This post is part of a two-part interview by Graduate Advisory Committee member Simon Abramowitsch. Click here to read the first part of this post.
How does your current pathway and placement match up with what you expected or imagined when you began work on your PhD?
Leilani: My current pathway does not match up at all with what I expected and imagined when I began work on my PhD. I had already been teaching for a couple of years when I started my PhD, and I loved it. I expected to spend my career teaching—I hoped it would be as a professor (didn’t we all), but I thought I’d continue teaching as an adjunct or high school teacher if that didn’t work out. I still love teaching, but as I progressed into my 30s, I realized that I also love going to the beach on the weekends, leaving my work at the office, randomly buying $30-worth of artisanal donuts with my nephews, and sending my niece to horseback-riding lessons just because she’s 7 years old and in a horse phase. In other words, I loved work-life balance and living a lifestyle financially commensurate with my level of field expertise. I ended up loving these things more than I love teaching, so I looked for a job that would allow for more balance.
Jenae: When I began my PhD, I felt certain that a tenure-track job would be ideal for me, but I was also aware of the academic job market’s realities and the slim odds against that vision. So, during the five years I spent in grad school, I was pretty deliberate about working several jobs at a time to keep my options open and to explore some alternative career paths. In fact, a big reason that I chose to go to UC Davis was the fact that one of my co-chairs offered me the opportunity to work on a UC Online Education project. I knew online education was of growing interest in higher education and saw this project as a potential to learn more about how higher ed might be changing. So during my first three years of grad school, while I was doing my coursework, taking exams, and teaching first-year composition, I was involved in a UC-wide online education project, which was my first real exposure to work in instructional design and e-learning—and I loved it!
In fact, my experience working with UC Online motivated me to pursue other opportunities to support instructors in developing better e-learning. I wound up taking on GSRs in Strategic Communications, our Center for Educational Effectiveness (UC Davis’s teaching and learning center), and our Academic Technology Services department (UC Davis’s instructional technology unit). The more GSRs I did, the more I started getting offered more work. In short, I made myself visible to departments outside of my own and I became a “go-to” graduate student for work. In some ways, I gained an early vision that a career in academic admin would work well for me, but I didn’t necessarily know that I would end up here.
How do you think the PhD might affect your long-term career pathway?
Leilani: I haven’t actually finished my PhD yet, but my job seems to be happy that I’ve done as much work on it as I have, since my company works with scholars and professors. I’m not sure if it will affect my long-term career pathway in any measurable way. I’m trying to just go with the flow and not plan things out too rigidly at the moment. The flexible thinking I’ve developed in this PhD program has definitely helped with this career path, though. I find myself more adaptable and accepting of change now than I was when I started this PhD. I think those are helpful traits during job searches.
Jenae: I think if I continue to work in professional development and instructional design in the context of higher education, the PhD will continue to give me credibility with faculty. I think that my experiences of working in staff and academic units allows me to “code switch” pretty effectively between faculty and other staff members who may not have PhDs. In other words, I feel like having a PhD has actually given me greater career flexibility insofar as exploring careers in education is concerned.
What preparation, either on your own or with university professionalization support did you find most useful? And least useful?
Leilani: I went to a number of [UC Davis’s] PhD Unlimited events, which I found immensely useful . These were incredibly useful for two reasons: first, they took off my academic blinders that had me convinced I had to stay in one form of teaching or another until I died (I’m not sure why I thought this, but I very much did). Second, they convinced me not to undervalue my skills (I needed a lot of convincing, and I feel like many of my colleagues needed similar convincing). I felt very apologetic about my graduate work when I thought of trying to explain it in job interviews. I even left my PhD work off a few of the resumes I sent out. Teresa Dillinger and some of the other PhD Unlimited facilitators convinced me not to do this, and I got several interviews based on that advicematerial.
And I know it’s always true to some extent or another, but I found it frustrating when people would say that their main job-search strategy was “networking.” The working definition of “networking” that I took away from this alt-ac programming essentially boiled down to “being in the right place with the right person at the right time,” which is the same as saying “luck.” I do tend to believe that luck and random chance play a large role in job -searching, but that’s not something around which one can build a workshop—–at least for me.
Jenae: I cannot recommend enough the importance of doing “alt-ac” work alongside your coursework, exams, and dissertating. I know it sounds like a lot to take on additional jobs outside of the work of your grad program, but as someone who worked a minimum of three jobs throughout her five-year grad career, I can tell you that it’s doable!
My experience is that university staff are very grateful when grad students reach out to them asking if there are opportunities; they often really want student employees to help with projects and they often have pockets of funding to do so. So, don’t be afraid to “cold call” your school’s marketing department, IT department, humanities center, or teaching and learning center; they often don’t advertise positions— even if they want people to help— and, instead, they hire people based on who they know in their network (kind of like industry jobs…).
Any last words of career-search wisdom for humanities PhDs before you ride into the sunset?
Leilani: I don’t want to disparage “networking” as a necessary skill, but personally, that word annoys me a little, since it’s basically the same thing as living life and interacting with people who do some of the same things you do. If you’re frustrated with the number of times you’ve heard the word “networking” in a career-search context, I’ll just throw this out there: I did not get my job through networking. Of course, I had wonderful people who were willing to act as references for me, and that happened through living life and interacting with people who were doing some of the same things I was doing, but I was not offered this job because I knew someone who knew someone. I found it on Craigslist, I researched the company, I sent them my resume and cover letter in response to their ad, I interviewed awkwardly with a bunch of people I didn’t know (I guess some amount of awkwardness must be okay!), and then I was eventually hired. I get the feeling that if you apply to enough jobs within a few days or maybe a week of when they’re posted, and if you fit their criteria, you’ll be a match for somebody soon enough. They’re as motivated to find you as you are to find them.
Jenae: I can’t vouch enough for taking advantage of all of the resources on a university campus. Though it sometimes makes academics a little queasy to think about, the university is a business and, as such, there are a lot of “business” and “career” experiences you can gain there if you look hard enough. I guarantee that you can keep multiple metaphorical balls in the air as you work on your dissertation and, in fact, your dissertation will probably be better for it! (My most productive writing days were ones where I alternated between my “alt-ac” work and academic work; focusing too much on one thing probably would have driven me crazy!)
One last thing: you are awesome and your PhD is only value ADDED for other people. Don’t forget that! If you find yourself losing sight of that, go to a Humanists@Work workshop (and no, no one from H@W asked me to say this)! I remember going to my first H@W workshop in San Diego and realizing for the first time that I had professional worth. It was truly life-changing.