Last month, I attended the MLA Connected Academics Bootcamp at the MLA Conference in New York. I wanted to take a bit of time for the experience to settle before reflecting on its impact. A month seems like enough time.
The goal of Connected Academics to help prepare humanities PhDs for careers that extend beyond that of the traditional professoriate. This makes sense for a couple of reasons. One, there are not enough professorial jobs for PhDs in the humanities or otherwise. Shockingly enough, a professor isn’t a high demand gig. Two, humanities PhDs are desperately needed outside of the university. The experience and expertise that they have cultivated is not just useful it is necessary. Humanities specialists provide practical and critical insights into the work we do, the way we communicate, and the lives we lead. I firmly believe that means we need more PhDs who are actively working and contributing to that broader public good in both public service and private industry.
The minute I decided to pursue my masters and my PhD, I was focused on an academic job. My publications are weak (working on it), but I have a strong teaching portfolio and solid enough CV. The work I am doing has serious publication potential. I wouldn’t be working on the research, otherwise, and I think I could be very competitive at a variety of schools. I’ve already planned to hit the market and go through the whole hiring process like my colleagues before me. That hasn’t changed.
I didn’t go to the Bootcamp to change that direction. For me, it was just an exploration of options. I wanted to see what else was out there. When I worked in tech, I always has a running a search for new jobs1. This was me doing that in the academy. What I left with was the realization that I need to stop thinking about who I am working for and instead think about what I am working for. What do I want to build? What do I want to create? What do I want to leave behind? Those questions matter, and they need to be what guides me.
It was a realization that I needed. It is easy to tie yourself to the academy, or to a job, or to a professional definition and to sacrifice too much for the sake of that definition. I certainly have done that before. Now, I am far more interested in building on the work that I am doing and leaving the definition of that work to someone else.
You would think this would have clued my dumb self into the fact that maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t all that content in the work I was doing. Sadly, we are far more self-aware when it comes to who we were rather than who we are. ↩