• College Ready Writing

    A blog about education, higher ed, teaching, and trying to re-imagine how we provide education.


Needing the Graduate Degree?

A reader asks, how do you advise students who are interested in altac positions about going to graduate school?

November 17, 2013

I was asked another question about transitioning into an alt-ac career, this one by my Tweep Chuck Rybak:

The term "alt-ac" makes me think of people already in grad school or with grad degrees, people who are looking for good jobs that are not limited to TT line.

Yet with DH becoming more and more visible, my question is about undergrads. I have a student who loves DH and is doing great work; she graduated last spring and now works for us, temporarily, as sort of an alt-ac humanities/DH support person. She's looking at grad school, preferably an MA in Digital Humanities because she wants an alt-ac career. So here's her question and I paused... "Should I go to grad school?"

How do we advise undergraduates who are interested in DH who see themselves more interested in being the next Brian Croxall or Miriam Posner of the world? Do they need grad degrees to do this? If so, what kind of degree?

When I saw your post about your blog changing directions I thought of this, largely because undergrad interest in DH is only going to grow, and they're going to need advising that, well, doesn't really exist yet. Yes, we want to steer graduate students to alt-ac right now, but what about the undergrads? How do we advise them?

This is a great question. The advice I have received as I try to find an altac job within academia as that my graduate degrees are largely seen as an asset, because it further legitimizes my position with the other academics (which is weird since no one seems to feel that way in my current position as an instructor). The MA would seem to be that sweet-spot that shows you take scholarship seriously, but aren’t a out-of-touch PhD who does nothing but do research no one understands.

If your student is able to work in DH/on a DH project while she is working on her MA, thus getting the degree and valuable experience, then I don’t see how it could hurt her. Now, the question moves on to, do these kinds of MAs exist in places where she can afford to attend? How long will they take? And what kinds of work will it lead to?

But more importantly, does she absolutely need an MA. To be perfectly honest, I don’t even need an MA for my current position (just 18 graduate credit-hours!). Can she get the experience and connections that she needs for professional success doing what is doing with you? I don’t know. Can she get it while doing an MA? That depends. It sounds to me like she WANTS to do an MA, and with proper guidance to the right program, it would benefit her both professionally and personally.

Most of the jobs I have been looking at and applying for don’t require any sort of graduate education, even within higher education. But the work I’ve done while getting my graduate degrees, and working in academia, are valuable experiences that compliment the skills directly acquired and honed through the academic gauntlet. I don’t regret either of my graduate degrees (I regret the debt; that was not smart), even if my eventual job doesn’t require me to have either of them.

But readers, what do you think?


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