date, includes both a strong digital component and a strong commercial focus and requires one or more internships where the student can gain practical hands-on experience. The challenges with any such course, however, are currency and relevance; the modern publishing organization is the sum of a complex mix of skills and the pace of change is rapid. 

A Master’s can be of value as a demonstration of commitment to the publishing profession, but I think a sizeable percentage of people working in publishing come into it from other routes and I think a Master’s can be a bit of a red herring.

As a recruiter, I have rarely been asked to focus on candidates with a Master’s in Publishing, but I am frequently asked to target candidates with vocational training in specific disciplines such as marketing, project management, finance, business intelligence and sales. Often this training will have been acquired ‘on the job’, so by default it is applied and therefore relevant.

In my experience, academic qualifications are of greatest value and relevance for scholarly publishers in roles where there is significant engagement with the editorial/author community, but this is more about the specific area(s) of research than about publishing skills. Proven research experience in one or more related academic fields suggests an understanding of the research process, including getting research published, a commitment to research dissemination and the credibility to talk with authority to the academic research community. The Holy Grail for the publisher is to find people who combine these skills with the ability to engage effectively with multiple audiences, from the research community itself to senior management in-house, all with a consistent focus on business goals. Typically, those skills are acquired over time and build on natural, inherent aptitude.

Alison Mudditt: A couple of years ago I participated in a symposium for UC humanities Ph.D. students about career options outside the academy, and I’m sure that I disappointed many when I told them that their Ph.D. alone wouldn’t get them a job at a higher entry level or salary than a strong candidate with only a Bachelors’ degree. I suspect that the same can frequently be said for a Master’s in Publishing.

We receive many applications for entry-level positions (over one hundred for recent Editorial Assistant positions!) and so a Master’s might well help a resume to rise to the top of the pile for serious consideration. But here in the Bay Area this application will compete with supersmart graduates from some of the country’s best institutions. While a relevant qualification can help you get noticed, we are interviewing for core qualities such as motivation, collaboration, flexibility and openness to change. The world of work – as well as publishing – is evolving at a dramatic pace and so we need staff who can adapt and grow with us. Ultimately, our hiring and promotion decisions are weighted more heavily on these factors than they are on specific domain knowledge.

And although I have not personally hired or managed anyone with a Master’s, given how specialized our corner of the publishing world is and how fast it is changing, I would question how relevant many of the courses may ultimately be. Publishing is a business with a lot of continuous, on-the-job learning for all of us.

I can imagine that a Master’s offers many of the traditional benefits of any graduate program (networking and job opportunities through alumni, for example). But it’s a serious investment of time and money, so I would caution those considering this route to think carefully about how it would further their career goals.

David Smith: I don’t know. I must confess I didn’t know there was such a thing and I’ve never seen it listed on any of the CVs I’ve looked at over the years. Were I to see it listed in the qualifications, and were the covering letter, etc., to be appropriate, I think I would likely invite the applicant in to find out more. So I’d be asking what areas were covered; looking for in depth critique of the digital age we grapple with. There would be a bit of technical probing for sure, but I’d be very interested in the understanding of economic models at play, which ones have worked; failed; lived and then died; Come back again! I would want to know about how the program had covered modern ways for bringing products from first idea, to market. I’d want to know what frameworks of thinking the course had taught. And then I’d want to know what the applicant thought the course had given them and where it fitted in with their goals and aspirations. I’m fascinated to see what the other perspectives are on this!

Unlike other industries, like finance or engineering, there isn’t enough research done on how to improve the theory or practice of publishing. In this way, scholarly publishing is more of a trade than a science, oddly enough.

Alice Meadows: I realize this risks stating the obvious but, having taught occasional classes at both levels,  a Master’s in publishing is significantly more valuable than an undergraduate degree which, in my experience, tend to result in a little bit of knowledge being a dangerous thing. That can also be true of higher level degrees, of course, but I think (hope!) that those students would be more mature and thoughtful about the publishing industry. 

Overall, however, I’d describe myself as neutral on the value of a Master’s in publishing. On the plus side, it does show a commitment to a career in publishing, though not necessarily a career in scholarly publishing — and in fact many courses focus primarily (or exclusively) on trade publishing, which is quite different in many ways. (Then again I suspect that most of us didn’t plan a career in scholarly publishing either!)

But, as a hiring manager, I’m not sure that I’d rank someone with a Master’s in publishing above candidates with advanced degrees in other subjects. Or even a good undergraduate degree. In scholarly publishing, in particular, staff with knowledge of a specific discipline — especially at an advanced level — are definitely an asset. Mostly what I’m looking for is someone who is smart, enthusiastic, willing to learn, and a good fit for the team and organization. So, for me as an employer, a Master’s in publishing would be, at best, a nice to have. 

Angela Cochran: I am glad to see that several universities are offering programs ranging from certificate to a Master’s degree in publishing. Publishing sounds simple but there are so many different skills required to get it right. Acquisitions is different than copyediting. Marketing is different than production. Online distribution is different than typesetting. Publishing is also a relatively easy field to enter with lots of entry level opportunities. Some of the entry level work is, quite frankly, not that exciting on the face of it. That said, I tell all new prospects that in journal publishing, at least once a week something outrageous will cross your desk. There are constant opportunities to learn. For entry level people, the main qualifications are typically can you read? Can you write an email that makes sense? Do you have an insane attention to detail? Do you have a customer service demeanor? These are some of the things I look for when filling a position. 

