The Bomb Cyclone of 2018 has kept me grounded in Atlanta and away from this year’s MLA Convention, where I was set to participate in the Graduate Student Futures session later this evening with higher education professionals of various stripes from the University of Arizona, North Carolina State University, College of New Jersey, and the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa.
In a way it’s fitting that my plans have changed.
My contribution to today’s roundtable on employment opportunities for modern language PhDs centered on changed plans and sought to highlight (and rethink) the vast non-tenure track opportunities available to PhDs in higher education.
I nodded to changing plans when I referenced Choose Your Own Adventure books in my session abstract , and I was even going to rely heavily on Jorge Cham’s PhD Comics “The Plans” to kickstart my presentation.
In fact, were it not for the wintery bomb exploding on the East Coast right now, I might have said something like…
“How many of you have been here before, with your advisors, family, friends, neighbors, in-laws, strangers on the street, pets, inanimate objects anthropomorphized just enough to convince you they are listening (my two-year-old has a room filled with plush creatures, all of them with enormous eyes), and certainly, ourselves? Yeah, you have a plan. Well, the academic job market has one for you, too, sweetheart.
Then, there’s the Real Plan—the one you work on during those countless hours you spend “researching” and “dissertating,” because you know in the back of your mind that the academic market for humanities PhDs—my friends from the sciences would correct me: for all PhDs—just isn’t what it used to be. I can’t stand the term, but it applies here: this is what the young people call “adulting.”
Finally, there’s the Secret Plan, that deliciously improbable dream scenario that we hold dear to ourselves, of becoming, as Cham suggests, each with increasing enthusiasm, a baker, rockstar, writer, and with some creative input from me—in shining lights—a higher education professional.
Enough has been written about alternative academic (alt-ac) careers and leaving academia to help inspire a new genre: quit lit, and its more modern, social-media savvy cousin, #quitlit. As it’s gained momentum, the alt-ac movement has formed a track of its own, as the path for PhDs seeking opportunities in higher education beyond the tenure track.
Less has been mentioned, however, about the possibility of hybrid academic positions, or the chance to engage in various kinds of higher education roles while maintaining a faculty appointment, and thus, a toe in the classroom and scholarly work.
In my own experience, I transitioned almost immediately upon defending my dissertation in Hispanic Studies to a position launching a Spanish immersion program at a nearby liberal arts college, where I worked closely with faculty and marketing, admissions, and program representatives to develop, publicize, and recruit for the new program.
This opportunity led to the next. In my current combined role at Emory University, I lead a multi-year grant-funded initiative in Emory’s Goizueta Business School MBA Admissions and hold an instructorship in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, where I have developed and now teach the department’s undergraduate business Spanish curriculum.
This professional hybridity has drawn on my academic preparation in language and cultural studies to advance my work at the business school and adjusted my scholarly interests to include languages for the professions pedagogy and topics of cross-cultural business communication and management.
I merged my hybrid academic roles further earlier this academic year by developing a slate of cultural competency and language training sessions for MBA students studying business abroad.
The transition from graduate school to opportunities in higher education has not been without its hiccups—I could fill a book!—, but for as long as conversations about graduate student futures remain integral to our profession, I encourage our discussions to shift from substituting one track for another, to exploring mutually-beneficial hybrid academic roles.
In an age when departments from across the disciplines rely heavily on contingent labor and PhDs seek viable employment that will still allow them to contribute to their fields, hybrid opportunities would ideally satisfy both needs and, over the long-term, prompt university officials to think more expansively and creatively about potential synergies around the quad.
And besides, as I’ve learned today, what’s the fun in swapping one plan for another when you can create a new plan entirely?”
Hello from sunny Atlanta!