This post continues our series by a onetime academic job seeker, now academic-at-large.

For many people in the academic world, the coronavirus pandemic sparked a recommitment to hobbies—those time-obliterating pastimes so often set aside, in normal days, in favor of socializing, traveling to conferences, and commuting to and from campus. In June of last year, Lee Skallerup Bessette, a learning design specialist with a university center for teaching, wrote about pruning tomatoes, sewing, and baking bread, in between getting some writing done. “It’s nearly impossible to think about anything else while stitching,” said Megan Koeman-Eding, a coordinator for a college advising office, of her new affinity for cross-stitch—a hobby that had the side benefit of keeping her mind off the news. And Crystal Wilkinson, a professor of English, recently wrote a beautiful essay for Oxford American on her whole family’s rediscovery of cooking and vegetable gardening during the pandemic. This year, Wilkinson wrote, “I worry and cook in the confines of my kitchen just like my grandmother did.” 

Daredevils in Quarantine

While some focused on producing food and fabric art for their homes, others looked for thrills where they could. Cydney Scott, a photographer for Boston University, did a photo essay on members of the BU community who had taken up new hobbies—or rediscovered old ones—during the pandemic. Among her subjects was Scott Bunch, a professor of engineering who’s begun skateboarding—or, rather, gotten back into it after decades away. Scott also photographed Bill Dupee, an analyst/consultant for BU’s Questrom School of Business, who built a whole flight simulator, “complete with instruments, controls, and even rudder pedals.” The septuagenarian reported communing with his son across the Internet, “flying” together, even as they were separated by the pandemic.

When Academics Branch Out

For others, COVID times have offered chances to play around with hobbies that are tangential to—but ended up enriching—their academic work. Archaeologist Sara Ann Knutson wrote that she had taken up photography, and that “the practice has taught me to really ‘see’ light. Now I cannot stop thinking anthropologically about light forms.” A Ph.D student in biology, Rhett Rautsaw, created an eye-catching illustration that landed on the March 2021 cover of the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution—the same issue that also published a paper with Rautsaw as lead author. 

Some of these pandemic dabblings got wonderfully nerdy. Sarah Stang, a librarian and consultant, posted a picture of a tray of white crystals: “I’m at the ‘making of my own sea salt from sea water’ stage of pandemic hobbies.” (For those thinking of following suit, proximity to a coastline is probably required.) And Victoria Yell, another Ph.D student in biology, posted an amazing spreadsheet documenting her recent coffee-making efforts. “I know what you’re thinking: ‘but Victoria, making a beverage isn’t a hobby…’”, she joked. “I got a manual espresso maker, and it has made me realize that my career in science has had an irreversible impact on how I conduct everyday life.”

Or Maybe Just The Porch

If you didn’t do any of this tinkering, perfecting, and building—if you spent the COVID times working, wrangling kids, caregiving, healing, or grieving—you aren’t alone there, either. Taylor G. Petrey, a professor of religion, joked that his COVID hobbies ranged from “baking, getting dogs” to “regulating kids’ screen time; Fortnite.” And some found self-soothing to be a full-time hobby, in itself. “People took up all these productive COVID hobbies,” said Darcy Hartman, a lecturer in economics. “My new hobbies—swinging, hammocking, and hot tubbing.” And that, too, is more than fine.

What hobbies, if any, did you adopt during the pandemic? Connect with us on Twitter to join the conversation

This post continues our series by a onetime academic job seeker, now academic-at-large.

What is TikTok, besides the latest social-media craze seemingly custom-designed to make everyone over 23 feel past their expiration date? And is it at all relevant to faculty life? For some professors, the video-sharing app, which has people record themselves doing dances or lip-synch challenges (or, sometimes, singing sea shanties in gorgeous harmony), has proved to be a real creative outlet—and a good place to spread a bit of knowledge, outside of the classroom. Here are a few fun faculty to follow.

@dr_inna (Inna Kanevsky, psychology professor): Kanevsky’s popular feed (693.2K followers as we’re writing this) fact-checks viral tidbits about psychology and other scientific matters, answers questions, and demystifies the nuts and bolts of doing science. For fact-checking, Kanevsky takes advantage of TikTok’s “stitch” function, adding her own professorial commentary onto popular videos.

@professorcasey (Casey Fiesler, professor of information science): Fiesler, who studies tech ethics, puts up cheerful explainers about matters of intellectual property and popular culture, answers questions about social media, and even analyzes the app itself, as in a recent TikTok that presented the research case for native captioning.

