Anca Pusca Talks About Transitioning from a Tenured Academic Position to Her Role as Executive Editor at Palgrave Macmillan

Anca Pusca is Executive Editor at Palgrave Macmillan, an imprint of Springer Nature, commissioning books in International Relations and Security Studies. She has a PhD in International Relations from American University – School of International Service, and was previously a Senior Lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London.

What kind of work do you do at Palgrave? What is a typical day like?

I’m currently an Executive Commissioning Editor in the NY office, running the International Relations and Security Studies list. The commissioning part of my job entails growing key areas of strength for the list – such as our International Political Economy flagship book series, Public Diplomacy, and International Communication, as well as developing newer book series such as Human Rights Interventions and Canada and International Affairs, and following leads and new book ideas for the list in a variety of forms: key titles, monographs, edited volumes, pivots (short books), textbooks, handbooks and major reference works. To do so, I travel to all the major IR and Security conferences in N. America as well as smaller key workshops in the field. The more managerial side of my job will usually involve working closely with our US, UK and Asia based teams to ensure targets are on track, address joint challenges, and discuss new trends and joint strategies across different lists, and directly managing a smaller team of 4 editors and editorial assistants.

“Explore different career opportunities and learn to know what really makes you tick, when you are most at ease and happy, what drives and energizes you. Becoming an academic may indeed be the dream job for you, but you may also find that there are other places where you can thrive. “.

A typical day will usually start with prioritizing goals for the day/week ahead and sorting through and answering the many emails that come in; touching base with colleagues from around the world on joint projects and company-wide priorities such as our Grand Challenges project, sitting on editorial board meetings, discussing projects with series editors and authors, and ensuring that projects move swiftly from proposal stage to review, approval, and then manuscript preparation, production, and later marketing/sales stages.

What did you study in graduate school? Can you say a bit about your research?

I got my PhD in International Relations and Comparative Regional Studies at the American University School of International Service and most of my research focused on the post-communist transitions in Eastern Europe and understanding the everyday implications of the intense socio-economic and political transformations of the 90s – especially with regards to particularly vulnerable groups such as the Roma, rural communities and former industrial cities; and how those were later reflected on in the 2000s. I spent the earlier part of my career as a Lecturer and then Senior Lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London, where I taught core IR Theory courses, managed a Marie Curie grant and Leverhulme grant, and published on some of the topics listed above.

Why and when did you choose to pursue a career beyond the academy?

While I was at Goldsmiths, in the UK, my partner was living in the US with little flexibility to move to the UK. With the impending arrival of our first child, we decided it was time to settle in one place, and personal circumstances involving the need to care for an elderly parent meant that it had to be NY. With a very tight academic market that prioritized other fields of inquiry and had little room for mid-career scholars like myself, I was forced to rethink my job hunting strategies. In the early exploration stages, I considered everything from management positions within universities, to non-profit work, and some international institutions as well as local government positions. Publishing was something that was suggested by a friend in the field, and while I had experience with publishing a book series and am an author myself, I knew that the learning curve would be big and that I would have to work on a list that would mainly benefit from my previous IR experience. When the Palgrave IR Editor job was listed, it seemed like a perfect fit: I knew their list well having published on it myself before, and the application and interview process left me feeling energized and positive about working in a very dynamic and international team. The job taught me to look at the field of IR through much wider lenses, introduced me to whole new aspects of knowledge creation, and put me in touch with a wider network of scholars in a capacity that I really learned to love: the social aspect of the job was invigorating as well as the challenges of its fast-paced nature. More than anything, I felt like I was constantly learning something new, and was given the freedom to implement new ideas, all of which left me very satisfied at the end of the day.

In what ways did your doctoral training help you in your career?

The PhD credentials no question helped me gain both internal and external credibility as an editor, and my knowledge of the field meant that I could evaluate projects, new proposals and trends much quicker while forming new networks within the community. My understanding of how the academic community functions, inter-departmental dynamics, university requirements, research and publication requirements, also meant that I could more easily navigate and tailor what we had to offer as a large commercial academic publisher to different audiences. I could also effectively decipher author concerns and give advice based on their individual circumstances.

What surprised you most about your transition from academia to your first job beyond the academy?

My biggest surprise was probably the pace at which things were moving, and the constant dynamism required to juggle a lot of shifting priorities at the same time, but also to manage and adapt to a field that is in constant change. The other surprise was to see not only how dedicated and hard-working everyone around me was, but also how quickly editors and editorial assistants that often had no previous background in a particular field were able to grasp the complexities of that specific academic community, notice trends, and spot new areas for research. It was a very humbling experience for me that taught me that expertise comes in many shapes and forms.

Can you offer any advice to aspiring political scientists?

Explore different career opportunities and learn to know what really makes you tick, when you are most at ease and happy, what drives and energizes you. Becoming an academic may indeed be the dream job for you, but you may also find that there are other places where you can thrive. Take the time to understand the day to day of these other jobs and careers and if you decide to pursue them, embrace them with the same seriousness that you would give to an academic career.

Do you have any advice for PhD students considering an applied career?

I found talking to people that had pursued a similar type path/career change to be most useful. This can be either people that you know personally or can be introduced to, blogs or books they may have written. Reading their profiles, asking for informational interviews, connecting with alumni from your institution who have pursued similar alternative careers, attending events at the potential institutions you are considering applying for, are all good places to start. Most professional associations now also have dedicated spaces for such advice, and you could certainly connect with them.

What advice would you give to graduate advisors and mentors about how they can support graduate students who might be interested in applied careers?

Start with considering your own personal bias and the extent to which your trajectory or that of former students may or may not apply to the particular advisee. Keep in touch with former students and keep track of their more recent experience in the job market and use those examples. Make sure you have a varied portfolio of examples to draw from: those who have gone into academia, but also those who have been successful outside of academe as well. Use that network creatively to put people in touch with each other and help them. Understand the realities of the job market and how they may be different even year to year. Pay attention to the particular qualities you’ve noticed in an advisee and help think creatively about the different fields in which these may be used. Invite former students to come talk to your students/advisees.

“More than anything, I felt like I was constantly learning something new, and was given the freedom to implement new ideas, all of which left me very satisfied at the end of the day”.

What advice would you give to political science departments about how they can better support graduate students who might be interested in applied careers?

Create dedicated spaces, whether online or physical spaces, where students can learn about different opportunities and keep them as dynamic as possible. Think actively about the kind of skills you are equipping students with and make those explicit in a variety of ways. Create opportunities for students to explore different work environments, through internships, hands on research opportunities, and encourage them to think about where they feel most at ease.