Discussion of Career Options for Humanities PhDs at #mla14

The following event, which takes place on Friday, 10 January from 2-4 p.m., may be of interest:

Discussion of Career Options for Humanities PhDs

Designed for graduate students and recent doctoral program graduates who may be thinking about pursuing careers beyond the classroom, this nuts-and-bolts conversation features three career services professionals, who will lead an informal discussion and offer brief presentations about the various employment paths and postdoctoral opportunities open to recipients of PhDs in the humanities. It will cover practical suggestions about where to begin, how to approach different kinds of searches, how to prepare application materials, how to incorporate a postdoc into career development, and how job seekers can make good use of their campus’s career services offices. The discussion is part of the MLA’s ongoing work, with support from the Mellon Foundation, to broaden the career horizons of humanities scholars and graduate students. Participants are encouraged to bring their CVs and other application materials for review. The presenters will be Jennifer E. Hobbs, Northwestern Univ.; Patrick Houlihan, Univ. of Chicago; and Kamilah McCoy, Northwestern Univ.

The discussion will take place from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. on Friday, 10 January, in the Regal Room, Fairmont.

Note that the event does not appear in the program, but is included in the Convention Services page. Please share this information widely!

Sessions Related to Alt-Academic Careers at #mla14

The following sessions at the upcoming MLA convention may be of interest to people thinking about careers beyond the tenure track:

42. Using Your Language Proficiency and Cultural Expertise in a Federal Government Career.
Thursday, 9 January, 1:45–3:45 p.m., Gold, Fairmont Chicago

Program arranged by the MLA Office of Research

Presiding: Erik Pohlmann, Office of the Director of National Intelligence
Speakers: Joyce Baker, National Language Service Corps; Richard Donovan, Defense Language Inst.; Julie Johnson, United States Dept. of State

Session Description:
This workshop will provide an overview of various federal careers that utilize skills in languages and cultural expertise—translator, interpreter, instructor, intelligence analyst, language analyst, foreign language program manager, foreign service officer, and law enforcement officer. Recruiters and subject matter experts will discuss career opportunities and the application process. A question-and-answer period will follow.

173. Beyond the Protomonograph: New Models for the Dissertation
Thursday, 9 January, 7:00–8:15 p.m., Northwestern–Ohio State, Chicago Marriott

A special session

Presiding: Daniel Powell, Univ. of Victoria
Speakers: Melissa A. Dalgleish, York Univ.; Shawn Moore, Texas A&M Univ., College Station; James O’Sullivan, University Coll. Cork; Nick Sousanis, Columbia Univ.; Danielle Spinosa, York Univ.; Nicholas van Orden, Univ. of Alberta

Session Description:
Although the need for graduate education reform in the humanities is widely discussed, the traditional role of the dissertation as a capstone protomonograph has only begun to be questioned. This panel features six Pecha Kucha presentations (20 slides x 20 seconds) from graduate students developing radically new models of the dissertation, followed by ample discussion.

290. Reforming the Literature PhD
Friday, 10 January, 12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., Chicago X, Sheraton Chicago

Program arranged by the MLA Task Force on Doctoral Study in Modern Language and Literature

Presiding: Russell A. Berman, Stanford Univ.
Speakers: Rachel Arteaga, Univ. of Washington, Seattle; Don H. Bialostosky, Univ. of Pittsburgh; Julia Brookins, American Historical Association; Juliette Cherbuliez, Univ. of Minnesota, Twin Cities; John Allen Stevenson, Univ. of Colorado, Boulder; Bill VanPatten, Michigan State Univ.; Karin Anneliese Wurst, Michigan State Univ.

Session Description:
A contracted academic job market; disruptions created by new and still emerging models for scholarly publishing and expression; and problems of cost, debt, and outcomes at every level of postsecondary education have combined to prompt a reconsideration of graduate education and doctoral training. This roundtable discusses current efforts to develop alternatives to the traditional PhD program.

352. Graduate Student Perspectives on Reforming Doctoral Study
Saturday, 11 January, 3:30–4:45 p.m., Ontario, Sheraton Chicago

A special session

Presiding: Heather Steffen, Carnegie Mellon Univ.

  1. “The Evolving Value of the Humanities PhD: A Data-Based View of Graduate Students’ Perspectives on the Future of the PhD,” Gregory Brennen, Univ. of Exeter
  2. “‘Student’ versus ‘Teacher’: How ‘Time to Completion’ Influences the Professional Development of Foreign Language Graduate Students,” Katie B. Angus, Univ. of Southern Mississippi
  3. “Graduate Student Engagement and Time to Degree: Collected Thoughts on a Manifesto,” Magdalen Stanley Majors, Wake Forest Univ.

