Tag Archives: Alt-ac

Alt-Ac Careers

I was incredibly grateful for the candor with which we discussed the state of academic jobs in the DH Praxis Seminar this week. The job hunt is a touchy subject (whether in the academic humanities or elsewhere), and I’ve enjoyed the fact that our seminar doesn’t shy away from difficult topics.

As a few people mentioned on Monday, it is a shame the term “alt-ac” even exists. This entire category of jobs is not defined by its own characteristics, but by that to which it is an alternative. As Katina mentioned during her lecture, until we truly establish an even playing field, where students are encouraged to blaze their own trails without a description of the “normal” path and the “alternative” path, the term alt-ac will have to do.

I also really appreciated the idea of making your own luck. As a musician, I am faced with a field that is built on relationships, networking, freelance, and entrepreneurship. While everyone has heard the story of a musician waiting for his “break,” there’s something to be said for creating your own opportunities and being ready for whatever comes your way as you passionately pursue your career.

What About Alt-Cubicle?

The question posed to MA students towards the end of class on the PhD/alt-ac debate was something like: “How does this make you feel?”

I would say “optimistic, but cautious.” But because my goal is ultimately a PhD, and because the job market is tepid at best, why am I optimistic about it at all? Why is anyone? I know that I want to teach, and I don’t have faith in the job market, yet I still convince myself that it is an option that will be open to me if I work hard enough. I think a lot of people who want to go into teaching are also optimists, and also want to help better the world and contribute knowledge and such. If there are other things we can do that would satisfy the same desires, shouldn’t we know about them?

A thread I found running through our conversation and the articles I’ve read about career identity in general seem to point to a common problem: When we start a career, how do we know what we’re really getting ourselves into?

My mom has worked as an attorney at the same company for the past 30 years. She thought that the current overflow of law school students would be solved if they knew what being a lawyer actually meant. Maybe the same problem could be fixed if a requirement for entrance into PhD programs was to follow professors around and see what it’s actually like to be a faculty member  (considering that you want to be one).

So why are we not given more information about potential careers before we embark on them (outside of “take your daughter to work day”)? Aside from dire warnings about the job market, I think some practical advice is in order before anyone continues down a rocky path.

This article  may be one example of why we don’t get more in-depth information about careers. Any honest transparency could mean that you lose your job or a reference. It’s the same reason people aren’t honest in exit interviews.

Something else about the alt-ac debate that I find disconcerting is this idea that people with PhDs in the humanities can fall right into publishing – a field that is often grossly underpaid and quickly losing momentum.

I think a lot of people from my generation look at their parents successful careers, pension plans and slight unhappiness and ask themselves what they can do differently while still finding success. For some, this is a constant exploration that may lead somewhere like graduate school. And because a lot of us are wholly unsatisfied sitting in a cube working at a boring job all day, maybe we just need to be fully aware of our options and what it takes to get someplace else.

11/18/13 Katina Rogers: Alt-Academic Careers

While many graduate programs continue to focus on tenure track placement rates, a growing proportion of humanities scholars are embracing a much broader range of intellectually stimulating careers in, around, and beyond the academy. Focusing both on her own career path and on her research at the Modern Language Association, the Scholarly Communication Institute, and the Scholars’ Lab at the University of Virginia, Katina Rogers will discuss strategies to support professionalization, public scholarship, and career development across a wide array of possible outcomes.

Katina Rogers is managing editor of MLA Commons, the Modern Language Association’s new online platform for collaboration and scholarly communication. She previously served as Senior Research Specialist with the Scholarly Communication Institute, a Mellon-funded humanities think tank based in the University of Virginia’s Scholars’ Lab. Her current research focuses on graduate education reform, career paths for humanities scholars, and innovative modes of scholarly production. Katina holds a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the University of Colorado.