Grammar Girl: ‘I had wanted to be a professor, but I had given up on that dream’

Fogarty. Credit: Patrick Fogarty

Fogarty. Credit: Patrick Fogarty

That or which? Lie or lay? And where does that pesky comma go? The woman — or girl — who’s built a personal empire around guiding students and professionals through the thickets of grammar and usage recently added another job to a resume that includes writing books, public speaking and entrepreneurship — professor.

Mignon Fogarty, also known as “The Grammar Girl,” was recently named the Donald W. Reynolds Chair in Media Entrepreneurship at the University of Nevada, Reno’s Reynolds School of Journalism. Poynter caught up with Fogarty about her new job and what will happen to her website during the transition.

How did this opportunity come up for you?

I gave a guest lecture in Nico Colombant’s radio class last year in the Reynolds School, and the students were all creating podcasts. As part of the one-on-one section, I brainstormed with each group about how they could turn their podcasts into businesses, and at the end of the class, Nico approached me and said, “We have an open position you need to apply for. It’s what you just did here.”

Why did you decide to become a professor?

I wasn’t looking for a job — I’m Grammar Girl, which is a job and more — and I never thought I’d take a job again. It was a tough decision because the application deadline was just a couple of weeks after Nico told me about the opening, so I didn’t have a lot of time to think about it. A lot of people don’t know this about me, but I’m a PhD dropout. I had wanted to be a professor, but I had given up on that dream, and then this fell into my lap.

The Media Entrepreneurship Chair job description was such a good fit that it felt as if it had been written for me personally, so it was terribly enticing. I realized I was at a point where Grammar Girl was sustainable and I could think about doing something new, so I made the leap and applied.

What are you most looking forward to about your professorship?

Reno and the University of Nevada in Reno both already have a thriving entrepreneurial spirit, and I’m looking forward to working with students and people in the community and department to do even more to help people who want to start businesses here.

What will your new duties be?

I’ll be teaching classes in the department, organizing events in the community, and likely serving in some way to help judge business plan and entrepreneurial competitions around town. Today was my first day, and we’ve already decided to put on another startup fair in town and create a storytelling workshop with a business and entrepreneurial focus.

Will your website change at all as you transition into your new role?

One reason I can do new things is that the people at Macmillan have a good handle on the QuickAndDirtyTips.com website and business. They already manage the day-to-day operations, which leaves me to just do some strategy advising and the Grammar Girl part. I will be relying more on my assistant, Ashley Dodge, and perhaps paring back my extra Grammar Girl activities in the next year, but the mainstays that get regularly updated–the podcast, website, social media, and newsletter–will continue as usual.

Will any of your other enterprises change? Your books? Your podcast? Your speaking engagements?

I was thinking I may not write a book this year. On the other hand, it’s always good for academics to write books, so if my schedule gives me enough time, I’ll certainly consider writing another book too.

Will you also teach a usage or grammar class?

I’m talking with the department about helping them create a one-credit grammar class. It seems that many schools don’t specifically teach grammar and usage, but they find that their students need some help. It’s something we may do internally, but I’m also exploring the possibility of doing something that any school could use in a flipped classroom way.

Will you be using your professorship to research for your books?

I’m thinking about research projects right now, but I have decided on anything yet. It’s certainly possible.

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