@juliustheprofessor (Julius Bailey, professor of religion): Bailey answers questions about religion, talks about faculty life, and makes a lot of visual jokes about grading. (The dice-roll one is particularly good.) 

@ms.christinacosta (Christina Costa, psychology Ph.D candidate): Costa, who studies the brain, was diagnosed with a brain tumor last year—an irony she’s taken in stride in many funny TikToks since. Her feed is a mix of information TikToks about college learning, and “inside” views of her cancer treatment, all leavened with a healthy dose of humor. 

@theprofessormom (“Dr. B.,” political scientist): The purple-haired professor answers questions about international relations as a subfield, talks about teaching on Zoom, and brings her expertise to bear on topics in the news, as in this recent commentary on COVID vaccine hoarding. 

@drgtown (Serena Gramling, professor of nursing): Professor humor mixes with hospital humor in Gramling’s feed, which is fiercely pro-student, pro-vaccine, and pro-nurse. 

@drdre4000 (Andre Korrie, rank not publicly available): “Chemist, King, Skinny Legend,” this account’s bio reads; the videos, often co-starring students, shine with love for the many hijinks of lab life. 

@professorbren (Rachel Brenner, professor of psychology): As this retrospective TikTok demonstrates, Brenner got really, really into the format in the last year, and her enthusiasm for it shines through. Brenner’s prolific feed is full of commentary on the tenure track, gender politics, and creative responses to TikTok challenges. 

As lighthearted time-sucks go, TikTok is a great one. Add one—or all!—of these faculty members to your “following” mix, to get a little academia in your feed!

What online networking tactics and groups have been fulfilling and valuable for you this year? Share your recommendations and stories with us on Twitter.

This post continues our series by a onetime academic job seeker, now academic-at-large.

The idea of adding more online work to your to-do list may be anathema in 2020, but for academics who find themselves at points in their careers where they really need to make connections, online networking has been an unexpected blessing this pandemic year. “In this new world, [social media and blogging] looks more and more like THE essential toolkit for networking,” wrote Neville Morley in a blog post on COVID-era academic networking. Here’s some quick advice for academics looking to connect more between now and whenever it is that we can again gather in hotel conference rooms to chat over subpar coffee.

Be kind

“Absolutely basic principles,” wrote Morley about academic engagement on Twitter, should be: “Don’t pull rank, don’t dump on people, and if you have lots of followers take some responsibility for their engagement with people who engage with you.” This is not a COVID-specific bit of advice; the best academic networking, Robin Bernstein wrote in the Chronicle a few years ago, is “radically sincere, deep, and generous.” But when everyone is feeling pretty fragile for one reason or another, the advice to “be kind” goes double. See how you can be helpful, and reach out to peers, not just more powerful people; horizontal networking also yields benefits.

Get the basics nailed down

During this time, if you have the bandwidth, make sure your online presence is complete, and that you own it—you should have at least one website or page that’s not tied to your current university. Select—or take—a good headshot to use across platforms; there are many tips for doing this at home to be found online. (At least one platform—LinkedIn—says that profiles with photos attached get many more views than profiles without.) Pick through your previous writing and presentations, gather up the gems, and put the best stuff on that page that you own. Make sure your CV is updated, wherever it can be found.

Find your people

Other standard advice for academic Twitter users pre-COVID still applies: Tap into subject-specific Twitter lists maintained by people you already follow in order to find new connections; lurk on the outskirts of conversations, see who’s the most constructive and interesting, and follow them; look at hashtags for topics that interest you, and find people that way. If you attend virtual conferences, which are a particular artifact of the COVID era, take advantage of any of concurrent Twitter events that are going on.

Sign up for virtual events

Some scholarly organizations have convened Zoom chats for people interested in connecting around a topic. Check with your associations to see if there are any you could join. Even if you can’t find a time that feels natural to speak up during the Zoom, try to find a way to participate in the chat: sharing links, for example, or adding corroboration to a comment. After the event is over, make sure to connect with participants whose work you found interesting on Twitter or LinkedIn, to continue the conversation.

Think outside the Twitter box

LinkedIn, wrote Eva Lantsoght in a post about why academics should use the tool, “can be a source of consistency as you switch institutions.” Lantsoght recommends using LinkedIn to keep connected with people who change their emails often, as many academics do. She advocates linking out to Slideshare to show off presentations; participating in groups by asking and answering questions; and making sure to keep your profile up to date. And for researchers whose work requires them to connect to people who work outside of the academy, or who may look for jobs outside of academia, LinkedIn is the place to be.

As we all live more in front of screens this year, it’s important to be even more intentional with our time online. These recommendations for online networking will help you build community among academics, whether looking for new positions, research opportunities, or simply connection.

