Tag Archives: mla

Presenting at the MLA 2018

By: Shawn González

The 133rd MLA Annual Convention, on the theme of States of Insecurity, was held on 4–7 January, 2018, in New York. One of our recent PhDs, Shawn González, presented on her current work at the conference. The Comp Lit Blog editors interviewed Shawn about her experience:

Could you tell us a bit about the panel you were involved in and the work you presented on?

I presented on a panel called “Teaching, Theorizing, and Reading Caribbean Texts,” sponsored by the MLA’s Graduate Student Caucus. The panel topic was unique, because it incorporated both literary criticism and pedagogy, which sparked some unexpected questions about genre and audience.

My paper “Theorizing Caribbean Multilingualism in the Classroom” emerged from my experience teaching the bilingual Nuyorican poet Tato Laviera in Latino and Caribbean Cultural Studies, a course cross-listed in Comparative Literature and Latino and Caribbean Studies at Rutgers. I argued that Rutgers students who approached Laviera’s poetry from a variety of linguistic backgrounds offered an opportunity to rethink questions of ideal readership from the perspective of a multilingual community with a range of linguistic proficiencies. It is evident that the presence of bilingual students can enrich the reading experiences of monolingual students who could not otherwise understand Laviera’s Spanish-dominant poems. However, based on my observations of student discussions, I proposed that the presence of monolingual students was similarly productive as it prompted bilingual students to consider which portions of Laviera’s text were accessible or inaccessible to a monolingual readership. This paper is part of my developing interest in how undergraduate literature classrooms can be harnessed to consider issues of accessibility and readership in multilingual literature. My thinking on these topics was productively challenged through conversation with other presenters, both those who focused on pedagogy and those who focused on literary analysis.

Did you attend any other panels that were particularly interesting?

My favorite panel was “The Rise of Latinx Literature for Youth” moderated by Marilisa Jiménez García with presentations by Cristina Rhodes, Ashley Perez, and Sonia Alejandra Rodríguez. The panelists considered texts for young people ranging from Gloria Anzaldúa’s bilingual picture books to contemporary young adult novels. Each presentation posed questions about how authors represent the agency of young Latinx characters as they navigate difficult situations that might be considered age-inappropriate in mainstream children’s literature. The presentations were followed by a vibrant discussion that considered the role of the supernatural, authority figures, and the convention of happy endings. I left the panel with a list of new writers whose work I’ve been enjoying since the conference.

Are there other aspects of the conference that might be of interest to graduate students?

In addition to literary criticism panels, the MLA includes presentations about pedagogy, professionalization, and public humanities issues. MLA Connected Academics also hosts a variety of events at MLA including a career fair.

Finally, any advice for first-time MLA attendees?

Look out for the CFP from the Graduate Student Caucus. Their panels can be a welcoming forum to present at the MLA for the first time.

Connected Academics Workshop at Comp. Lit.

By: Gabriele Lazzari

On Thursday, March 30th, students and faculty from Comparative Literature gathered to attend a workshop, organized by Tara Coleman and Carolyn Ureña and titled “Becoming Connected Academics: Career Diversity and Comparative Literature.” Both Carolyn and Tara have recently defended their dissertations, and have been fellows of the MLA Connected Academics Proseminar, an initiative that this blog has been covering since its inception.

The purpose of the workshop was to discuss with students and faculty the valuable work that the Proseminar has done in the last two years of introducing Ph.D. students to various career paths after graduation. The first misconception that was addressed during the workshop is the negative connotation often attached to the label “Alt-Ac” (Alternative Academic), which some still perceive as the alternative (read, second) choice, unwillingly accepted by those who fail to land an (increasingly chimeric) tenure-track job. Tara and Carolyn stressed instead that students should think of other paths as leading to equally legitimate and potentially satisfying careers. Most importantly, they explained how the Connected Academics Proseminar has offered them instruments to reframe their academic and non-academic experience so as to be competitive in a wider job market, highlighting that the skills we usually associate only with a job involving teaching and research can be valuable assets also outside academia.