So where does the master’s degree fit in? In hiring someone that does not have a lot of experience, having a master’s degree in publishing definitely gives them a foot up. Does it mean that the candidate knows everything and is ready to hit the ground running? No, but you don’t need to teach the basics. You don’t need to explain what a style manual is or what it means that something is peer reviewed.

Would I recommend that someone with a few years in go sign up for a Master’s program? I can’t say that I would. Once you have the basics down, it’s all about experience. There is a lot in publishing that really comes with experience: how to manage editors, how to hire support staff, knowing when an author question raises a red flag, recognizing a problem with a review, having a sense for what you can trust the author to do versus what you need to independently verify, etc. You learn these things by seeing your coworkers handle them, watching your supervisor, attending publishing conferences, reading blogs, and doing webinars.  

Todd Carpenter: Advanced professional degrees provide an opportunity to think critically about the business or industry one is involved in in a methodical and detached way. Professional degrees can be exceptionally useful in providing a forum where people can learn from the experience of others, rather than having to make one’s own mistakes along the way. Of course, nothing is quite like experience, but learning on the fly can also be a risky proposition, both for the company as well as the employee. Practically speaking however, getting a degree is most likely to help someone get that first job in publishing, or support their advancement in the industry. Certainly, I think none of us in scholarly publishing should be against the notion of more education nor denigrating of its value.

Most of the people I interact with on a daily basis don’t have Master’s in Publishing, though many have Master’s in Library/Information Science. The program of study is quite different, as is the expectation of employers. It is difficult to get a senior job in a library without an MLS/MLIS. Similarly professional degrees are required to advance in other fields. Happily, publishing is not like that. The reason I say “happily” is that the diversity of backgrounds and fields of study in publishing makes the community so vibrant. People I know in our industry have backgrounds as diverse as music, philosophy, languages, computer science, neurology, art, and geology. If everyone were required to go through the same course of study, whether that be a Master’s in Publishing or a degree in English, it would certainly diminish the diversity of thought in our community. This situation often comes with its challenges, however. Too few have a diverse understanding of aspects of publishing that people aren’t directly involved with. Marketing people (speaking as a former one), often don’t know the editorial processes. Most production staff don’t get exposed to circulation or rights issues. Companies could do a better job cross-training, but without that corporate training leadership, a Master’s Program in Publishing would give people exposure to other elements of the industry they wouldn’t normally be engaged in. 

On the positive side, I personally would appreciate the time to do concentrated thought and study about our industry and the trends buffeting it. One of the challenges of advancing in one’s career is that time becomes more limited. Unfortunately, this constrains the number of people who have the time to think very deeply and critically about its role and impact. Sure, many of us consider trends and activities taking place particularly in our own organization, but few of us have the concentrated time to do research, study, and then craft visions, narratives, or histories of our community. This is one thing that participating in a Master’s Program would allow for and thoughtful consideration is always a good thing. In reviewing papers about our industry for Learned Publishing, I’ve come to appreciate the work and time necessary to provide thoughtful study of our industry.  Unlike other industries, like finance or engineering, there isn’t enough research done on how to improve the theory or practice of publishing. In this way, scholarly publishing is more of a trade than a science, oddly enough. We could use those in Master’s of Publishing programs to advance the science of scholarly publishing.  And we would all benefit from that.

Charlie Rapple: Working in the Oxford area, where one of our local universities offers a publishing MA, has meant that I’ve known many colleagues or prospective hires with this qualification. I recall in the early days of my career that a new colleague with a publishing MA did seem a little more knowledgeable, and easier to train in the vagaries of our environment, than new starters without that background. My assumption that publishing courses are more focused on trade is corrected by a current colleague, Laura Simonite, who tells me that her MA covered a wide range of publishing disciplines and actually had quite a substantial focus on scholarly publishing, with (for example) the editorial and sales modules quite journals-oriented, while the marketing module was trade-oriented. She credits the process of writing her dissertation (about annotation of scholarly articles) with helping her explore and shape the direction of her career, and thinks her publishing MA both helped her to get interviews when she entered the world of work, and gave her a useful grounding in publishing concepts and terminology. In part, of course, any kind of postgraduate education may give people a headstart in terms of being more mature, more used to assimilating information, than trainees coming straight from secondary or tertiary education — and Laura suspects that those who take the industry experience route may learn just as much in the equivalent time as those taking the MA route. However, in my experience, those with a publishing MA seem to have stayed in the industry longer, too, benefiting both themselves (career stability and progression) and their employers (less churn / more experienced recruits). 

Pippa Smart (Editor in Chief, Learned Publishing): Looking back after longer than I care to remember in publishing, I frequently question the value of qualifications, although recently I was asked if I had a Ph.D. (Really? Seriously, who cares?). But, if I don’t care for myself, do I think a Master’s is valuable for anyone else? And if so, then to whom is it valuable?

To the individual? Well certainly, it could raise their likelihood of employment above others with similar first degree qualifications, so yup, I’d have to say a master would be of value to them.

