Archive for category alt-ac

Keep Calm and Carry On: Finding and Building PhD Career Paths

This title slide is a copy of the famous 'Keep Calm and Carry On' poster, with a CC-BY license and my name.

At the end of March this year, I had the wonderful opportunity to visit Purdue University and talk about alternate careers for people pursuing the PhD. Throughout the day I enjoyed a number of interesting discussions with graduate students and faculty. It’s amazing to see how far we’ve come in the last 5 or 6 years in being willing to talk about what faces PhD students upon graduation.

In addition to these less formal discussions, I gave a talk and led a workshop focusing on the nuts and bolts of looking for and applying for different positions. If you’re interested in getting the full “Brian experience,” you can watch videos of the talk and the workshop on YouTube. But since I get fidgety watching a five-minute video let alone an hour talk, I wanted to share the text of the talk here. A portion of the talk drew on the short comments I gave in September 2014 at Penn State’s Symposium on #Alt-Ac. I was glad to get a chance to expand on that line of thinking here. My comments also drew on thoughts that I had had as I worked on a forthcoming article about alt-ac issues and the CLIR postdoctoral fellowship with Meredith Beck Sayre, Marta Brunner, and Emily McGinn. For the title, I of course have to thank the Internet without which none of this would be possible.

And of course, I need to thank my hosts at Purdue: the College of Liberal Arts, the Department of English, and the School of Languages and Cultures, and in particular Nancy Peterson, Madeleine Henry, and Hyunyi Cho, head of English, head of Languages and Cultures, and Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Education, respectively.

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The Future is Now: (Re)Training for an Alt-Ac Future

Two weeks ago, I had the great pleasure of visiting Penn State University for the first time. I was one of several invited speakers for the Center for American Literary Studies (CALS) Symposium on #Alt-Ac. Sean Goudie, Director of the Center, was our kind host and the MC for the day’s discussions.

Brian Croxall speaks at the CALS symposium

The day-long event kicked off with an opening discussion led by the inimitable Bethany Nowviskie. Bethany’s remarks referred to her presentation at the 2012 MLA, “Two & a Half Cheers for the Lunaticks.” (Interestingly, she and I both spoke on that panel, which suggests that we’ve been at this for a while.) In addition to discussing the origin story for the term “alt-ac”, she provided a timeline of what the term has meant to her in each of the years since Jason Rhody coined it in 2009. I appreciated this overview of how the term and conversations around it have grown and changed.

Bethany was followed by panel conversations about “What does #alt-ac mean?” and “(Re)Training for an #alt-ac future,” the latter of which I appeared on. The panelists featured other invited alt-ac individuals and both Penn State participants. I was delighted to get to finally meet Timothy Powell and Rebecca Schumann for the first time and to become acquainted with the work of Paul Erickson at the American Antiquarian Society and Megan Doherty from the German Marshall Fund. The Penn State team included alt-ackers—Patricia Hswe and Daniel Tripp, who told us how every department needs “a Dan”—and faculty—Michael Bérubé, Christopher Long, and Rosemary Jolly, who holds so many cross-appointments that she is all but “alt” to herself.

All in all, it was a day filled with stimulating discussion. For some broad coverage of what was said, Rebecca reported on portions of the Symposium at Slate and CALS recently published a summary. Chris Long has posted his comments, and I hope that my fellow presenters will eventually, especially Bethany whose remarks were characteristically considered and delivered with her trademark beautiful slides.

As I note below, we were asked to be brief in our remarks so as to make as much room for conversation among the panelists and the audience. It’s always interesting to discover how much harder it is to brief than to be expansive. I was glad of the opportunity to finally say in a public forum some of the things I’ve been thinking about alt-ac since my 2013 MLA talk and to learn that some of the things I have been imagining are well underway at Penn State and other campuses.

A steel garage door with 'the future is now' spraypainted on it. Read the rest of this entry »

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Announcing “Looking for Signposts” at #Alt-Academy

Herewith, the second quick update post.