The workshop stimulated a lively conversation among its attendees. It was noticeable that Jerome Kukor (Dean of the Graduate School-New Brunswick) and Dorothy Hodgson (Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs) decided to participate. Their brief interventions emphasized the importance of an organic interaction between Rutgers administration and the graduate student body for the promotion of career diversity. More than anything else, support from the different Departments and the Graduate School is of vital importance to the success of graduate students, regardless of what career path they end up choosing.

During the workshop, effective ways of exploring jobs and entering the “alt-ac” conversation (as early as possible!) were discussed. Carolyn and Tara presented with great clarity and enthusiasm the objectives and structure of the Proseminar, offering students extremely valuable instruments to start exploring on their own, as well as practical suggestions. Among them: attending panels and networking events organized by the Proseminar each year at the MLA Convention; understanding the importance of social media (particularly LinkedIn and Twitter) in building an eclectic and appealing profile; reading job ads to assess what skills we might already have and which ones we would need to work on.

In this regard, Tara and Carolyn pointed out that each field a graduate student might be interested in (NGOs, publishing, not-for-profit agencies, foundations, administrative roles within academia, etc.) has different requirements and expectations; once again, getting acquainted to them early on is crucial. Realistically, this might require extra-work during our graduate years (volunteering, internships, collaborations etc.) but the payoff–being able to choose a career depending on one’s affective, economic, and intellectual needs–will be surely worth the effort.

MLA Connected Academics Proseminar: An Interview with Tara Coleman (part 2)

By: Carolyn Ureña

This is the second part of our interview with Tara Coleman, who participated in the MLA Connected Academics Proseminar. You can read the first part here.

Are there any industries that you were surprised to learn actively recruit humanities Ph.D.s?

I’m not sure if they actively recruit PhDs, but I was surprised to hear that consulting firms love to hire people with a humanities background, because they value the research and communication skills we have. In general, I heard many people from the business world attest to the ways in which their humanities training has helped them find success in their fields.

It seems like a lot of industries don’t necessarily go out looking for PhDs, but it isn’t as uncommon to find them there as you might expect. For example, independent (a.k.a. private) high schools often have quite a few PhD-holders. Research librarians may have a PhD or a Master of Library Science. If you work in any role that is a part of or has dealings with higher education, having the PhD demonstrates that you intimately know the field and how people in it think. It might not be the main reason you get a job, but it can be an asset if you can show you have that on top of other skills needed for the position.

As a bit of a side note, many of us agreed that we had not paid enough attention to humanities centers and foundations before doing the proseminar. When we think about alternative career paths, the same options always pop into our heads: publishing, university administration, high school teaching. But there is an entire humanities infrastructure that supports the work of scholars in a university, and/or brings that work to the public at large. The people who work in humanities centers and foundations, or in archives and research institutes affiliated with universities, do work very similar to that of tenure-track scholars, and yet as graduate students we don’t tend to have a lot of contact with them. These were some of the most exciting positions to me.

Could you tell us about any interesting connections you see between your involvement in the proseminar and your experience as a grad student in Comp Lit?

Hmmm…interesting question! I think that being in Comp Lit and knowing that I would not have the same training as a candidate in, say, Chinese Studies or Film Studies for jobs in those areas, I have always been aware that my advantage would come from having a different combination of experiences, so I have been thinking about developing a diverse skill set all along. Being involved with Comp Lit activities like graduate student conferences and the old Exit 9 were part of that. I’ve also been clear-eyed about the challenges I would face, so I have been mentally prepared for this process. Plus, Comp Lit students have to be creative and industrious in a general sense, which is what you need if you decide to pursue a connected or alt-ac career.

Do you have any advice for graduate students regarding the kinds of opportunities or experiences they should think about cultivating during grad school in order to remain open to and be competitive for an alt-ac job search?