Is it of value to the employers? Possibly. Here I have slightly more hesitation since it really depends on the content of the Master’s. Publishing and information science are pretty big fields within which scholarly publishing is only a very small (sorry, niche) part; so while a Master’s qualification may be of some value in providing someone with a general overview and basic understanding of the scholarly publishing environment, alternatively it could be so general as to lack immediate relevance (and by the time it might be of relevance the likelihood is that it will be out of date!).

However, perhaps the more important question is whether a publishing Master’s is valuable to the publishing industry. Then yes, definitely. As an industry we are unregulated, unqualified and struggle with job titles and easily understandable career paths. If we want to help career progression and increase professionalization then we need more formal qualifications (before and during career progression). I read once that publishing was an accidental profession — one that few would identify when asked at school. If we want to get the best of the best interested and competing to enter our industry, then we need to make it a career that people elect to follow, rather than fall into because they don’t want to end up as a lab rat.

Many years ago I was involved in the UK’s initiative to increase skills in the media industries, but the initiative failed to agree on any qualifications because we (as an industry) were so hung up on the uniqueness of each publishing position. If we want Master’s to be of real value then we need to work with academia and cultivate the Master’s qualification to meet our sector’s needs — to bring real value into our industry.

Barbara M. Ford (Publishing Consultant and Educator): Some of us, having had unique experiences over decades, feel quite fortunate to have achieved three critical vantages within the world of publishing: context, community, and leadership.  Given that on the whole most publishing experience is gained through an apprentice training-like fashion, the modern day academic degree programs are the primary source to build a strong foundation to achieve those three advantages within a much shorter time frame.

  1. Context in terms of process – When hired into a publishing operation for the first time one normally lands on the lowest rung of the ladder. Time is spent learning the responsibilities and required skills of that particular position and then those above it. How information flows from author to reader providing an awareness of the entire process not just your piece of it is rarely a part of any initial orientation or training. For example, in the editorial workflow an individual managing the peer review process rarely knows much about the levels of editing.  In a degree program one learns not just how a manuscript is vetted but also what the different levels of edit entail and what happens with the manuscript throughout the remainder of the editorial function and onto the steps in production, marketing, and distribution. And one is encouraged to develop relationships across functional areas such as the interactions between editorial and marketing.
  2. Historical context – Awareness of what came before to better understand the why of how things developed and how that affects the way things are done now is rarely gained through one’s work in a present-day publishing program. But through the course of an academic program one learns about the historical occurrences which influenced how publishing professionals approached the task of applying technology. From the slow-moving rate of innovation in the first few hundred years after Gutenberg through to those days when current elders in publishing found ourselves grappling with not just starting to use computers in the process but then rushing to accommodate advancements happening at an ever-increasing frequency and sophistication. Degree programs provide what few individuals in just one publishing house could offer.
  3. Context in terms of scope – Like many other professionals, publishing has moved into an age of specialization beyond just format. For the most part someone spends a career focused on one, maybe two, types of publishing such as trade books, special-interest magazines, academic journals, digital resources. Oftentimes this translates into limited knowledge of the many different kinds of publishing in terms of format, genre, content, publisher, and audience that now exist to a greater extent than ever before. Through a degree program, the world of publishing is explored and many students who come in thinking solely of book publishing find themselves drawn to other options, studying the basic concepts, and honing skills to work with publications they hardly knew existed.
  4. Community – We all know that the publishing community has relied heavily on personal interactions from the days of the guilds to the establishment and growth of associations and societies serving the industry and increasingly now through social media networking. But becoming a graduate of an academic program takes a person beyond such memberships and open networks to a special bond akin to an extended family as each year’s cohort adds another branch.  Just as we experience such special bonds with fellow or former staff from a particular organization that unique sense of community holds true for graduates of the publishing degree programs.
  5. Leadership –  Another important aspect of graduate publishing programs is the support given to students in terms of their professional development: 1) to excel on a personal level within their own organizations (many students want to “punch that union card” to achieve the next management rung and 2) to give back through their roles as thought leaders across the commercial, academic, governmental, and independent sectors of the global publishing community.  Graduate programs intend not just to teach but to inspire. This is no less true for those programs supporting the future leaders in publishing.


Now it’s your turn. Add your opinions and experiences to those of the Chefs and our guests!

What is the value of a Master’s in Publishing?

Ann Michael

Ann Michael

Ann Michael is Chief Transformation Officer at AIP Publishing, leading the Data & Analytics, Product Innovation, Strategic Alignment Office, and Product Development and Operations teams. She also serves as Board Chair of Delta Think, a consultancy focused on strategy and innovation in scholarly communications. Throughout her career she has gained broad exposure to society and commercial scholarly publishers, librarians and library consortia, funders, and researchers. As an ardent believer in data informed decision-making, Ann was instrumental in the 2017 launch of the Delta Think Open Access Data & Analytics Tool, which tracks and assesses the impact of open access uptake and policies on the scholarly communications ecosystem. Additionally, Ann has served as Chief Digital Officer at PLOS, charged with driving execution and operations as well as their overall digital and supporting data strategy.