What online networking tactics and groups have been fulfilling and valuable for you this year? Share your recommendations and stories with us on Twitter.

This post continues our series by a onetime academic job seeker, now academic-at-large.

Impact on research time

“Almost overnight, COVID-19 turned me into an elementary school teacher, a housekeeper, a hairdresser, and a professional worrier — all things I am terrible at, with the exception of the latter,” wrote economist Olga Shurchkov on Medium in April. Looking back at her post seven months on, as many academics with children have gone more than half a year without the benefit of open schools or childcare, and mothers across the economy have borne the brunt of COVID-related disruptions, onlookers are worrying that the hairline fissures in academic mothers’ CVs that began opening up in spring and early summer may be developing into full-blown cracks.

In April, editors for three journals in political science and philosophy reported evidence that the volume of female authors’ submissions had declined since COVID-19. For many, anecdotal reports from journal editors were the first sign that something was wrong. More systematic studies followed. A team surveyed American and European scientists, starting in April, to see how COVID-19 was affecting their usage of time; the results were published in September. Those who chose to respond to the survey (a self-selecting group, to be sure) reported that overall, their working hours had dipped—in average, the group that used to work 61 hours a week was now working 54. Influencing this average was a  much bigger portion of the surveyed scientists that were working 42 hours a week or fewer, as opposed to before the pandemic hit. 

Time-pressed scientists seemed to be reducing hours devoted to research, rather than teaching or administrative tasks. And female scientists, scientists with kids under five, and especially female scientists with kids under five were the hardest-hit when it came to losing research hours. The survey results were echoed by other work on U.S. faculty members, among whom the professors with kids in the 0-5 age range reported having the hardest time doing work—a finding that anyone who’s taken full-time care of a kid under 5 could probably have predicted. 

Tracking the rates of publication

Studies tracking rates of publication followed these time-use surveys. In May, a group of researchers reported on their look at 11 pre-print repositories and three platforms for registered reports in the sciences. Assigning gender to authors’ names using an algorithm, the group analyzed more than 300,000 submissions. Importantly, the researchers looked at author order, showing that the numbers of women in first-author positions had dropped, when compared to the previous two months and the same two months in 2019. In those fields, the group pointed out, first authorship often gets assigned to a junior scholar; the implication is that junior women’s productivity was taking the biggest hit. Women’s names were also less commonly associated with work done on COVID-19—the very work that, of course, was being rapidly produced in response to the pandemic.

Also in May, a group of economists reported the results of their study of rates of submissions of preprints and working papers in that field, breaking down the data by seniority level and gender, and looking in particular at whether women were authoring preprints analyzing COVID-19. Which economists, the group wondered, were able to jump on the interesting research situation the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns has produced? For economists, the pandemic is a natural experiment of epic proportions, but the people who find themselves equipped to take advantage, this group argues, are not those who have children at home, and/or are more cautious about abandoning previous research to start something new.  “It is mostly senior male economists who are currently exploiting the myriad research questions arising from the COVID-19 shock,” wrote the group. 

Since the flush of springtime and summertime interest in COVID’s effect on women doing academic research, institutions have been looking for solutions. An organization called 500 Women Scientists has called for funding agencies to give grad students and postdocs gap funding, departments to offer teaching releases, and for institutions to reduce the use of student teaching evaluations in considering decisions around hiring and promotion, since caregiving academics with little time to give seem more likely to get dinged on evals when students get dissatisfied with online teaching.

But of all the interventions, a common-sense approach to evaluating the parts of mothers’ CVs that represent 2020 (and 2021) may be the hardest to implement, but the most beneficial. One academic and mother who spoke to Science about her situation mentioned that she was having trouble imagining how she would represent the pandemic in official documentation summarizing her research career. “I can’t give as many talks, I can’t participate in conferences, I can’t do trainings, I’ve had to shut down collaborations,” she said. “How am I supposed to account for this on my CV?” In her case, as in so many others, a little understanding might go a long way. 

What has been the pandemic’s impact on your research? Share with us on Twitter.

This post continues our series by a onetime academic job seeker, now academic-at-large.

How are faculty doing, emotionally speaking, right now?

For many, the answer is “profoundly burned out.” “Anyone else feel like they’ve been working non-stop since March and are about to crash?” asked Arcelia Gutiérrez, a professor of Latinx studies at the University of Kentucky, on Twitter recently. ”And we have no breaks this semester, and we’re already on week 8 of the semester.” In a piece in EdSurge about faculty burnout, Kevin R. McClure, a professor of higher education at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, noted that many faculty’s lack of time off in the summer of 2020 added to the feeling of stress that people were feeling in August, facing the fall semester. “Summer is normally a time of restoration for faculty and staff, and many believed if they could just finish the spring semester, they would have a chance to recover”—but a summer devoid of travel plans and childcare, and full of work to set up online or hybrid learning for the following semester, simply didn’t do the trick. 

