After receiving her doctorate at Yale University in 1988, Marian Smith immediately accepted a teaching position at the University of Oregon – a post which she still holds. She was also head of the Department for Music History at the University of Oregon between 1996 and 2003.
As a professor of music history, Marian Smith's specific area of expertise is the music of the 19th and 20th century. Within this field, Smith's core interest lies in dance and dance music, a focus which her monographs La Sylphide: Paris 1832 and Beyond and Ballet and Opera in the Age of Giselle reflect. Smith has also published numerous articles in some of most important contemporary reference works and periodicals such as Dance Research, The Cambridge Companion to Ballet or The Cambridge Companion to Grand Opera. In 2000, she received the 'de la Torre Bueno Award for Best Work of Dance History in English', followed by the 'Thomas A. Herman Award for Distinguished Teaching' in 2007.
In 2011, Smith acted as historical adviser to Peter Boal's and Doug Fullington's reconstruction of Giselle for the Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle, a function which she also assumed for the Paquita-reconstruction of the Bavarian State Ballet.