I won’t spend a lot of time on this here because there is a lot to say, and I will be doing a workshop in the fall on just this topic. At that time I will also be able to point you to a lot of resources that my proseminar colleagues are working on now, so stay tuned and come to the workshop in the fall! In the meantime, though, I would suggest two things for anyone who may already be interested in a particular field: make use of your summers and breaks to yes, work on your research and writing so that you can finish on time, but also to start gaining experiences that might help you. For instance, do some volunteer work or write a few blog posts or find out if there are any conferences coming up in the area for that field and go to them. If you have no idea where to even start, we will talk about that in my workshop, but a good place to begin is at the Connected Academics website: connect.commons.mla.org.


MLA Connected Academics Proseminar: An Interview with Tara Coleman

By: Carolyn Ureña

Tara Coleman is a Ph.D. candidate in Comparative Literature currently finishing up her dissertation on lyricism in contemporary Chinese-language film and poetry. She participated in the inaugural Connected Academics Proseminar this year and attended the MLA convention in January as a representative of the seminar. She is eager to share some of what she has learned, so we thought we would start by asking her a few questions. This is the first part of our interview.

What is the MLA Connected Academics Proseminar?

Connected Academics is a new initiative of the MLA which seeks to broaden the range of professional trajectories on the radar of graduate students. By improving connections between PhD-holders in different fields, they also hope to better integrate work in the humanities from different sectors. It is essentially the MLA’s “alt-ac” group, but they prefer to talk about “career diversity” over “alt-ac,” because “alt-ac” is a bit of a problematic term. Most people use it to refer to alternative academic careers (like working in a university library rather than as a professor) though some use it to refer to alternatives to the academic path altogether (like working in publishing). Whichever way you use it, there has been a lot of pushback against the implication that these careers are “alternative” or “non-traditional” when we know that around half of PhD graduates in the humanities work off of the tenure track, either in a non-tenured university position or outside of academia altogether. Plus, “alt-ac” implies that these careers are a “Plan B,” as if everyone wants a tenure-track job at an R1 university, when that is not always the case.

This year I was part of the Connected Academic project’s first proseminar, which provided PhD students and recent graduates the chance to explore career options firsthand. There were around 20 of us, all from the New York metro area. We applied last summer (the application for next year’s proseminar is due by June 1) and we met six times over the academic year. It was such an empowering and affirming experience, and it helped me stay sane while I was on the academic job market. Although many of us felt a lot of anxiety and frustration about our job prospects at the beginning, it was great to think about options and consider what we really want out of our professional lives, whatever we end up doing. It’s also helpful for those who do land tenure-track positions to be aware of these things for when they advise students of their own down the track.

Each proseminar session met at a different organization in NYC and began with a panel made up of people with humanities training who work there. The panelists talked about what they do, how they got there, and how we might pursue a similar position. The sessions also included short workshops in which we learned specific skills related to the job search, like networking, reading job ads, writing resumes (as opposed to CVs), etc. We broke up into smaller groups for site visits to additional locations and we each conducted a few informational interviews with people in positions that interested us. We shared what we learned through blog posts.

What kinds of places have you visited and what kinds of people have you been able to get to know through your involvement with the proseminar?

Sites included the CUNY Futures Initiative, the New York Public Library, Bard High School Early College, the Frick Collection, the Association of American Publishers, NYU Press, Ithaka S+R (a nonprofit consulting firm for the academic community) and a few different humanities centers and foundations. In addition, I met quite a few alt-ac people at the MLA convention, where two poster-style sessions allowed attendees to just go up and chat with people about their careers.

We met people in all stages of their careers, with degrees from various language and literature fields (and a few historians too). Everyone’s story was different, but they all had to explore and try things out before figuring out what worked for them, and they all had to be open to a certain element of chance and circumstance. They were always encouraging and willing to be a resource for anyone who wanted to further pursue a career in their area. It was especially helpful to hear from people who had recently graduated, because they had practical advice on how things work now. For example, we heard from someone who found out about a postdoc on Twitter and had an interview before the position even appeared on the traditional job list.

Mostly, I think the best contacts I have made have been with the other seminar participants. They are a really inspiring group. Many of them have a range of work experiences and skills in addition to their academic training, and we developed a strong camaraderie in our short time together.