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    A Blog from GradHacker and MATRIX: The Center for Humane Arts, Letters and Social Sciences Online


Alt-Ac Roundup

Resources for thinking through the Alt-Ac career path.

May 10, 2018

Neelofer Qadir is a Ph.D. candidate in English at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Follow her on Twitter @_neelofer and check out her website.

Many of us are heading toward the end of our academic year: finals for those on the semester schedule or the last term for those on the quarter/trimester system. And, likely, most of us are absolutely exhausted and worried about making it through the summer, financially and psychologically. These stressors are compounded by trying to figure out secure career paths in markets that seem stacked against us. But, there’s hope for reclaiming the reins.

Because my department typically hosts its first job market meeting in May so that we can begin preparing materials over the summer and, because I’m the type of person who has been attending those meetings since enrolling, the end of the academic year for me has become a time to take stock more holistically: Am I on the path that I want to be on? What makes this my preferred path? What am I compromising?

To give myself the emotional and intellectual space to do this, I clear a couple of hours on my schedule, find a favorite place for reflection, and treat myself to a delicious beverage for a heart-to-heart about my career. Early in my graduate training, these conversations with myself helped me articulate what I appreciated about academia and why I chose that as a path. They have helped me acknowledge my accomplishments each year and highlighted the work I needed to prioritize for the upcoming year (conferences, publications, administrative roles). Now, as I near completion, I have a good sense of what kinds of careers are possible for me: both in terms of expertise and lifestyle. And, that’s empowering.

It’s this perspective that led to collaboration on the academic job market, writing for GradHacker, and profiling graduate students thriving in alt-ac careers. Following on that, I wanted to share a link roundup that offers multiple pathways in figuring out your career trajectory, whether that is on the more conventional academic track, an alternative track, or, quite likely, a combination of the two.

Beginning to think intentionally about an an alt-ac career for the first time? Check out this great primer from Ashley Sanders on the key questions you should be asking yourself.

Already have some ideas about alt-ac directions? Informational interviews might be a solid next step to help you figure out how you can make yourself a strong candidate for the alt-ac jobs you seek.

As you continue evaluating your trajectory, ask yourself: Do I need to translate the work I have already done? What side gigs might set me up to be a stronger candidate? What else do I need that my program hasn't been able to provide?

Or, perhaps, you have been been on an alt-ac path from the start? How does your graduate training support the next steps of your career? You might ask yourself: will I be able to discuss an increase to your salary in my next performance evaluation or parlay into a different kind of position at my current organization? Or, is this the moment to switch career paths?

How can my professional organizations help me navigate these career options? While the Doctoral Career Planning Toolkit from the Modern Language Association is geared for departments and faculty, there’s lots of helpful information in there for students, too, alongside their Connected Academics blog. The American Historical Association interviewed recent PhDs in alt-ac careers who were trained as historians. The American Studies Association's roundup features resources resources from institutional efforts to individual efforts, highlighting organizations like Versatile PhD, and individuals such as Dr. Katina Rogers’ fantastic database of alt-ac resources.

While the discussions herein are more focused on graduate students in the humanities and social sciences, they are useful for folks from across disciplinary fields; in fact, moving beyond the disciplinary mindset seems to be a critical aspect of pursuing an alt-ac position or career. It could very well be that those of us in the humanities and social sciences have much more to learn from the “industry or academy” conversations that our colleagues in STEM fields are more likely to be having throughout their graduate education. Such discussions can provide clarity from an early moment on how different audiences understand and engage with our work.

What’s the conversation like in your department, campus, or professional organization? Share with us in the comments!

[Image by Flickr user Derek Bruff and used under a Creative Commons License.]


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