Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Rachel Newcomb.
Many of us find the transition from graduate school to the world of the gainfully employed to be a challenging one. One moment, you’re happily ensconced in a library carrel, surrounded by your beloved field notes and cranking away at your dissertation. The next moment, you’re lecturing to two hundred first year university students who may be in the room solely for a general education credit, and who could care less about your deep and abiding affection for kinship theory. Or maybe you’re sitting across the table from a nonprofit interviewer who wants to know whether your experience studying the effects of globalization on Ilongot gender roles will make you a good candidate to work with a team of social entrepreneurs promoting fair trade coffee in Indonesia.
How are graduate students trained to make the transition from the apprenticeship model of academia to settings that may be very different from our expectations? Since receiving my PhD in 2004 from a research university, I have wondered how other graduate schools prepared students for Life After PhD. During my graduate school years, my professors were always generous with their knowledge whenever I approached them with questions about academia. Yet at that time, there was no formal instruction on what happened once the dissertation was defended, bound, and stored away on acid free paper in the university library.
Given that jobs at research universities are few and far between, what are contemporary graduate programs doing to prepare students for settings other than the research university? I sent out an email to fifteen different colleagues, at various stages of their professional careers and in both the United States and overseas, to learn more about their experiences.
One colleague, who received his PhD slightly over a decade ago from a university in the California state system, mentioned that while his program had prepared him for a job in a research university, it did not address the realities of teaching in any other setting. Further, there was no attention given to jobs outside academia, except among the archaeologists. Another woman, who attended the same school several years later, said that by then, the university had amped up its efforts to professionalize students, offering classes on how to submit conference abstracts and write grants and cover letters. However, the emphasis was still on grooming students for jobs in research universities. For this colleague, the most helpful connection she made was with the Society for Applied Anthropology, which she cited as very useful in informing her about careers outside academia.
Many graduate programs are now offering more intensive training in academic professionalization. Lisa Wynn, who teaches in Australia at Macquarie University, directed me to this thorough blog post by Greg Downey on the academic job search, which also contains a link to a workshop that Wynn offers on academic publishing. In her research methods class, she requires the students to submit a paper to an academic journal, and she reports that many have published their first articles this way.
One friend, currently writing his dissertation at the University of South Florida, known for its strong applied emphasis, told me that his program offers seminars on job talks and grant writing. For those who want to go into applied careers, another student from USF described his school’s strong internship program, with internships in both non-profit and corporate settings. Those internships, he said, often lead to jobs for students following graduation.
Overall, most of my respondents felt that graduate students had to be both proactive and creative in figuring out how to professionalize themselves. Asking professors directly for help, creating informal groups for practice conference talks, and getting to know scholars from other disciplines seemed to be the most common ways that graduate students built stronger CVs and networked for positions. Many mentioned learning a great deal from post-docs they held in other departments, where they worked among colleagues in fields such as public health or population studies. In those fields, one person commented that students were receiving more rigorous training in publishing, giving conference talks, and networking.
My respondents are not necessarily a representative sample. Most of them attended graduate programs without an applied emphasis. However, I would guess that the majority of cultural anthropology programs in the United States still assume that their students are going to become academics. While traditional anthropology programs seem to be doing more these days to prepare their students for academic jobs, in most non-applied programs there is still little guidance in how to get jobs that are not in academia.
How much did your graduate education emphasize professionalization for careers beyond academia?
An associate professor of anthropology at Rollins College, Rachel Newcomb is a regular contributor to Huffington Post and writes book reviews for The Washington Post. Her books include an ethnography, “Women of Fes,” and a novel, “The Gift.” For more information, you can visit her website.