Faculty and staff reported to McClure that it wasn’t just the fact that the summer was full of work that has left them feeling tapped out, but also the nature of the work. Endless meetings about an ever-changing and hopeless situation; hard work put into plans that may never be implemented; lack of communication from leaders, who were, themselves, overwhelmed—the summer, and the beginning of the fall semester, have seemed never-ending. Commenting to Inside Higher Ed about the piece, McClure said that he had received a pile of feedback after it published: “What I heard over and over again was people saying, ‘That’s me. This is how I feel.’” 

Much self-reported faculty stress comes from a perceived disconnect between people’s personal situations and the amount of work the university continues to expect. This pandemic academic life—no childcare and school, for parents; huge teaching burdens for those who are adjusting to new platforms; no travel for research; restricted access to materials—is not normal, five scientists wrote in a group plea published in Science in late August. “With the start of the semester upon us, we continue to receive a massive influx of emails from colleagues detailing service expectations, research disruptions, and complex new policies,” they wrote. “All of this can feel incredibly overwhelming.” The group argued for transparency, respect for personal needs, and aggressive triaging of what’s necessary: “Don’t hold yourselves, or your students, to the same standards as 2019.” 

What can be done?

Some senior professors have urged their fellows to step up, this semester and this year. Nicholas H. Snow, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Seton Hall University, argued on Inside Higher Ed that research scholars should “make teaching and serving undergraduate students your highest priority” this year. “Our institutions and our undergraduates need us. They need all of us. They need us to be accessible and inclusive,” Snow insisted, urging his senior colleagues to “go to your funding agency; get a no-cost extension…ask them to allow your postdocs to join with us in the classroom.” This was the time, Snow thought, for the “haves” of academia to put research goals aside and put their shoulders to the wheel. 

A sentiment many faculty share—one that, for some, is a saving grace—is the sense of common cause with their students. “Doing my best, kids—and I know you are, too,” tweeted classicist Christopher Polt, of Boston College, with a modified Spiderman meme attached. (For those unfamiliar, the meme usually features two Spidermen pointing at each other, and is used to signify a recognition of sameness. In Polt’s version, a single Spiderman, the “professor,” points at a group of students—the whole group recognizing one other as going through the same turmoil.) In replies to the viral tweet, professors described feeling a cathartic sense of identification with their students, who are having many of the same problems as faculty: lack of childcare, exposure to COVID, spotty internet, family stress.

A little bit of grace and recognition goes a long way, in the fall of 2020.

How are you navigating these times as a faculty member? How could institutions better support you in your work? Share with us on Twitter.

This post continues our series by a onetime academic job seeker, now academic-at-large, containing advice on how to support grad students, now more than ever.

American grad students, who are already living on small stipends and facing soft job markets, have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. Access to research materials is difficult, with labs and libraries closed and travel curtailed for the foreseeable future. Students with caregiving responsibilities may find themselves with very little time to work with the materials they do have with them. And in many fields, thanks to hiring freezes, the job market has gone from “pretty bad, but you might swing something, if you’re lucky” to apocalyptic—adding a new layer of fear to their pandemic experience. Yet many report that they don’t feel supported by their departments at this time. What can you, a faculty member who works with grad students, do to help?

Don’t assume that “grad student” = young and unencumbered 

If you think of grad students as cloistered and research-driven—garret-dwelling or lab-bound,  without much of a life beyond their work—it might seem that, for them, the pandemic is simply a fine time to get a lot done, without those pesky happy hours interfering. But that’s not necessarily the case. We’ve all heard the famous “Isaac Newton invented calculus while hiding out from the plague” story, but that story isn’t entirely true—and besides, Isaac Newton had no toddlers. Grad students may be caring for children, parents, or sick family members; some may have more time to work, but some may have way less. 

Try to provide as much clarity as you can 

Some of the worst impacts on grad students seem to be related to confusion around expectations. 

  • Some STEM grad students don’t know if they’re supposed to be physically present in their labs
  • Humanities grad students don’t know whether they’ll be given extensions on their funding packages
  • Nobody knows what will happen with the job market in 2021

Several of these unknowns are true unknowns, and some could be clarified by institutions. 

