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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.