46 Thoughts on "Ask The Chefs: What Is The Value Of A Master’s In Publishing?"

I’ve hired three people in the US with MAs in publishing to work in entry level jobs in journals editorial – and they were all really great! I think having an MA in publishing shows that you are really committed to working in publishing. I wasn’t particularly looking for people with MAs in Publishing but these people stood out in their applications and in the interviews (they had been well coached). I think the financial and business aspects that they learned on their courses were probably the most useful things that they brought with them. I also noticed that they were particularly good at organising their time and priorities (much better than other new recruits at this level). So yes I would encourage people who really want to work in publishing to take an MA to help them get onto the first rung of the jobs ladder. It will definitely help them climb the ladder more quickly.

Thanks, Roger! We liked getting some “non-Chefs” involved and may try to continue that going forward. It’s nice to mix things up a bit!

Having taught at the NYU Masters Program in Publishing for 15 years as an adjunct, I have mixed opinions. There were some really good students over the years who went through the program and the training they received in the program gave them a really good background on the business side of publishing where many of them were liberal arts or English undergraduate majors. I think it demonstrated to prospective employers the commitment to working in the publishing profession. My HR director at the time used to come to the final presentations given at the end of the semester and recruit candidates who she was impressed with when we had job openings. With that being said, while I think the program tried to position itself on par with a Stern MBA, it was a watered down version, accepting many candidates who had no business going for any type of masters degree. If someone asked me for my honest opinion I would steer them down the MBA route since it provides more flexibility in terms of career options.

I hold this degree, and it is so interesting to read these responses (to the question I have often asked myself). From my perspective, the value of the degree will be different for each graduate. The program was the perfect outlet for my intense curiosity about all sides of publishing- something not always readily available within day-to-day ‘siloed’ departments or roles, especially at early career levels. In addition to working in the industry while studying, and changing roles as often as my interests shifted, the Master’s program allowed me to develop an ‘interdisciplinary’ and interdepartmental perspective on publishing, which has been both personally fulfilling and professionally helpful.

A professor of English, I typically encourage my undergraduates to gain work experience before pursuing any master’s degree (definite exceptions, of course) and to do internships. Many of my students who have done internships related to publishing have landed jobs in the field within 3 to 6 months of graduating.

However, I have recently started an interdisciplinary, six-course (18 credits) publishing certificate. Students beginning the program take a course that examines the transformations affecting authorship, reading, publishing, and the book as a material object across time. At the close of the certificate program, students intern with a publishing or media firm. The remaining four courses can be taken from three areas: design/production, business (marketing, management, entrepreneurship, legal issues), and English (proofreading and copy editing, academic publishing, and so forth).

I have a Masters in Publishing, and I do think that it has helped my career. My undergraduate degree is not related to publishing and it seemed to me that all the English masters I was surrounded with had almost no business sense. I went back for my Masters after two years in the industry, and was lucky to do this at a time when tuition reimbursement was still a common benefit, so half of my degree was paid for by my employer. While pursuing my Masters, I was promoted because of the way I changed how I was doing my job – and I made those changes as a result of the classes I took. In the two job changes I’ve made since then, my graduate degree has been a point of differentiation against other candidates and a discussion point in interviews. The network I built while getting my degree has helped in a number of ways, from job referrals to simply having contacts in lots of different houses doing lots of different jobs.

However, I made very intentional choices regarding this degree. I focused on business and marketing classes in order to make the degree as much like an MBA as I could, with a publishing focus. Those skills were neither taught during my undergraduate degree nor explicitly conferred by my job duties, so the classes were an opportunity to learn things I might not otherwise learn from a job-specific perspective (ie, general business principles as a whole and not just “how we do it here”). I was more interested in the business side of publishing than the editing side, so that worked out well for me.

I would not recommend a Masters in Publishing program to someone directly out of college as a way to get into the industry, nor would I recommend to anyone it if the classes that are offered cannot specifically and directly affect someone’s desired career trajectory. It’s a very good way to get publishing business savvy faster than through trial and error, and a good way to develop a wide network within the industry, and if your company will pay for part of it so much the better. Mine’s been very useful to me, but I think I’d still call myself neutral as to the overall value to any given person.

All of my company’s editorial staff have at least an MA or a masters in something else plus a Certificate in Publishing.

The last time we hired, only one serious candidate didn’t have an MA. That was one of the main reasons we went with one of the others.

Greg, just curious — of your staff that have master’s degrees, how many of them are master’s degrees in publishing?

Hmmm. Only one. And one MSc (Biology). The others are MAs in literature or an equivalent. They all have post-master’s university certificates in publishing. There’s only one university in Canada currently offering a Master’s in Publishing, and it is in BC. We’ve tended to attract grads from the local universities (and, occasionally, colleges).

In hiring both entry level positions and editors, I’ve never seen the value in the Masters in Publishing programs. I’m much more impressed by candidates who’ve “done their time” and who display a knowledge of processes and practices outside their own teams and job descriptions. Further, I think it’s a mistake for hiring managers to think about individual team members as being “dedicated” to publishing. Our role is to hire the best candidate for the role, help them to contribute meaningfully, to collaborate effectively and to grow professionally. Each of us are “dedicated” to our jobs only as far as the jobs aligns with the rest of our lives.