Reporting for Inside Higher Ed, Colleen Flaherty wrote that many departments want to be clearer with their students, but don’t, themselves, have clarity from administrations on what’s going to be expected of grad students during this time. If that’s the case, faculty should try to let grad students know that they are aware of these questions, and that the department is pushing to get them answered ASAP.

Try to make extensions and allowances standard

As with so many things related to the impact of the coronavirus, the impacts on individual grad students are going to be very hard to quantify. It might be better to simply adopt a universal policy relating to coronavirus disruptions, than to make people account in a granular way for what’s happened to them during this strange period. 

Jan Tattenberg, a doctoral student in history at the University of Oxford, argued that systems like his department’s—they require students to log how they spent their time during the pandemic in order to petition for extensions based on harm done to research and productivity—fail to take into account the mental health impacts of isolation during a global pandemic.

“I will lose work time because I will wonder if any of it is worth it, given the state of the world right now,” he tweeted. “I will lose work time because I miss my friends. And I don’t know how I quantify any of this. Or if any of it would be accepted.” 

Consider their immediate financial need

Finally, programs should appreciate the wrench the pandemic has thrown into plans that students may have put in place to support themselves during the summer break—a notably bad time for grad school funding, in the best of years. If there is a way to use institutional funds to provide short-term teleworking jobs, or simple grants in aid, to students who need summer coverage, it should be considered. “Individual faculty,” Duke professor Gabriel Rosenberg suggested in a tweet, “who have fungible research funds previously earmarked for (now impossible) travel and archival work should consider creating and self-funding flexible RAships”—especially if those funds have expiration dates. 

What are some ways you are supporting graduate students right now? Share with us on Twitter.

This blog post continues our series, Scholar at Large, written by an academic who is now on the tenure track at Nevada State College.

Graduate programs are increasingly modernizing their professionalization toward a more inclusive humanities job market. This is definitely promising for upcoming and recent PhDs, even while many of these programs are still being taught by faculty who have little to no experience beyond their academic silos. At the same time, is this shift exacerbating a gap between generations of academics? What can current faculty do to incorporate more inclusive humanities work into their own practices, and enhance their abilities to speak to humanities work more broadly?

Recently, I was reminded of how conferences can provide scholars at any level, and with any title, the opportunity to “learn new tricks.” I presented at both the American Studies Association and the National Humanities Conference (a collaboration between the National Humanities Alliance and the Federation of State Humanities Councils), occurring concurrently in Honolulu.  Both spaces were largely composed of professionals with the same credentials—scholars, academics, educators with advanced degrees. Yet I was struck by how distinct the conversations felt between these two communities. 

This difference was very generative for me and reminded me of the work I did while exploring non-traditional academic careers: 

  • I was able to make the way I relay my research more inclusive (and thus generate better ideas from the conversations)
  • I was forced to push the agility of my thinking and communication
  • I broadened the way I approached building my networks in my field  

I walked away from that week wanting to encourage current faculty and graduate students to approach conferencing more creatively than we tend to be trained to do. Creative conferencing is a great way to boost your knowledge of broader humanities work—and in turn to connect with humanities practitioners that will make your scholarship more robust (and have more sustaining impact). At the same time, you’ll be actively practicing the same skills that you want to instill in your students.

Creative conferencing helps us understand what being an “agile thinker” means in practice

At traditional academic conferences, there is often an assumed “starting position” of knowledge, of politics, of priorities. While that shared starting position is an important part of how knowledge is developed in a field, it can also perpetuate a field’s insularity. Bringing my work to two different kinds of conferences gave me access to more inclusive and challenging conversations, which in turn sharpened my ideas and the contributions I make to my field.  

Though I presented the same core material at each conference, I had to think differently about how I framed my work. I was placing my work in conversation with different kinds of humanities practitioners (not just professors, but folks who work with communities and K-12 teachers, folks supporting initiatives like The Lemon Project), which encouraged me to draw new connections between others’ work and my own. I had to practice recognizing and making my work relevant for the different starting points, pressures, and stakes related to doing humanities work for each audience.

Creative conferencing helps us identify new modes of academic collaboration

Despite the fundamental overlap in the commitments and the backgrounds of the attendees of each conference, the conversations at each conference tended to remain siloed in either the theoretical or the pragmatic. I found this gap astounding; it seems that there should be no reason for it other than the ways that professors determine “academic work” to look and sound like something very particular. Purposefully going to conferences that enable us to meet with and collaborative with other humanities practitioners is a great way to close that gap. My own work will only improve the more I am able to think of its theoretical components and pragmatic applications as inextricably co-formative (as praxis).

