Whitney DeVos is a PhD student at UC Santa Cruz concentrating on 20th and 21st century American poetry, poetics, and politics. As part of an innovative alt-ac pilot program in collaboration with UCSC’s Graduate Division Dean, Whitney interned at UCHRI during August and September 2014, working on program development, research activities, and scholarly communications for the institute. As part of her Humanists@Work research at UCHRI, Whitney developed the following recommendations for graduate students interested in shaping their graduate professional experiences to better prepare themselves for careers outside/alongside the academy.
- Do Your Research. Start early. Use your excellent research skills to learn more about professions and potential organizations and employers of interest to you. Scan online job listings to get an idea of current job openings in relevant fields, then read and analyze job descriptions to learn more about the requirements and desired qualifications for various positions. Identify particular skills or skill sets needed for positions that pique your interest, and begin thinking about ways to develop them while pursuing your degree. As you make progress, continue to monitor job-posting venues—professional e-mail groups, trade publications, and websites like Idealist.org and Indeed.com—for job listings that fit your criteria, and to keep abreast of the evolving and desirable skill sets you are attempting to develop.
- Seek Out Additional Coursework. This should be done based on your personal interests in order to augment your degree and qualifications. Choose your required coursework strategically from the beginning. If your program permits cross-disciplinary enrollment, take advantage of any options that may advance your career interests. When you reach the dissertation stage, continue to monitor course offerings at your school, and consider auditing or enrolling in classes relevant to your professional aspirations. If cross-enrollment at other institutions is permitted, make sure to also monitor course offerings at schools within commuting distance. Look into courses on subjects such as grant-writing, budgeting, public policy or conflict management. Many business schools and extension programs offer these types of courses and certificate programs in areas such as grant writing and fundraising. Consider a local or online certificate program if relevant or advantageous to your developing goals. Remember also that there are several summer or year-long programs and institutes that may be of both professional and academic interest: Duke, for example, has PhD Lab, a year-long program in the digital humanities, while Cornell operates a summer school in Critical Theory. Participating in these kinds of expanded trainings will introduce you to many people outside your home institution, thus expanding your academic and/or professional networks.
- Consider Diverse Funding Sources: TA-ships and academic GSR-ships are valuable experience, but several UCs also have GSR-ships, assistantships and/or practicums that replace or supplement financial support from your degree-granting department. Many UC administrative offices have assistantships that include tuition remission and offer the opportunity to build an entirely different skill set from those of research and teaching. Gaining administrative experience beyond your department will teach you about the interworkings and politics of the university, familiarize you with the kinds of jobs within different units of the university, and give you a sense of what a university administrator’s job entails. Learning about the larger academic world and about how your university in particular functions will give you a greater awareness of possible career horizons within the academy. Moreover, much of what you learn is often transferrable to other kinds of complex bureaucratic organizations, such as government organizations, NGOs, corporations, and non-profits. Additionally, positions within administrative units will augment your C.V. and resume and will often give you concrete achievements to write about in cover letters; e.g. “raised X amount of dollars for conference Y through grant writing, managed a budget of Z.” Finally, getting to know people in administrative offices continues to increase and diversify your personal network, and also provides you with access to people who can serve as non-faculty references. Your local Humanities Research Center/Institute may have such positions, especially those centered on grant writing and program development; the Graduate Dean’s Office is another excellent place to begin inquiring.
- Serve on a Committee. Committee service is an excellent way to learn more about how a university functions and get to know additional administrative, faculty, and staff contacts outside your department. Contact your graduate Internal Vice President (IVP) or go to a Graduate Student Association (GSA) meeting to learn more about campus committees with current openings for graduate student representatives. Consider joining a committee that does not require a large amount of work (eight hours a month or less). As a component of academic service, serving on a committee looks good on your C.V./resume and shows your willingness to be an active contributor to the campus mission. It also gives you experience in collaboration, and may offer team-related achievements to write about in cover letters; e.g. “served on a committee that wrote the influential report/policy X which had concrete effect Y on Z student/faculty population.” Make sure to add committee members to your network and/or list of informational interview potentials.
- Serve in a Leadership Position. Leadership experience is highly desired in the workplace because it increases the likelihood you are able to encourage and empower others to work together as an effective team. Employers want their employees to be capable of inspiring and energizing others to carry out tasks and achieve goals, and to display a clear sense of vision, direction, and values while doing so. There are many ways to serve in a leadership position on a university campus; if you are a teacher or teaching assistant, you already are. Take it a step further by serving as a leader in your own department. Most humanities departments have a graduate student representative position whose responsibilities are to provide a graduate student perspective and voice graduate concerns during relevant departmental meetings. Or, take the extra step and run for an elected governance position in a campus or system-wide graduate-centered organization, or serve on the programming board of an organization you are passionate about: the humanities center, the library, your campus graduate student center, or any other kind of student resource center available on campus.
- Hone Your Computer Skills. Word processing, Excel, and PowerPoint should be second nature to you already. So should social media. Take some time to learn programs such as the Adobe suite and InDesign, or challenge yourself to learning the process of HTML coding. Seek out any and all local or funded opportunities in the digital humanities.
- Know and Reflect Upon Your Skills and Skill Sets. As you go through your program, ask yourself: How will the knowledge and skills I have developed translate to a variety of careers? Where would my experience as a humanities PhD be most valued? How can I acquire more relevant knowledge and skills? As you begin to answer these questions, take regular stock of and write down the skills you are developing and exercising while completing your graduate work. Remember, teaching involves not just content delivery, but detailed organization, oral and written communication, and experience with working with people of very different backgrounds. Continue this practice as you pursue your degree: whenever you add an item to your C.V. or resume, such as an assistantship, internship, committee service, or an elected position, take some time to articulate the skills you’ve developed as a result of the experience. Find the connections.