And, admittedly snarkily, some of the biggest dingalings I worked with in commercial publishing passed these courses with flying colors as their publishing portfolios stagnated. Anecdotal, I know, but we all bring our personal experience into decision-making.

I hold both certificates and a master’s degree in publishing, and the courses were similar–the main difference being the number of courses I had to take to complete the program. One of the benefits that I have noticed is that the additional education gives me a more discerning eye within the field; I am better able to analyze the field and my business. Also, adding both the certificates and the degree to my CV shows my dedication and perseverance within the publishing field and willingness to keep on learning.

Who are we kidding? Even though all of these comments are true and sincere in their own way I feel like no one is acknowledging the lesson of history in the US book/journal publishing industry. If you graduate with a BA from an elite/Ivy League school then you might be able to enter the field without a graduate degree. But for the rest of us it did take a graduate education (maybe not in publishing but in some related field) to open the doors. Why don’t we admit that our industry is elitist and always has been. I can hear the screams of protest at that statement but you do have to dismiss history and the facts in order to pretend that elitism is not operative in our industry. Of course it is. So today you do need a MA in Publishing (or maybe an MBA or an MA in literature) in order to show that you are committed to this work, this “calling” if you will. Because we all know that entry level jobs pay hardly anything and if you don’t come from a fairly educated semi-wealthy family then you are going to end up with five other twentysomethings in a two bedroom apt in New York or Chicago or Los Angeles or San Francisco. Here is my full disclosure, I came from a dirt poor uneducated family and even though I went to a decent college (but not Ivy League) I could not get a job in publishing after graduation to save my soul. I ended up in a Master’s program and then luck and providence conspired to give me a break. And I broke into the book publishing world and never looked back. And have enjoyed 39 years as an editor. But as I tell my interns every year and my past classes of students in a certificate in publishing program at UC Berkeley you must and always consider graduate work if you want to break into and get ahead in this industry. Not to tell them that is doing them great professional disservice, in my opinion.

In many ways that’s what I thought as well, and that’s what I witnessed in the 1970s with my peers. I worked for 11 years before earning my MA and PhD, and now, years later, many of my students from a regional state university have landed jobs in academic journal publishing and being promoted within the year. I have also had two students land jobs at Penguin, and a third at John Wiley.

Roy, I think it is definitely the case that Publishing tends to be a graduate industry, and certainly in the UK there are official stats to back this up. However, I think there is a wealth of difference between this and a publishing Masters as the required entry point, and I also think a lot of people ‘fall’ into Publishing (and find they like it) rather than making any specific career choice. I’m a linguist by background, for example, and trained as a translator – so I do have a vocational post-grad qualification, but I joined an online publisher because it was the first paid job I could get. In 30+ years in the publishing market, I have met linguists, marketeers, scientists, technologists, engineers, historians, analysts – you name it – who have made successful careers in Publishing without necessarily having targeted this career path. I have, of course, also met people with publishing qualifications, but they have tended to be in the minority.

I agree whole-heartedly that most of us who find ourselves in publishing fell into it. Having graduated with a BA in Journalism, I never targeted “publishing” as my end-game, yet here I am.

Phaedra, I completely agree. A few of us were having a conversation on Twitter to this point as well – falling into the publishing industry. I had a 17-year tech career before working as a Director of Project Management at a publisher and then moving to the product side. Not sure I would have aimed for publishing until I got here and became addicted 🙂

Allow me to be more specific because I do think your point is well taken. What I have seen over my almost 40 years in this business is that if you graduate from a elite college you do have a better chance of breaking into this industry, but if you have a graduate degree (and now there are more and more of them) it does and will increasingly give you a leg up. And I do know that a lot of people “fell into” a publishing vocation in the last few decades but I think that is going to decrease rapidly in the coming years. Now, remember, we are talking about working with either a big Five house/imprint or a smaller but more established house. The wild west is the DIY segment of this industry and I wouldn’t even want to speculate on how that is going to shake out in terms of who enters and more importantly who stays (and why) in the formal book publishing industry. My experience after 4 years as a member of the Board of Directors for the Independent Book Publishers Association, which has 3000 members, is that the DIY segment of this industry is also going to be a grooming ground for people who find they like our industry and want to make a career out of it, and those people will probably attend publishing conferences (such as IBPA’s Publishing University) rather than do a graduate degree. It has been and is interesting to watch all of this roiling around.

Increasingly, we were finding at Simon Fraser that DIYers were taking our program to help them set off on their own.

The title of this article immediately caught my attention because about mid-way through my career in publishing, which has spanned 17 years, I considered an MS in Publishing at Pace in NYC. I was working at John Wiley & Sons in Hoboken at the time and consulted a few peers. I was truly on the fence. Then, I attended a seminar that addressed this very question, attended by some who thought they should, and others who already had. I gained valuable feedback from those who had already achieved this exact MS from Pace. Their bottom line: it hadn’t made a difference. They had not been awarded huge salary increases because of their higher education nor had they been afforded opportunities they may not have sought out or achieved without the degree. When I considered this and looked at the curriculum (one course was called Intro to Copyediting) I recall thinking: wait, I could probably teach this course! So I opted not to do it and don’t feel it’s adversely affected my career. No regrets.