Creative conferencing reveals networks we didn’t know we had (or even needed)

Conferencing across these venues also helped me think differently about how and who I was networking, and toward what ends. In one conference I’m connecting with folks who may expand my knowledge of my scholarly fields or pedagogical praxis, or who might potentially publish my book. In another I’m meeting and connecting with folks who, for instance, have expertise in public engagement work, who are starting institutes at their universities, or who are running initiatives related to equity in search committees. Working and dialoguing across these networks made me consider how I think about the different sectors of my own work—how they overlap and how I may be more creative in integrating them. 

Now that I’ve started my job as a professor, I find that my academic and intellectual investments are shaped by pragmatic and institutional issues in a way that I simply was not cognizant of while attending a well-endowed and large university for graduate school. The more that I am able to understand my academic work in these terms, the more potential I have to both be good at my job and enrich the work of the humanities as a whole. The “alt ac” moves folks are talking about right now are not just for those coming up in the academy; they’re for all of us already in the tower, too. 

Author bio: Dr. Molly Appel is an Assistant Professor of English at Nevada State College, where she teaches courses on composition and literature. Her work focuses largely on how literature works as a space of teaching and learning for human rights and social justice in the Americas. You find her on Twitter @mollyappel.

Interfolio’s Dossier enables scholars to collect, curate, polish and send out their materials at all stages throughout their academic professional path. Learn more about Dossier here.

Any opinions, findings, and conclusion or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of Interfolio.

This blog post continues our series, Scholar at Large, written by an academic who is now on the tenure track at Nevada State College.

It’s happened: I’m on the tenure track. As my grandfather used to say, it’s time for me to “put my money where my mouth is” and step into the work that I’ve been building toward for years. I’m ready and motivated to take on this challenge, but I’m wary of the ways that the tenure track might shape me and my career into a true singular “track.”

How can I continue to build a career in the humanities of my own envisioning, a career that represents one instrument in an orchestra of humanities work? How can I stay focused on this goal and build the humanities from within academia without getting exhausted, overwhelmed, and disheartened by jumping through others’ hoops?

While acknowledging that I write this from a position of extreme privilege within the academy (turns out that job market survivor’s guilt is real), my hope is to continue this blog as a space of advocacy for making the profession healthier and more inclusive. This means highlighting and bringing voice to connections, practices, and viewpoints about academia and the humanities that seem a bit “farther afield” than the normalized grind of that tenured academic life. In this sense I continue as a “scholar at large.”

So, as I sit through many hours of well-meaning but rather overwhelming orientation sessions, I consider how the advice being given to me as a new faculty member can relate to some of the best practices in pursuing other kinds of careers in the humanities.

When you’re new to a community, seek out and cultivate connections to folks with shared values across areas, disciplines, and departments.

One piece of advice I heard was to proactively start getting to know people broadly.

“Don’t wait for them to come to you – go and meet them. This is especially important if you’re coming from a large institution with a siloed culture.”

Introduce yourself to everyone. You may find that you have interests that align across areas and disciplines. This advice reminded me of the connections and networks one gains through doing informational interviews. Drawing from that experience will help me look beyond my own department for collaborations and opportunities I would never have known (or felt confident enough) to seek out.

(Nevertheless…the follow-up recommendation to “jump into service opportunities to learn about the culture of the place” struck me as rather dangerous for my first semester calendar.)

Spend time developing an understanding of how my labor is valued in this unfamiliar space.

While on the job market (both traditional and non-traditional), you are writing frequent cover letters, each of which requires you to frame your work in a specific way that addresses the position—rather than simply expounding on all of your accomplishments.

Now that I’m actually starting out in a new position, taking purposeful time to assess my work seems essential—not just for meeting my tenure benchmarks, but for remaining cognizant of how the steps I take align—or don’t align—with that “track.” Also, what labor is most valued by the institution?

In these first months, I need to:

  • Gain clarity on what specifically I’m being evaluated on, and how it occurs.
  • Identify formal and informal mentors who can help me with this process.
  • Define accomplishments for myself (outside of the requirements).

I’m reminded of using my training as a researcher to understand a new field or career; this time, I’m applying it to a new environment.

Keep track of what I’m doing as a way of celebrating my hard work.

I’ve heard some good pragmatic advice about how to prepare for your annual review reports (which, in turn, prepare you for your tenure application). It involves developing a system for keeping track of what I’ve done: such as emailing myself anything of note and keeping those messages in an “annual review” inbox folder; adding regularly to a living Google Doc; or keeping my Outlook calendar up to date so that it provides a 12-month retrospective of my meetings, deadlines, and other artifacts of my activities.

