Ten years gone: A decade as an editorial assistant

As of Monday, I have been an editorial assistant for 10 years.

According to my diary (which I prefer to call a journal), I arrived at UC Irvine to report for work around 8 a.m., March 20, 2007. The campus was quiet and neither of the editors I had been hired to work for were there. The only person in the building was the department secretary, who looked at me like I was crazy for arriving so early.

“Early is good,” she said, confused and uncertain what to do. “You’re very early.”

She told me that people did not start trickling in until around nine and said I could wait in the office until someone who could help me arrived. I opted instead to sit in my car in the mostly empty parking ramp, listening to the radio and reading a copy of UCI’s student newspaper. (I later learned that it was the end of the quarter and finals week so everyone was very busy and their schedules were out of whack.)

I don’t remember what time it was when my workday officially began, or when anyone of consequence showed up, but it was an interesting first day. It was as if they had never hired anyone before. Neither editor had time to train me, everyone was aghast that I would not be given keys to the journal offices for a week, and nobody could figure out how to get me a parking permit. Shortly after lunch, the editor for my afternoon journal sent me home early but told me to record it as a full day.

According to my diary, things began to fall into place over the next week. I was trained and apparently got keys and a parking pass. Eight days after starting at UCI, I wrote in my diary, “My new job is DA SHIT! I can’t believe I work here. How did I land this job?” Having worked in a tightly controlled, fast-paced, profit-driven, heartless corporate setting for the previous two months, work for the journals, on a college campus, was a refreshing and eye-opening experience. It was a completely different world, one where people were laid back and understanding — where people were human. There was no ADP time card to swipe every time I left and entered the building, and a lunch hour was not deducted from my pay even if I didn’t take one. It was a blessed breath of fresh air — literally, too, because one journal office had a window! There was of course work to do (especially at first since the journals had been without a dedicated assistant for months) and deadlines to meet, but I was happy and excited to be working in publications. My new job was “an awesome gig,” I wrote.

Though there has been a lot of change over the last 10 years — I relocated to the Midwest, have worked from home since 2010, and different people sign my paychecks — I am still working for the journals, doing much of the same thing.

Much more of the same thing, in fact. New paper submissions have tripled for both journals, and one journal receives 13 times more revisions than it did my first year. The amount of busywork and bullshit I deal with has increased exponentially, and the proverbial curse of knowledge is an everyday obstacle. (It always has been to a certain degree, but is much more of a problem now.) Though I thankfully don’t stand at a copy machine for hours, making copies of manuscripts and review sheets to mail, I now spend a lot of time holding the hands of authors and reviewers — people who shouldn’t need help — and often do their jobs for them.

Submissions need to be reformatted, responses need to be blinded, invalid/outdated email addresses corrected, files need to be rearranged, missing reports need to be requested and uploaded, file names need to be inserted in reviews, unreadable author bios need to be rewritten, poorly formatted references and citations need to be edited… Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera — all the while submissions pour in, sometimes sloppy decision letters are sent to me by the editors for copyediting and forwarding, accepted paper files are received and checked, and everything is meticulously recorded and noted. This needs to be moved here, that needs to be noted there, this needs to be updated. I have lists for lists.

Every day I serve as a nexus for everything related to the journals. If it concerns the journals, it runs through me.

Just like with every job, there are good days and bad days — maddening, hair-pulling, mentally-taxing days. There are light, easy days, and days that are balls to the wall the moment I open the inbox in the morning, when I need to remind myself to breathe.

It’s a relatively easy job (or perhaps I think that because I’ve done it for so long) and I’m thankful for the security and longevity. But I long ago became burned out, long ago began to yearn to do something else. A few weeks ago, when I was inundated with one thing after another after another all week, I took a short break and thought to myself, “There has to be something better.”

I am sure there is — something with advancement opportunities and even (gasp!) benefits — but I have not figured out what it is yet; it is something I contemplate often to no avail. Until I do figure it out, until I decide to move on, I’ll continue doing what I’ve done for the last decade.

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