The possibility of obtaining an MBA is attractive and I wonder how your readers would respond if you wrote a follow up piece called: What Is The Value Of an MBA In Publishing?

I have an MA in publishing and am better for it. I am an independent editor who works mainly with self-publishing authors, so I wasn’t looking to get hired by a publishing house. I learned about many aspects of publishing, which have come in handy. It also taught me manuscript editing, travel and arts writing, how to write a nonfiction book proposal, and even proofreading and indexing. I also can’t help but wonder if gives me a slight edge when an author is looking to hire an editor. Hope so.

For academic publishing nothing is a better entre than being a college sales rep. In that position you learn what academics do and what they expect from a publication – be it a book, journal, or web site, etc. It is an unbeatable training ground for marketing, editorial and in some instances production. As a manager, publisher and VP of publishing I always looked for a candidate who was smart. One can teach and mentor a smart person.

It is my perception and that of the students I have taught is that you are much more likely to get interviewed if you have shown you enthusiasm for a career in publishing by doing a masters. Most courses alas are based on trade publishing but they.provide some basis. I am biased. I was on faculty at UCL and last week in my honorary gave a lecture on the academic and journals option. 16 students knew where the jobs are

It’s a big moment to finally be able to add to a Scholarly Kitchen post!

I pursued my publishing MA after a few years of working in the industry, but I thought of it very much like an MBA – the value was not just in the skills I would gain but the connections I would make. I have to say it was a great investment, but I think it helped that I made very deliberate choices towards the goal I had in mind. I was interested in international publishing, so I moved overseas for a program that specialized in the topic and studied with classmates from around the world. I found work experience I would never have gotten elsewhere, and my thesis gave me the perfect excuse to reach out to influential people, ask lots of innocent questions, and get surprisingly candid answers. Looking at my trajectory before and after the MA, I would make the same choice again in a heartbeat.

That being said, not all MA’s look alike. There are other programs I would not have considered a good fit for me personally. To someone considering the degree, I would say: the MA does not guarantee you a better job, but you can definitely put your MA to work for you.

I enjoyed this particular post.

However, I must report to you that when I shared the link to the post with a large email discussion list for copy editors, two members complained that throughout, “masters” should have been edited to be “master’s.” I was not one of the complainers, but I wonder whether posts for the Scholarly Kitchen are edited before they are posted.

Ha! That’s all on me, and the quality of my work here varies, dependent on the workload in my real job. Posts are “edited” but more for content than for form. We do not have an in-house copy editor. Are you volunteering?

David, I would love to volunteer, but like you, I have a full schedule of paid work. Plus, I already do volunteer work for several editorial associations.

I was just kidding — a good number of our posts are written/edited at 11 PM the night before they go out so it’s not super easy to bring in further editing. The upside is that this allows us to stay topical, the downside is that it may lead to typos or other errors, which I can live with.

Went through and fixed the Masters/Master’s thing by the way. We get there eventually!

A related question is whether a Ph.D. should be required of those who want to be a press director, as happens at a number of universities. If your press is large and you are a full-time administrator, I would say no; more useful might be a degree in management. For directors who double as acquiring editors, I think some graduate-level work is useful, but completion of a Ph.D. is not. Writing a dissertation does not confer on one skills necessary in publishing.

Might Scholarly Kitchen allow a companion piece from those of us who provide such Masters programmes (and our industry partners and alums), to show what we try to do, and the challenges of that? I could write a long reply here, but it might open the debate up more objectively if we heard from more people who ran such courses and who have taken them. In the UK we have the Association for Publishing Education, which is a forum for all publishing courses – and our industry partners – and our new Chair, Debbie Williams, who runs the course at UCLAN, might be best person to respond on behalf of all of us. As the Chair who preceded Debbie, I can honestly say that the perspective APE has given me is one of a very positive and open set of colleagues across the UK who work very hard to provide current, relevant, practical and theoretical training to students, in close connection with publishing partners. And none of us suggest that a publishing degree is the ONLY way into publishing – different routes suit different people. But is there a value in what we do? Absolutely!

Compared to certain western European countries such as Germany and the UK, the US lags behind in not having MA programs in publishing or MPubs, Master of Publishing degrees as we have at Simon Fraser University in liberal Canada, a country with no walls. Thus, it is not surprising that successful American publishers are dubious about the need for a master’s degree in publishing. No major meeting in Canada dealing with book publishing, and many that deal with magazine publishing can take place without there being a goodly number of MPubbers in the room making important contributions. Certain firms have a majority of MPubbers on staff. And MPubbers play an important role in government agencies dealing with publishing. For years, the employment level of our grads in publishing jobs within a year of graduation or before was 80%. I’ve now retired and lost track. For years also, our grads had the best technology skills and understanding than anyone else in the many small firms where they were working. So powerful is our program that lots of successful publishers get jobs and rise in the industry without completing their graduating report. A list of the titles of their project reports is inspirational, I don’t know why we don’t make it public.

  • Rowland Lorimer, founding director, Master of Publishing program, Simon Fraser University
  • Jan 27, 2017, 3:54 PM

These days ‘publishing’ is either incredibly dynamic and digital, insightful and dynamic, or it is defined by slow moving formats, classic thinking, measuring for measuring sake and cash rich infrastructure.