I’m sad to say that I have never systematically kept track of the work I do in such a holistic way. The degree to which I will need to account for myself struck me as far more involved than simply adding the next line to my C.V.. At first, I was mildly panicked by how daunting a task this seemed to be. But that feeling led me to an important realization: I have fallen into a practice of taking my own labor for granted (which risks inviting others to do so, too). I’m reminded of how it can be a struggle for humanities PhDs to shift how we talk about the work we do in the context of different audiences, and how striking it is when we realize how broadly we do have experience, knowledge, and ability. Actively keeping track of my activities and accomplishments is an opportunity for me to maintain my own sense of worth and capability, irrespective of how those fall on my tenure rubric.

By thinking about this advice for new faculty in terms of the broader humanities career landscape, I feel more equipped to develop and safeguard my own short and long term career goals. Put another way: instead of “getting oriented,” I’m more prepared to orienteer my way through academia. That is, once I make sure I start my first class in the right classroom.

Author bio: Dr. Molly Appel is an Assistant Professor of English at Nevada State College, where she teaches courses on composition and literature. Her work focuses largely on how literature works as a space of teaching and learning for human rights and social justice in the Americas. You find her on Twitter @mollyappel.

Interfolio’s Dossier enables scholars to collect, curate, polish and send out their materials at all stages throughout their academic professional path. Learn more about Dossier here.

This blog post continues our series, Scholar at Large, written by an academic on how departments can prepare job-seekers for an inclusive humanities job market.

During my postdoc year, I ventured into the fog of mythology around the “alt-ac” world as I forged ahead on the traditional academic job market. As Interfolio’s “Scholar at Large,” I’ve written about how these pursuits are far more related than we realize. I’m happy to say that this process has helped me find a career opportunity that matches my values and will allow me to holistically grow my PhD skill sets and expertise. In August, I will be starting as an Assistant Professor of English at an equity-focused, public liberal arts college in southern Nevada serving primarily first generation and non-traditional students. 

I am positive that the career exploration processes I undertook helped me secure a tenure-track academic position that is an excellent fit for who I am as a humanities practitioner. Throughout my interview process, I found myself using the  knowledge and conversational approaches that I honed during my career explorations as I spoke with search committees, deans, and students. Most importantly, my understanding of how the work of the humanities takes many shapes will enable me to become a better professor for my students and for my colleagues. 

With that news, I end this iteration of the Scholar at Large series by highlighting four small shifts that humanities departments can make—based on things that they are already doing—to embrace the “alt” and prepare their job seekers for an inclusive job market that enriches the humanities as a whole. 

1. Bring the “alt ac” conversation out of the shadows.

My conversations with PhDs working outside of the academy consistently highlight how their career trajectories are hidden from those within the academy. This norm means that not only are PhD students losing out on a valuable network of diverse colleagues, but also that they aren’t as equipped to help their new departments promote the career opportunities that a humanities degree can yield.

What might bringing the conversation out of the shadows look like? 

  • Keep track of and celebrate all career outcomes of graduates. Make this information available on your department website. 
  • Bring all alumni (tenure-track or otherwise) back to campus for career discussions with current graduate students.
  • Connect graduate students with robust resources for careers both inside and outside of academia – and include those career possibilities in the same conversation. 
  • A more advanced step: begin to make changes to the graduate program itself. This could involve anything from how graduate course syllabi are designed to approving non-traditional dissertations. 
2. Affirm that job opportunities (academic or otherwise) are a single point along an extended career trajectory.

Help graduate students approach the job market with a sense of confidence and control by encouraging them to think strategically about what a position might offer them. A particular position might be a good fit for the job-seeker at this juncture; it is not a contract for what a job seeker may do for the rest of her life. What form might this support take? 

  • Teach graduate students to do informational interviews (this will help them with networking at academic conferences as well). 
  • Shift the language of your department’s “placement committee” to that of a “career planning committee.”
  • Develop workshops that will help students understand career resources. This could be as simple as including them in your Fall Orientation.
3) Emphasize skills in addition to content knowledge; that’s how transferability becomes clear.

Embrace the idea that the training you provide to graduate students already produces skills along with expertise that are applicable in a diverse array of humanities careers. Embracing this does not mean that professors need to teach graduate students differently, or that rigorous intellectual projects and academic research will be compromised. All it means is talking more openly and inclusively with graduate students about these issues and shifting the language we use to talk about putting our PhDs to work. And on that important point:

4) Discourage language or messaging that suggests that careers beyond the academy represent a “Plan B,” that students are “giving up” or “can’t cut it,” or that such job-seekers are not committed to the advancement of humanistic knowledge.