A New Cluster at #Alt-Academy

A few weeks ago, on 27 January 2014, I was pleased to join Katina Rogers in announcing a new phase of #Alt-Academy. The open-access collection edited by Bethany Nowviskie first went live in the summer of 2011 and included essays that sought to define “alt-ac” as a concept of labor, employment, and identity within the realm of higher education. I contributed an essay to that original collection that discussed how one went about finding and applying for alt-ac positions, as well as discussing how I personally coped with the “failure” of not being on the tenure track. Myself notwithstanding, #Alt-Academy is an important collection because it was a first attempt to make visible a type of work that many of us found rewarding and as intellectually stimulating as the tenure track. The success of the intervention was such that “alt-ac” continues to be a handy term of art, as seen by the upcoming CALS Symposium at Penn State on the subject where Bethany, Patricia Hswe, and I, among others, will have the pleasure of presenting.

In 2012, I pitched Bethany on an idea for a new cluster of content to be added to the collection. I’d found in the intervening years that the thing people inevitably wanted to know about my position was how I’d got to my job from a very traditional PhD program. Indeed, my essay in #Alt-Academy along with the others in its cluster was intended to highlight the process of “Getting There.” I proposed to Bethany that people curious about alt-ac might need still more signposts, and she agreed. After announcing a CFP in 2012, I began collecting proposals and then several essays in the beginning of 2013.

And somewhere in there is where the reality of an alt-ac job cropped up: it took me far longer to edit the essays than I had thought it would, and while I made some progress it was going to be some time before they were all ready to be published.[1] In the fall of this last year, Katina let me know that she would be taking over general editorship at #Alt-Academy from Bethany. As Katina and I began collaborating, she proposed that I not try to get all the pieces ready to go at once but instead publish them on a rolling basis, and this is exactly what we launched.

The new cluster, “Looking for Signposts” features five essays out of the gate by Kim Yates, Andrew Asher, Daveena Tauber, Maureen McCarthy, and Katina herself. I also wrote a new introduction for the cluster. Spoliler: in it, I confess that our signposts aren’t quite what you’re looking for in the collection. Since alt-ac paths tend to be highly idiosyncratic, what we end up doing is simply bearing witness to the possibility of alternatives. As uncommon as that still is within the academy, I’m pleased to say it’s becoming more and more common.

I’m very grateful to the authors who contributed to this cluster—both those who have been published and those who are yet to come. And I’m also thankful to Bethany and Katina for the help that they’ve provided me along the way. And since we hope to be releasing new essays about every quarter, I suppose I better get back to work!

[1] It turns out that being in an alt-ac job is also why this post is kind of late. Between teaching my class this semester, all I could manage for the launch in January was tweeting and giving +1s to Katina’s post.



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Alt-Ac and Gender at the 2014 MLA: a Proposal

Last Spring at the height of the frantic “propose papers for the next MLA Convention!” I got contacted by Sarah Werner about a special session she was proposing on alt-ac and gender. I thought it was a fabulous topic and I wrote up a proposal, and Sarah (as panel proposers do) did a lot more work and submitted it to the MLA. We were lucky, and the session was accepted. Also fortunate for me was the fact that a special session on steampunk was accepted—the first of its kind at an MLA—as well as the one that I organized on behalf of the ACH on Beyond the Digital.

Unfortunately, that meant that I had three presentations at the Convention, and the MLA’s (totally reasonable) rules only allow a participant to be listed in the program twice. This meant that I had to withdraw from something, and since the alt-ac and gender panel was the last I’d joined, I regretfully did so. To add insult to injury, the alt-ac and gender panel is scheduled at exactly the same time as the one on steampunk.

Given this history, I wanted to share my short proposal for the session. It’s not that the abstract is anything particularly fleshed out or brilliant. Indeed, I hoped throughout the summer and fall that I would find the time to write a “real” version of the presentation that I could share today. But I think it’s important to share in part because through these accidents of programming the panel participants happen to all be women. I know their work, and they will all do a fabulous job. But I want to publish this proposal as a small way to suggest that issues of “gender” are not only of import to women.

You probably didn’t need the reminder.

Abstract for #altac and gender panel at #mla14
“No More ‘Plan B’?”

When people speak about careers outside the tenure track, they often cast them as “Plan B.” The pervasiveness of this conception of alternatives to traditional faculty employment is apparent in Anthony Grafton and Jim Grossman’s 2011 essay, “No More Plan B.” Seeking to dispel with the notion altogether, Grafton and Grossman still cannot help but fall back on the phrase that subtly suggests an abortive start to one’s career.