The former is the pointy end future, but the latter is where many people comfortably wade.

I would then be wary of a predetermined Masters in Publishing, taught by industry stalwarts or well meaning academics. I would imagine it would be outdated by the time I finished it. My preference instead is to see a series of authentic modular courses that take key skill areas, from digital, product, content capture, agile, marketing, fiscal, analytics, to market knowledge, client care and team working. Modules that adapt to digital business trends, without trying to conjour up some mysterious art to discovering, licensing and selling content.

Publishing is business, a digital business with content at one end and education and skills development the other. Publishing needs to be reinvented as business strategy and tactics for the digital age.

I received a Master’s in Publishing from Pace in 2010 and I pursued this degree with no industry experience but rather a desire to understand the business as I pursued a career. Not only did my degree start my career, as I found a job at a literary agency as a result of an internship required by my degree, it exposed me to the various aspects of the process allowing me to fully understand the various pitfalls and hurdles. I’ve found this degree to be an asset, not only from the breadth of knowledge that I possess but also in the contacts that I have made throughout the industry. In addition, my time at Pace fostered a need to be up to date and aware of the changing forces that impact the industry- from technology, to reader preferences, to the Department of Justice.

Since receiving my degree, I have worked in various parts of the industry in the last 9 years- starting at a boutique agency, to an academic publisher to my current position at one of the Big 5 houses- and I have found that my degree has been more valued by my colleagues on the trade side of the industry- than it was at the academic house, where many of my colleagues possessed either just an undergraduate degree or an advanced degree in one of the sciences.

From my reading of the discussion above- many if not all of the panel- work in academic/journal publishing- Could this have an impact on their feelings towards hiring applicants with a Master’s in Publishing- as opposed to a hard science degree?

Most definitely and without a doubt I owe my career to my MPS in Publishing from GWU, and to the exceptional value of the contacts and expertise I was able to cultivate while a student, which I still tap into. When I graduated from college at the height of the recession, I was able to land my first job at a respected medical society because my then-in-progress degree at GWU was listed on my resume. My master’s was my foot in the door, as Angela was saying.

The program at the time was entirely on-site in Alexandria. Being able to interact with other students who worked for different societies was a huge benefit I would not have had at such a young age. In many ways, we kept one another afloat. We made friends in our industry, one that (as others have pointed out) may have excluded us or made it difficult to get in.

I owe a lot to my first boss who took me under her wing when I was green and learning. She taught me so much, and I am grateful. Holding the entry-level job (I was an Editorial Assistant/Communications Coordinator) while attending my classes at GWU was the perfect complement. I was always astounded at how great it felt to see what I was learning in class come to life at work.

There was a lot of value to the curriculum for me.

Now, in my current role as Director of Publications (which I obtained after FIVE years in the industry, no doubt in part to a combination of lucky breaks, very hard work, and *ahem* my degree), I still refer back to my notes from GWU, I still consult my professors and friends from classes, we still have each other’s back. That’s a sense of community I know I wouldn’t feel when I go to the CSE or SSP meetings (I know because I’ve been, and people who already know people tend to ignore the newcomers unless they’re trying to sell a product or service). Now that I am in a position to hire, I am more prone to allow the resumes with a publishing degree listed float toward the top of my pile of hundreds of applications. Why? Because I know what the curriculum is. I know I won’t have to explain to a new hire the complexities of copyright law, or what the difference is between a copy editor and production editor. There’s enough to learn already when you get a new job, let alone the building blocks.

Also consider the value of auditing courses. Back when I was a lowly EA and grad student, I had to take a class on finance and business aspects of publishing. Admittedly, this content went way over my head back then. It simply did not make sense to me that an asset could be a liability. Well, at the director level when you’re planning out budgets and editorial calendars for your books program, you definitely want to know that stuff. I recalled taking this class once before, and asked if I could audit it again. The answer? YES. Best of all, I didn’t have to hand in assignments or take tests. I am so grateful for that, because I audited a course just last semester. I do believe others can audit these classes, which I’d encourage you to do. I see a lot of people dismissing the value of this degree–I encourage you to sit in on just one class because maybe, just maybe, you’ll change your mind.

I am quite certain that without my degree I would not be in my current position. The value of the degree has been tremendous for me. This is not to suggest that it would be tremendously valuable to everyone; certainly there are those who lack the ambition to put their knowledge into practice, and there are others still who obtain the skills needed to advance in a scholarly publishing career without formal education to back it up. But would I have risen to the top so quickly without my degree from GWU? I don’t think so. I’d probably still be trying to figure out what a title P&L is.

