Wishlists for the alt-acs

Academia vs. Love

Quinn Dombrowski, Academia vs. Love, Chicago, 2010.

The past few days have witnessed some pretty interesting Twitter debates and discussions (Twibates? Twicussions?), from questions about the future of museum ethics from the Center for the Future of Museums to the tweeting from the Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes‘ annual meeting in Toronto.

One exchange in particular caught my eye. In the midst of a discussion about not “shaming” PhD-ers who do not end up in tenure-track jobs, my friend Alan made this point:

“Even better, actively encourage us to consider #alt-ac possibilities and dev skills that can make us strong candidates on the market.”

If you’re in academia, you probably sort-of-kind-of know how you’re supposed to approach the elusive tenure-track job (getting it is, of course, a whole different matter). Publish, present at conferences, make connections–oh, and finish your dissertation. But what if you want an alternate academic (alt-ac for short) career, or just want to know what the possibilities are?

One problem is that there really is no such thing as a typical alt-ac career for the humanities. Some alt-acs work as archivists or librarians (though many schools require an additional library science degree), others work in museums, still others as consultants for cultural preservation firms. It’s difficult to make generalizations about such divergent career paths.

With that caveat in mind, I started thinking: why not make a wishlist? Whether you’re a grad student,  tenure-track faculty, an adjunct, a staff member, or an alt-ac yourself, what would you like to see departments and universities do for those who are interested in something outside/bordering/intersecting the academy? Has your department or school helped you along the alt-ac path? What would be helpful?

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  • Miriam Posner

    Hi Sarah! Great questions. As someone who’s alt-acking it up now, it occurs to me that there are a few things that might have helped me in grad school. Most importantly, I would have appreciated some kind of community of other grad students who are interested in alternate academic careers. (Hmm, maybe we could start one!) As it was, I felt like an oddball, or as though my friends and advisers would look at me askance if they knew about my unholy interests. I also would have appreciated some willingness from professors to countenance some unconventional projects — say, a website — in lieu of a research paper.

    One thing I really appreciated, especially toward the end of grad school, was a rock-solid career services adviser with experience counseling students interested in unconventional jobs. It made all the difference in the world, not least when I was negotiating the terms of my new job.

    The more I think about it, the more I think change will come when grad students themselves tell their advisers and friends, “You know what? The job market’s broken, and there are other ways to be a scholar.” Just like you’re doing!

  • sarahmelton

    I have to say, one of the things that I really do love about my department is the acknowledgment (and implicit encouragement) that there is life outside the tenure-track. I would love to see some more systematic things in place. Our digital certificate is a great start, but I think we could do a lot more with internships and connections to possible local alt-ac sites.

    I *love* the idea of an alt-ac community! From what I can tell from the events this year, there’s quite a bit of interest, as well.

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