Responding: Leonard Cassuto, Fordham Univ., Lincoln Center

For abstracts and description, visit carnegie-mellon.academia.edu/HeatherSteffen.

385. Feminists Leading for Change: Alt-Academic Feminism
Saturday, 11 January, 5:15–6:30 p.m., Parlor C, Sheraton Chicago

Program arranged by the Women’s Caucus for the Modern Languages

Presiding: Michelle A. Massé, Louisiana State Univ., Baton Rouge
Speakers: Maria Cotera, Univ. of Michigan, Ann Arbor; Florence Howe, Graduate Center, City Univ. of New York; Paula M. Krebs, Bridgewater State Univ.; Ellen Lee McCallum, Michigan State Univ.; Monica Miller, Louisiana State Univ., Baton Rouge

Session Description:
This panel addresses feminism in academia as a living practice that permeates not only the classroom and the library but all of higher education. The speakers will discuss the importance of integrating feminist principles into fields such as graduate student activism, curriculum design and policy, administration, public humanities, and publishing.

439. Translation and Interpreting: Flexible Career Paths in Vulnerable Times
Saturday, 11 January, 8:30–9:45 a.m., Chicago IX, Sheraton Chicago

Program arranged by the American Translators Association

Presiding: Dorothee Racette, American Translators Assn.
Speakers: Daryl Hague, Brigham Young Univ., UT; Elizabeth Lowe, Univ. of Illinois, Urbana; William Rivers, Joint National Committee for Languages
For more information, visit www.ttt.org/MLA2014/.

Session Description:
In addition to academic research (see www.atisa.org) and publications (see www.mla.org/ec_guidelines_translation), translation and interpreting are relevant as part-time consulting work for a full-time faculty member and as part-time or full-time commercial translation or interpreting for a university student. This roundtable will focus on career options.

471. Who Benefits? Competing Agendas and Ethics in Graduate Education
Saturday, 11 January, 8:30–9:45 a.m., Chicago X, Sheraton Chicago

Program arranged by the MLA Committee on Academic Freedom and Professional Rights and Responsibilities

Presiding: David B. Downing, Indiana Univ. of Pennsylvania
Speakers: David B. Downing; Shane Peterson, Washington Univ. in St. Louis; Daniel Purdy, Penn State Univ., University Park; Katina Rogers, MLA; Jentery Sayers, Univ. of Victoria

Session Description:
This roundtable explores the responsibility programs have to graduate students given the current job market, including whether programs should continue to admit the same number of students, how to reform graduate education for the job market that exists, how to advise graduate students, and how program directors can respond to institutional pressure to grow, create, and maintain programs.

599. The Praxis Network: Rethinking Humanities Education, Together and in Public
Saturday, 11 January, 3:30–4:45 p.m., Arkansas, Sheraton Chicago

A special session

Presiding: Katina Rogers, MLA
Speakers: David F. Bell, Duke Univ.; Matthew K. Gold, New York City Coll. of Tech., City Univ. of New York; Kevin Kee, Brock Univ.; Cecilia Márquez, Univ. of Virginia; Kelli Massa, University Coll. London; William Albert Pannapacker, Hope Coll.; Donnie Sackey, Wayne State Univ.
For description of programs and overall project, visit praxis-network.org.

Session Description:
How can humanities programs better equip students for a wide range of careers, while also fostering methodological expertise and public engagement? This roundtable will discuss a few possible approaches as seen in the Praxis Network, a new international alliance of graduate and undergraduate programs that are making effective interventions in traditional models of humanities pedagogy and research.

607. Public Humanities
Saturday, 11 January, 3:30–4:45 p.m., Chicago IX, Sheraton Chicago

A linked session arranged in conjunction with The Presidential Forum: Vulnerable Times

Presiding: Laura Wexler, Yale Univ.

Speakers: Matti Bunzl, Univ. of Illinois, Urbana; James Chandler, Univ. of Chicago; Julie Ellison, Univ. of Michigan, Ann Arbor; Farah Griffin, Columbia Univ.; Jean Elizabeth Howard, Columbia Univ.

Session Description:
What is the public face of the humanities, and how can humanities scholarship be publicly shared in vulnerable times? Speakers will address poetry and theater as genres of public humanities; humanities centers and humanities festivals as sites of civic engagement; the work of the humanities in museums, archives, and prisons; and public humanities curricula that connect universities with their communities.

