Jayne Ross was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa at Virginia Tech, where she majored in Creative Writing and Professional & Technical Writing. She is the assistant editor of The American Scholar, Phi Beta Kappa’s quarterly magazine of public affairs, literature, science, history, and culture published since 1932. Ross also oversees [Spoiler Alert], the magazine’s digital book club, where she hosts book discussions with members and other staff members each month.
As a child, what profession did you envision for yourself when you grew up?
Aside from a short-lived phase where I was convinced I could make it as a ballerina (I could not, but bless me for trying), my most persistent dream was to write children’s books, because I just wanted to write the sort of thing I’d love to read—that much hasn’t changed! I also fantasized about a career in journalism, especially while watching The Mary Tyler Moore Show
in middle school, so it’s pretty exciting to have ended up [working at a literary magazine].
What was the most transformative course from your undergraduate education?
So hard to choose, but two in particular stand out to me. One is U.S. Social History, which I like to think of as everything I didn’t learn in my K-12 history classes. It completely changed my view of both history and the present, and I’m now much more interested in the stories that have long been left on the margins of our textbooks or else not included at all.
The other is Creative Nonfiction, which is where I first realized I didn’t have to dedicate all my time to writing fiction, a genre that has never come naturally to me. Instead I fell in love with telling and reading true stories and swapping snippets of life with my classmates (many of whom had never before taken a writing class, but wrote amazing
stuff). I ended up taking two more nonfiction classes before graduating, and I loved each one even more than the last—it’s still my favorite genre to work with by a long shot.
You’re currently an Assistant Editor at The American Scholar. What does your job entail?
Sometimes it’s editing in the most straightforward sense; I’ll take the first pass at a submitted piece (usually for the web), then forward it to one of my colleagues for a back edit. Along with our associate editor, I post pieces to the website and find the artwork to go with them, update social media, and write weekly newsletters. When it comes to the print edition, I assign and edit the “Works in Progress” section, a spread featuring ongoing projects from photography series to upcoming books. I also do a lot of fact-checking—each piece gets a careful read-through to make sure all names, dates, quotations, and other claims are correct; checking one piece can take anywhere from a few hours to several days. Once the proof book of the print issue is finished, we all proofread it and come together to make sure any last-minute changes make it into the final version. And on top of that, our editorial assistant and I co-host a monthly book club, Spoiler Alert
, which is lots of fun. Recent books have included Caste
by Isabel Wilkerson, The Sympathizer
by Viet Thanh Nguyen, and They Called Us Enemy
by George Takei.
What’s your favorite part about what you do?
It changes depending on the day! Successfully assigning a piece for the magazine is always satisfying, as is seeing everything come together in the proof book. Proofreading it before it goes to print feels fun to me—like a challenging little game. Fact checking and photo research have also led me down some fascinating rabbit holes, and I’m proud of the lengths we go to to make sure we publish correct information. More than anything, though, I just feel lucky to work with and learn from such kind, talented colleagues and writers.
You also previously worked for the Phi Beta Kappa the Society as the Member Engagement Associate. Do you have any advice for new members on how to get involved?
Social media is a great place to start—incidentally, it’s where I found that job opening! The LinkedIn group
is good for connecting with other members, and for more personal connections, check out the list of local PBK alumni associations. They’ve done a great job adapting to the pandemic with virtual events like happy hours and book clubs. If you don’t have an association in your area, the national office hosts events throughout the year, too, like Key Connections
in the fall. And of course, don’t discount the connections that may be right in front of you—reach out to a PBK alum or professor from your school, and they’ll likely be happy to chat. If not for a particularly persistent and wonderful professor, I probably wouldn’t have even joined Phi Beta Kappa... and I wouldn’t have ended up here!
Do you think Phi Beta Kappa and a well-rounded, liberal arts and sciences education are important in today’s society? How has your liberal arts education benefitted you?
Absolutely. While I ended up in a job directly related to my degree, the lessons I gained from my education would apply to any career, and they definitely apply to everyday life. I learned how to conduct thorough research, how to analyze sources critically, how to express myself more clearly and effectively, and how to place current events in broader contexts—all of which increased my appreciation for nuance and empathy, too. Constantly being exposed to other viewpoints, whether from my class materials or from my classmates, opened my eyes to a world much bigger than the one I’d thought I lived in, which feels even more significant now. Fake news and political vitriol seem more rampant than ever, but Phi Beta Kappa continues to represent the best of the liberal arts and sciences, standing up for truth and the importance of constant learning.
What book are you reading right now? Are you listening to any podcasts or watching any shows? Anything you'd recommend?
Oh, man, I could talk about this for hours! I’ve got dozens of books in an intimidatingly large “to read” pile, but most recently, I loved Brandi Carlile’s memoir, Broken Horses
. For podcasts, I adore Pantsuit Politics, a bipartisan podcast with blessedly levelheaded, informative, “grace-filled political conversations,” and Movie Therapy, which combines friendly advice with movie and TV recommendations. And on TV, I recently loved The Queen’s Gambit
, which has gorgeous period details and a fascinating plot, and Alias
, which is both suspenseful and incredibly fun—but my favorite of all the shows I’ve watched in quarantine is Avatar: The Last Airbender
. I’m not even a cartoon person, and I can’t recommend it enough!!
Read Her Pieces in The Scholar