This is what I was referring to a few posts back. Jennifer K’s experience is what I think will become more and more true in the future. You can’t ask, will a degree help now because that is just short sighted and not helpful. What you have to ask, which Jennifer K has answered, is whether a degree will help in the future and I would suggest that it becomes more and more true as the industry continues to go through these transitional flux years. My two cents again, Roy

Thanks, Roy. Scholarly publishing is one of those things that people outside of our world often just don’t understand. Even some of my colleagues at the society level do not understand half of what we do, or why it matters, or why what we bring to the table is so important. A good master’s program should have a good mix of curriculum covering a broad enough range (so you get the business side as well as the editorial side because without both perspectives how can you sustain a profitable publishing program?). A lot of societies’ publications are a huge chunk of their revenue stream, so there’s a critical need to staff those departments with knowledgeable staff with the ability to step into a business mindset just as easily as an editorial one. GWU definitely helped to prepare me for that. If I’d have stepped foot into my first job with only an English degree, I’d have been in for a rude awakening; how will knowing how to write a great term paper or take an exam on literature translate into sustaining a scientific journals publishing operation? It doesn’t, really.

It’s really as with any other degree. Your book smarts and classroom learning will translate into real-world practice skills only to a certain extent, certainly, but without the basic foundation, how far will you really get? Better to learn how to do an RFP from the safety of a classroom with good guidance from an instructor than to have to figure it out and wing it in a job you aren’t prepared for. That’s my take.

I will add that there have been times I’ve wished I had a better understanding of the science published in the journals and books I manage, but find that a supportive employer will give you access to the education you’ll need to be functional in the science, and you do pick up tidbits along the way.

That said, I have never felt like I need to be an expert on the subject matter. Instead, I just need to have access to committees, editors, and other people who are experts on the science, so that I can be the expert on the publications and business side of the matter. It’s nearly impossible to find someone who has expertise in the content area plus publishing business matters. Even EICs I’ve worked with who have a decent sense of publishing models and business structures would still need a fair amount of training to get up to the level of a scholarly publishing professional to be able to do the jobs we do. Hence, I support the model of having an in-house/contracted publications team with expertise in publishing with a team of editors/SMEs who can address the scientific aspects of the work.

Assuming that the academic publishing program was high-quality the academic perspective on publishing would be an asset. However, an understanding of how publishing works from an academic perspective is largely theoretical, and the actual practice of publishing is not theoretical. Practical experience combined with a sold grounding the various aspects of publishing from an academic perspective is likely to be superior to theoretical knowledge alone.

As a medical editor for more than 20 years, I spent the first five years learning what I had to do with no training or mentoring, convinced that I was inadequate at best. Access to training similar to that being developed by the Center for Journalology at the University of Ottawa or the Council of Science Editors would have been greatly appreciated.


My program at GWU was not mainly theoretical. We had to do major projects, like “launching” a (fake) journal, and did an RFP project during what our instructor called “printer night” (where she invited her colleagues at various presses to discuss their programs with us. It was a win-win because the students got to do a real RFP and get hands-on experience with business aspects that English majors just aren’t taught; the printers got access to the future leaders of clients they were hoping to establish contacts with, and the ability to promote their products and capabilities for next to free. We had to spend time copy editing documents using proofreading marks that some of my classmates had never seen.

We got templates (which I still have) for important documents–title P&L, author contracts, editorial calendars, etc., etc., etc.

I will say there were two courses I felt were a total waste of time: website architecture and development and book design. For me, I’m not going to sit there and design a dang book or website–I felt these issues could have been best addressed under the business course, with a quick synopsis on how to understand the basics of book and website design and their importance. Of course the students interested in design loved it, but for me I’d have rather known how to find/hire/fire reputable contractors to execute these projects for me.

I am currently enrolled in Pace University’s Master’s in Publishing program, and I am employed full-time as an editor. The classes have provided me with a great education in Publishing beyond the editorial area where I have experience by providing a well-rounded view of the industry, and the discussions with students and faculty are relevant and helpful. Hiring managers should consider anyone who has taken the time and energy required to pursue a higher education to have an advantage over those who have not.

I have taught in GWU’s masters in publishing program for several years, and without doubt for most of the students it provides a solid background in many facets of publishing. Students in editorial learn about digital, students in production learn about marketing, students in marketing learn about finance. Importantly, students learn theory but especially they learn practical information–it is designed for professional careers. I would say, from my personal observations, roughly a third of the students are currently working in publishing and want the degree to further their career, either within their current company or to get a new/better job; roughly a third work in something other field but strive to get into publishing; and roughly a third are students fresh out of a bachelor’s degree, especially English or Journalism, and want to keep studying before facing the shockingly brutal real world. Not surprisingly, it’s the first group that sees the biggest immediate benefit from the masters in publishing degree. For the second group, it’s hard to switch fields, regardless of the field, just getting into a field because you have a masters in that field, is challenging. So these students may need to get internships or an entry level job, which may seem humiliating fresh with an MA, but otherwise they may not be able to transition to publishing. And the third group, again, internships or some entry level experience is going to be necessary. In my class, focused on advanced marketing and promotion, I teach concepts, methods, and practices that will be applicable in any field, publishing or not. I believe that the real value of a masters comes over the long term, being able to progressively rise through an organization or perhaps progress through one’s career by switching jobs. The degree can help you to stand out above the crowd, IF you have experience and talent. It is definitely a complement to, not a substitute for, experience. There is also, in my opinion, tremendous value to be had from learning the entire ecosystem of publishing even as you specialize in a piece of it. Too many organizations, and too many employees, tend to be in silos, in terms of experience, skills, and knowledge, and having well-rounded employees can only be a positive.

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