Open to the public

621. Federal Government Opportunities in Foreign Languages for Language Instructors and Program Representatives
Saturday, 11 January, 3:30–5:30 p.m., Chicago X, Sheraton Chicago

Program arranged by the MLA Office of Research

Session Description:
Officials from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence Foreign Language Program Office and other government agencies will describe training requirements the federal government is looking to sponsor as well as future employment possibilities for students. Designed for professors and university program administrators of federal programs in foreign languages, this session provides an understanding of what federal training requirements universities may propose and of what federal programs are available to undergraduate and graduate students.

745. Feminist Vulnerability on Postfeminist Campuses: Alt-Academic Feminism
Sunday, 12 January, 12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., Erie, Sheraton Chicago

Program arranged by the Women’s Caucus for the Modern Languages and Women in French

Presiding: E. Nicole Meyer, Univ. of Wisconsin, Green Bay

  1. “Toddlers and the Tenure Track: Best Practices for Protecting Academic Parents,” Kayla Walker Edin, Milligan Coll.
  2. “Women, Rape, and Academia,” Donna L. Potts, Kansas State Univ.
  3. “Feminist Research for Institutional Change: The Status of Women at the University of Wisconsin, River Falls,” Greta Gaard, Univ. of Wisconsin, River Falls

757. Alt-Ac Work and Gender: It’s Not Plan B
Sunday, 12 January, 12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., Chicago A–B, Chicago Marriott

A special session

Presiding: Sarah Werner, Folger Shakespeare Library

  1. “On the Alt-Ac Jungle Gym,” M. Stephanie Murray, Carnegie Mellon Univ.
  2. “E-mail Is Made of Women,” Amanda L. French, George Mason Univ.

For abstracts, visit sarahwerner.net/blog after 1 Dec.

Please mention sessions that I may have missed in the comments!

The Altac Chronicles, Episode 2: Flexibility

Cross-posted from my blog Words Are My Game

…doubt can feel like an admission of error — and the stakes of such error can be too high to countenance. (Having spent ten years preparing for a career, for instance, experiencing doubt about the choice not only feels like failure, but like a failure so long-term that it raises the possibility that one can have wasted one’s life tout court.)

Kathleen Fitzpatrick, “Doubts”

My first post in this new…um…series…was a snapshot into how I was feeling when the news that we were officially moving to Texas sunk in. I had been thinking about this moment last weekend when I finally sat down and starting filling out job applications. I had been procrastinating on this, as you can imagine, but now that I have done one application things are moving.

This morning (April 3rd), after I chatted on Twitter for a while, I hopped in the shower, late as I was for work. Somehow, it occurred to me while in the shower that one of the big themes in yesterday’s post was flexibility, but I hadn’t really explored it. I focused on giving you a narrative picture of that day, but I didn’t delve into the issue–or should I say, the idea–of flexibility and alternative academic careers.

Here are my tweets from this morning:

The always-insightful Jo Van Every reminded me:

Now that I’ve had some time to think about this some more, I need to revise that part about “job security a la tenure track.” (Oh Twitter and your 140 characters…) It sounds like I’m saying that tenure track jobs offer job security, which is not what I was going for. I am aware that tenure track as path to job security is an illusion. Also, I’m not arguing here that altac means no job security whereas teaching or the tenure track is. What I was trying to work through was the stability of the idea of the tenure track that kept me focused throughout graduate school for so long. I was focused on getting a PhD because I believed that was the step before getting a teaching position, and so that goals kept me focused. When I decided to pursue alternative academic jobs, I didn’t have that one job/focus to keep me moving. Instead, now I have a career that can be comprised of different jobs.

That flexibility of jobs to choose from is one of the things that appealed to me about going the altac route. However, that flexibility can be scary, because flexibility could mean, like it does now, that you leave one job and go for another one that may not be in the same department or field or office or division. (I’m not saying this is unique to altac folks, but that this is the situation I find myself in at the moment.) However, the way I work around that is I’m trying to focus on jobs that are in areas I am interested in and that I am skilled for. Like Jo mentioned this morning:

The writing center is my professional home now, and the work I have done there has been emotionally and intellectually fulfilling. However, I know that, for better or for worse, I will not find another opening for Graduate Writing Specialist in Houston. I’m focusing on the things I liked about my job, the things I excelled at in my job, and the skills I developed at my job, and using that as my compass while I search.

