This is the first in a series of posts about the Modern Language Association’s 2016-2017 Connected Academics Proseminar written by Connected Academics Proseminar Fellow Carolyn Ureña.
Carolyn is a Ph.D. candidate in Comparative Literature and a 2016-2017 Ford Foundation Dissertation Fellow. Her dissertation develops a critical framework for understanding the ways in which a sustained encounter between disability studies, the medical humanities, and the racial phenomenology of decolonial theorist Frantz Fanon can generate new conceptions of health and healing.
Last year our very own Tara Coleman, who now holds a tenure track position at LaGuardia Community College, participated in the inaugural MLA Connected Academics Proseminar. This year, I’m excited to carry the torch and share what I learn with our readers in as close to real-time as possible. To read more about Tara’s experience, check out my two-part interview with her from Spring 2016.
The Andrew W. Mellon funded MLA Connected Academics initiative seeks to expose doctoral students in language and literature to the variety of careers available to people with Ph.D.s. In light of the changing job market, now more than ever it is essential to think more broadly about the kinds of work we imagine ourselves doing after we graduate. The exciting news is that many professional organizations–like the Mellon Foundation, the MLA, and the American Council of Learned Societies–are encouraging graduate students to consider the wide variety of careers for which you will be qualified. The more prepared you are for what may come, the better your chances of finding meaningful and fulfilling work after the Ph.D.
Career Exploration as Prototyping
Although many graduate students imagine an academic career in linear terms (undergraduate degree, grad school, tenure track faculty position, Assistant, Associate, then Full Professor), the reality is that most career paths are not so straightforward. Enter the concept of “career exploration as prototyping.” This means trying new things–teaching, volunteering, taking on small projects in new fields or industries–as a means of exploring what you like and what you don’t like to do.
You might be wondering how time consuming or worthwhile it might be to explore different career paths, and ultimately this will be a question of your own schedule and interests. However, keep in mind that developing new skills–like running workshops, managing groups of people, and developing a budget for a project–can be very useful for your job search, both on and beyond the academic job market. If you do pursue the academic path and land your dream job, depending on your institution you will find yourself advising undergraduates as well as graduate students, and you will be in a much better position to encourage their exploration if you have done some of it yourself.
Seek Opportunities to Expand Your Skillset
Part time work and projects can also enable you to write more convincingly in your job materials about your ability to manage teams and projects. My own experiences as a research assistant, as a teacher for Prep for Prep , and as Fellowship Advisor at GradFund have not only given me greater confidence as a researcher, teacher, and writer; working in these roles allowed me the opportunity to creatively engage a different part of my brain. These experiences enriched my dissertation by encouraging me to rethink how my project can impact my community, while also allowing me to hone my ability to describe my work succinctly to a wider range of audiences.
Join the Conversation
The conversation about exploring alternative or complementary careers is not new, which means there are a good number of resources to help you begin to explore different paths. Initiatives like the MLA’s Connected Academics work to make this conversation more visible, and one easy way to get involved is to follow related groups on social media, such as @MLAConnect and the #withaPhD hashtag on Twitter. When you meet with other graduate students, take some time to ask them about their interests outside of their research. Explore the MLA’s excellent list of job sites for positions in Business, Government, and Not-for-Profit Organizations to get a sense of what kinds of careers are possible. And, finally, check out this eye-opening list of transferable skills for Ph.D.s in the Humanities from the MLA Commons blog for Connected Academics–it will help you understand how your teaching experiences, for example, have prepared you to “devise and implement metrics for success” and “keep detailed administrative records.” You might be surprised to learn how qualified you already are!