Tag Archives: professionalization

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.

Graduate Students Discuss Academic Professionalization with Professor José David Saldívar

By: Enmanuel Martínez

One the morning of Friday, March 4, 2016, graduate students in Rutgers University’s Ph.D. Program in Comparative Literature gathered for an informal, albeit intimate, post-graduate-student-conference meeting with Stanford University Professors of Comparative Literature José David Saldívar. The previous evening Professor Saldívar delivered the keynote address “Negative Aesthetics and Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” thus concluding the day of events of the 2016 Program in Comparative Literature graduate student conference Urban (De)Coloniality and Literature.

Reflecting on the prior day’s graduate student presentations, formal responses by Rutgers University faculty and graduate students, and questions posed by members of the general public, those present at Friday morning’s meeting turned to the question of professional development in the Humanities today.

The meeting with Professor Saldívar lasted a little over an hour. Overall, the gathering marked a unique opportunity for those in attendance in that students were then welcomed to pose candid questions to the accomplished professor of Comparative Literature on the topic of best professional practices for tenure-track positions in the fields of literary and cultural studies. Several topics that were broached included:

  • the general academic publication standards and expectations past, present and future of graduate students, as compared to those involving assistant and associate professors
  • the postdoctoral fellowships as a process of professionalization
  • general tips to keep in mind when going on the academic job market, including insights on the anticipated (yet highly dreaded) job talk and on-campus visit
  • the craft of effectively negotiating benefits (i.e. moving, research, and travel funds, technology, teaching load, release time, etc.) after formally receiving an academic job offer
  • as a professor, the importance of initially developing—and then actively maintaining—professional relationships with colleagues in your department or program, across various sectors of your home institution, as well as at other research centers, colleges, and universities both in the U.S. and abroad
  • the politics of the academic tenure process, including general measures allowing one to restart “the tenure track clock” if need be by accepting a new job at another institution before actually going up for academic tenure review at one’s previous institution

The morning meeting with Professor Saldívar was as sobering an experience as it was meaningful and galvanizing. In the contemporary moment where some have called for a crisis in the Humanities and where the academic job market for professors of literary and cultural studies remains exceptionally competitive, the more aware that graduate students are about the reality of the academic job market today, as well as the general “dos and don’ts” of academia, the better! Professor Saldívar’s astute comments, generous insight, and expert advice left me and other students in attendance “clued-up” and, thus, all the more empowered to make the best decisions possible when the time comes for us to transition from life and work as advanced graduate student to that as junior faculty.