The Altac Chronicles, Episode 1: Job (In)Security

Cross-posted from my blog, Words Are My Game:

Mid February, and Spring Training was days away.

He was in Houston, the day after the press conference that announced he was the new voice of the Astros. I went to work because, well, it’s what I do on Thursdays. It’s what I do Monday through Friday, actually. He didn’t know that I was getting increasingly anxious while he drove around Houston looking for a new apartment for our family to live in. I had revealed to my co-workers that he had gotten this unique, exciting opportunity, and that we would be moving to Houston. But when I was alone in my office my heart beat a little faster.

A lot happened in a matter of no time.

He would return that night, only to leave in the next few days for Florida to watch this new team try each other out before baseball season began. I don’t remember if he already had his Spring Training plane tickets, but it was around the corner and it was going to happen. I knew that this was that time of year when he had to leave. I’m used to that.

I’m never used to that.

There is a segment of the population that lives like this, with significant others who travel constantly for work. I’m sure any of them will say, you never get used to it. You tell yourself you are, but you’re not.

There’s always an adjustment period. Your sleep patterns change a little. Your routine changes a little. You have to remind yourself that your significant other won’t come home that night and so whatever dishes you left in the sink that morning are still sitting in the sink at night. You figure out what you’re going to do with the kids, if you have kids. You plan ahead to who is coming when and when you’ll go out with your friends. I can do it alone, I tell myself.

I can’t do it alone.

This time, though, I had to adjust to the thought that I wouldn’t seem him until after 90 days, that when I saw him again we would be in another zip code, months from now. I don’t know if he had to adjust to that idea, or to the fact that he will no longer call Kansas City home. Or that KCI will no longer be the end destination of his flights. Maybe he didn’t have enough time for that. Me, I started dealing with that the moment he asked me “what if I’m offered the job?”

This is not a post about regretting my answer to that question. (I said “we’ll go,” if you’re wondering.) I’m looking forward to the move, and I don’t regret my answer. This is a post about letting go. Letting go of a job and letting go of a city.

He was in Houston looking at apartments. I was jittery, in my office by myself. My anxiety medication wasn’t really helping, I felt. All of a sudden the flood of thoughts appeared from out of nowhere. Where am I going? What am I doing? How do I pick up and just go? I can’t. I can’t.

I have done this before. Leave one place for another. Leave one place because he had a job in another.  I know that some people judge women like me. This post isn’t about that. This post is about how someone who is as career-oriented as I am handles switching.

I did a PhD. I know what it’s like to commit to a career track.

You see, academia has always told us you go where the jobs are. Major League Baseball is like that. However, I decided that I was more comfortable being an alternative academic because I knew it gave me more flexibility, more options. I didn’t like the options the tenure track was offering me. (Or taunting me, your choice.)  But now, now that I leave a job that, frankly, I made mine, I feel the tug of that flexibility.

I broke down that morning. In the quiet of my office, a Thursday when no one was around and when we had no consultations scheduled, I broke down and cried. The anxiety of not knowing what my next step was crumpled inside that spot right in the center of my chest, and the tears came roaring upwards and outwards. I tried to be quiet, so I cried into my scarf. I texted him, barely seeing the letters on my iPhone’s screen. I didn’t know who else to talk to.

I texted him, asking him if he was around to talk. We couldn’t, not right then. He said he could call me later. I had a meeting in half an hour. I felt my chest starting to shake, tears coming up again. I eventually called my mom, the last person I wanted to talk to– I didn’t want her to worry.

She worries sometimes.

I talked through the feelings that were crumpling in my chest. I looked forward to moving to Houston, but I minded leaving my job and my friends, the things that made Kansas City a home for me. After years of frustration, of indecision, of anger, and of confusion, I was finally in much better shape, career-wise, and in a city I enjoy. I felt afraid of leaving that, of leaving that stable environment. I was afraid of going to Houston and starting from scratch. I was afraid of falling into depression again, the kind of depression that kept me wondering about what the heck I was doing with my life if my PhD doesn’t mean anything in the tenure track job market. (I blogged about that too.) I was afraid.

Nowadays I feel more comfortable with the idea, and I know that alternative academic careers are just that: careers. And careers are comprised of jobs. But I still won’t be entirely comfortable until I know where my career continues in Houston.


People frequently ask for recommendations of resources and background reading on graduate education reform and career paths for humanities scholars. Here are a few of the things I often suggest.

[This was originally posted at my personal site; please build on it!]

There are many other great resources out there, so please add to the list!