The following entry was contributed by Homa Hassan. Homa is a first-year student at SIPA and you can read her biography here. There are plenty of extracurricular opportunities for SIPA students to get involved in and one such opportunity is with the Journal of International Affairs. Homa elaborates on her experience as both an Editorial and Digital Assistant.
SIPA students are always looking for ways to get involved on campus. There is a mix of activities to take part in – there are the organizations that have to do with your particular studies, the ones that deal with your personal interests, the ones with tradition and prestige, and the ones that introduce you to new fields and new friends.
One of the projects that links new students to old and all students to alumni and global leaders is Columbia University’s Journal of International Affairs. Two volumes are produced each year comprised of essays, interviews, and book reviews written by prominent scholars of foreign policy and international affairs. The Andrew Wellington Cordier Essay contest also gives students the opportunity to have their original works published. The theme of each volume is decided on by SIPA students on the JIA Board. Our latest theme was on Innovating Development, with essays ranging from nuclear power and sustainable development to climate change technology and gender revolutions.
There are a number of different ways to get involved with the Journal as a first year student, including serving as an Editorial Assistant, Production Assistant, and/or a Digital Assistant. No experience is necessary and training is provided for each of the positions at the beginning of the semester. I served as both an Editorial Assistant and a Digital Assistant. Editorial Assistants have a demanding job. We don’t just copy edit, which of course is important, but the bigger task is to fact-check. Editorial Assistants are the first defense on the line protecting the publication’s reputation.
To begin with, each of us was given a brief summary of all of the articles and asked to rank them in the order of our interest. A few days later, we were assigned 2-3 pages in one of the essays and paired with a Lead Editor who oversaw our work. For our assigned pages, every line had to be checked and re-checked and verified by two or more sources (online or in print) to ensure the information is accurate and well-supported by substantial evidence. Any links in the article were tracked and also verified. The work is intense, but one of the most important processes of publishing the Journal.
The Production Assistants work with the layout of the publication, placing the content onto the pages, formatting and designing them to be aesthetically appealing, and finalizing the essays before they are sent out for production. When the publication is finally out, the Board hosts something akin to a release party. This year, it was a nice break from studying for final exams to listen to the speakers’ panel and join the celebrations at the subsequent reception with food, drinks, and live jazz music. The JIA Board also hosted an end-of-semester happy hour to thank all of the SIPA students who helped out.
Digital Assistants continue to work throughout the year. One of the large projects JIA has right now is uploading all previous issues of the Journal to the JIA website. This means sorting through PDF versions of old issues and uploading the content to the website so that they are accessible to the general public. The nice part about being a Digital Assistant was that I could go into the publication room between classes or after work and get my work done independently. Having worked on the production and editorial side of journalism in the past, I welcomed learning new skills by working on the digital side of things. I also now know the ins and outs of the publication online (great resource for classes!).
Working for the Journal of International Affairs has been challenging, but one of the most rewarding ways to get involved at SIPA. Its fluid structure allows you to try new things and advance with commitment. And years from now, your work is still an integral part of SIPA’s library. Working on the Journal allows you to hit the ground running and seamlessly integrates you into life at SIPA.