I cannot overemphasize how crucial this small shift in rhetoric is for job-seeking success, and more importantly, for the mental and emotional health of job-seekers. If you do nothing else, work toward developing an affirming, rather than damage control-oriented, departmental culture of career exploration.

Do you have experience with a job-seeking practice that worked well? Continue the conversation with me on Twitter and through the hashtags #withaphd and #PhDchat!


Author bio: Dr. Molly Appel is a Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow at Penn State University. Her research explores how literature works a space of teaching and learning for human rights and social justice in the Americas. You can find her on Twitter @mollyappel.

Interfolio’s Dossier enables scholars to collect, curate, polish and send out their materials at all stages throughout their academic professional path. Learn more about Dossier here.

This blog post continues our series, Scholar at Large, written by an academic on five places to explore careers outside of the academy.

This blog series has, so far, taken a bird’s-eye view of the stakes and possibilities involved in exploring careers in the humanities more broadly. It’s been encouraging to hear from friends and colleagues who feel ready to move beyond a “damage-control” mentality of job-seeking and find other ways of approaching one’s career path (and from colleagues who want to better support their graduate students). At the same time, many still aren’t sure how, exactly, to proceed.

To get you started, here are five resources that can help you take tangible next steps in your broader humanities career search.

1. Imagine PhD

This is the most comprehensive, clear, and subscription/firewall-free resource I’ve found for career exploration and planning. Once you create an account, you have access to tools that will help you uncover opportunities by bridging the gaps between what your PhD does in academia and what it does in other career pathways (whether addressing those gaps requires building experience or simply shifting vocabulary). These tools include:

  • Self-assessments related to skills, interests, and values
  • “Job families” with descriptions, application avenues, and sample job materials
  • A tool for creating an individual career development plan to help you set specific, achievable, and time-based goals for your career (whether academic or otherwise)
2.  Connected Academics

For folks in the humanities, this is an excellent place to start. Thanks to a Mellon Foundation grant, the MLA was able to develop a space for exploring diverse career opportunities for both job-seekers and for departments looking to improve their graduate training. The site includes blogs with perspectives on graduate training and job searching, short articles addressing advice for departments and job-seekers, and profiles of PhDs with careers that are “alternative” to the tenure track. They’ve also collated more pragmatic tools such as planning frameworks, tips for using LinkedIn, or resources for job-searching. One particularly helpful page is Beth Seltzer’s skills self-assessment, practice in job ad analysis, and next step guidance (@beth_seltzer on Twitter).

(Side note: Publics Lab at CUNY is now taking up a lot of this work and moving it forward.)

3. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook

This is, admittedly, a rather unexpected resource, but it’s actually quite informative! The site gives you ways to explore jobs within particular labor categories, and for some jobs, it also includes guidance on how to pursue that career path. The handbook also provides information on things like:

  • Typical duties
  • Work schedules and environments
  • Median pay
  • Projected employment prospects
  • Data on local and regional opportunities
  • Suggestions for similar occupations
  • Places to look for more information on particular careers (and where to apply for jobs in that career)
4. Subscription-based online communities

There are a handful of growing online communities that provide built-in tools, networks, and guidance for career exploration. The two I’ve seen come up most often are Versatile PhD and Beyond the Professoriate. Some of their resources can only be accessed behind a subscription paywall, but even their free resources are quite helpful.

5. Use the networks you already have!

These include your secondary and tertiary contacts on LinkedIn, your college alumni networks, and the people you know outside of academia (like the cousins you only see at obligatory family gatherings, your friends from church or from Teach for America, etc.). Use these networks to set up informational interviews—which are, in fact, just conversations. When you make these connections, you are cultivating your own professional communities along with developing a sense of how you might fit in a particular field.

Academic Twitter is also a fantastic way of building networks, discovering opportunities, and finding (free!) resources. Folks like Jennifer Polk (@FromPhDtoLife on Twitter), co-founder of Beyond the Professoriate, actively tweet advice and resources and foster connections across PhD and professional communities.

Just taking some time to investigate these options will help you broaden your thinking about your work, give you a better picture of your own capacities and worth, and build a network of humanities practitioners. Enjoy the process!

Interfolio’s Dossier enables scholars to collect, curate, polish and send out their materials at all stages throughout their academic professional path. Learn more about Dossier here.

Author bio: Dr. Molly Appel is a Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow at Penn State University. Her research explores how literature works a space of teaching and learning for human rights and social justice in the Americas. You can find her on Twitter @mollyappel.