Perhaps it is only coincidence that this moniker for alternative academic careers is one that is shared with the commercial form of levonorgestrel, the synthetic progestogen that is used in emergency contraceptives. But then again, pharmaceutical name development has a big business built around it and is far from random (see “Pharmaceutical Name Development”). What do we discover, then, when we start to think about the junctures between Plan B, the contraceptive, and Plan B, the alternative academic career?

In this presentation, I argue that our conception of alternative academic careers has been shaped by a logic of gender that equates these “nontraditional” paths with “women’s work.” It is not simply that many of these positions are in fields that have “traditionally” been the realm of domain of women, such as the library, development work, pedagogy, campus life, or nonprofits. The misogynistic associations of “Plan B” are tied to these concepts of “tradition,” where those with advanced degrees who do not obtain and/or pursue a tenure-track job are seen in the role of women. The perception of “failure” that is associated with Plan B, I argue, is also tied to its association with women and, as is the case with the contraceptive, carries with it a suggestion of one having been negligent or not properly prepared.

Given these conditions, participation in “Plan B” presents an interesting conundrum for a man. I will speak from my own experience about how success and failure are understood within the context of the academic job markets, as well as my (acculturated) desire to provide for my own family.

In the end, “Plan B” requires us to confront how this degree—the PhD—is not one (pace Irigaray). It is the thinking of difference within academia, made possible by the “B” that then makes it possible to imagine other “alts”—plans C, D, and E—as well as to envision a structure in which these alternatives become valued and understood on their own terms that have always already broken from tradition.

Works Cited

Grafton, Anthony T., and Jim Grossman. “No More Plan B.” The Chronicle of Higher Education 9 Oct. 2011. Web. 26 Mar. 2013.
Irigaray, Luce. This Sex Which Is Not One. Trans. Catherine Porter & Carolyn Burke. Cornell University Press, 1985. Print.
“Pharmaceutical Name Development.” Addison Whitney. Web. 26 Mar. 2013.

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We Need More Signposts!, A Call for Abstracts and Papers on Alt-Ac Careers

I love my job. I build amazing projects with a great team. I teach courses about all things digital. I collaborate extensively with friends on a wide range of projects. And along the way, I get to rethink what it means to work in and around the academy. My role is part of what has been increasingly called an alternative academic—or alt-ac—career.

Last year, the #alt-academy collection highlighted the wide range of jobs that fall under the umbrella of alt-ac. I contributed an essay on how to go about finding and applying for such positions as well as reflecting on the feelings and appearance of failure that one may (inevitably?) feel on transitioning from traditional academic careers and into a new position. My paper was part of a cluster in #alt-academy dedicated to providing “signposts” for people who were trying to figure out new trajectories, actively working on getting there.

In May of this year, a second Getting There cluster was announced. Like the first, this collection will provide a venue for discussing the pathways one may take to an alt-ac track and provide these signposts for those who are curious about alt-ac. My exciting job has slowed me down in organizing this cluster as I would have liked to. But today, I am formally inviting abstracts for essays and other media that explore “getting there.”

Contributions to the cluster may include any of the following:

  • reflections on the decisions and circumstances that lead or led to alternative academic work
  • the education and training of graduate students
  • consideration of the practices that prepare one to be successful on the alt-ac track
  • suggestions for overcoming barriers to effective preparation for alt-ac work
  • critical essays, personal narratives, or general “alt-ac advice”

While I expect most submissions for this CFP will take the form of original essays, the #alt-academy project welcomes other forms of participation and media: YouTube videos, diaries, materials from panels or workshops, tweets tagged with #altacadvice, previously published blog posts, and more.

Given the participants in the first iteration of #alt-academy, many of the contributions are slanted towards those working within the digital humanities. While welcoming further contributions from those within that community of practice, I am particular eager to see abstracts from those working elsewhere in the academy.

#alt-academy accepts new contributions at any time. However, I know deadlines make it easier for all of us to get things done. As such, please send abstracts by 17 November 2012. Drafts of essays will be expected by early winter 2013 but will certainly be welcome before that point. Individual pieces for the “Getting There 2” cluster will probably be published as they are completed.

Contributing to #alt-academy is a bit unusual. But so is the nature of our work.

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