Higher Education Career Advice

Career Advice

When you ask people you don’t know for career help, you may be surprised by how generous they can be, writes Victoria McGovern, who gives some suggestions on how best to reach out.

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January 16, 2009
I have a question to ask you and your "wise and worldly readers." :) I'm a PhD candidate in an evergreen social science, and I just taught for the first time last semester. While I loved many things about teaching, the biggest surprise for me was how much I loved teaching writing. I loved marking student papers, trying to teach them about how to structure an argument, working with them on how to craft a better piece of writing and thinking. I know most writing is taught in English Comp classes, which I'm obviously not properly placed, disciplinarily, to teach. But, at different sorts of schools, what opportunities are there for social scientists to teach writing? I know the elite SLAC my wife attended had "writing-intensive" courses across the disciplines; how common are those? Is wanting to teach writing an asset in the job market? How might I position myself (beyond saying "I love teaching writing!" in a cover letter) to show this interest?
January 14, 2009
Here's the situation: I worked as a TA for an intro level survey course for a truly awful adjunct. She was condescending, vague about my role inside and outside the classroom, unclear about how strict/lenient grading should be, and frequently imposed impractical deadlines. With the students in the class, she was vague about expectations, a truly harsh grader, thematically all over the place, and in particular, refused to explain to the students what she meant by "good writing" (probably just wasn't capable of, is more like it). She also was terrible about answering student emails/keeping the students informed about changes to the syllabus. All in all, pretty much your standard nightmare with a PhD. As her TA, I struggled pretty much daily with what my role both in- and outside of the classroom. My suggestions for how to improve the class (like a suggestion for a session on improving student writing, which I even volunteered to organize and run outside of class time) were met with hostility and disgust. I helped the students best I could, but a lot of the time, there wasn't much I could do (since it was unclear what this woman even wanted from her students, outside of a textbook recitation of facts, etc)...advice/dean_dad/bossfired
January 11, 2009
Can't find a job? Don't go to grad school. The economy's tanking! Should I give up looking for a job and just go to graduate school? This seems to be the question of the moment, and everyone has an opinion. Few of the folks giving advice, though, are acknowledging a tough fact of life: as investments and state budgets dry up, so does education funding --which affects both admissions and employment. If you're a social worker, or you work for a non-profit, or in human services, then yes: I believe a master's in social work or public policy or urban planning or what have you will probably help your advancement. If you're a scientist, then there are industry jobs waiting for you--although my sense is that you might be better off working in the field for a while before picking a subfield. If you're a teacher, then a master's in education can help you move into administration and the higher salaries that go with it. I suppose MBAs might be useful degrees, though I confess, academic-by-training that I am, I haven't really the foggiest notion, except that there seem to be an awful lot of boring middle management types with MBAs. If you want a solid, dull, respectable 9-5 job, become a dentist or a self-employed lawyer. (If you want to become partner in a huge firm, you might as well get a PhD and aim for a job at Harvard: you'll go crazy either way.)
December 8, 2008
Last week I promised to write about the “male” career model. I want to begin by reasserting my prior advice to young ambitious women, to “do whatchalike” and try not to worry. But it is apparently true, aas The Chronicle of Higher Education reported, that “women in academe, no matter how many hours they worked, reported fewer children than women in all other professional fields.” According to 2000 census data, 52 percent of male professors have wives who work part time or not at all, while only 9 percent of female professors have partners who work less than full time. Marriage rates reveal the same paradox. Of those professors who achieve tenure, 70 percent of men are married with children, compared with only 44 percent of women. But women win in the singles category: Twenty-six percent of tenured women are single without children, as compared with only 11 percent of tenured men. On an individual level, one has to be willing to recognize one’s own human limitations, and to be optimistic enough to move forward, knowing that smart ambitious women really do have a lot of options and that if A doesn’t work out, B and C will come along, even if it’s impossible to imagine in advance what B or C might be. As a group, however, the statistics are against us. Especially those of us in the humanities, and especially the humanities folks in fields (English, the modern languages, philosophy, classics. . . ) that don’t have an acknowledged parallel non-academic job track for PhD holders. And, as Libby Gruner points out, the NYT’s advice (to women) to think of careers as a “lattice” rather than a “ladder” doesn’t really apply to tenure-track academia. I do tend to agree with Dana Campbell that academia is changing. Sloooooowly.
November 30, 2008
(Also appears in Mama PhD) A scientist/reader writes.... I urge you to show a bit more flexibility in your advice on the career/family bit. If the goal is a faculty position in the sciences, there is usually an interim postdoctoral stage. Postdoc can be a great time for maternity and infant bonding- whether you are headed for a research-intensive university or a liberal arts college.

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