July 12, 2013

Word of the day: "Reinvention"

Though I have no idea what that looks like.

My career is at a crossroad.  The lack of a full-time position is nothing new, but my access to adjunct gigs is declining, not increasing.  I know that it is time to move to something new.

But first, I have to get this out, and perhaps it will stop the dreams.  I was good at teaching.  I had more than one student tell me I was the best professor they had in 4+ years.  I still have former students who not only keep in touch, but will tag me for coffee or beer when they are in town.  My friend and former ta D told me a few weeks ago that if the academy functioned as it should, I should be teaching, because I am good at it.  Those are kind words and I appreciate them.

But back to the dream.  During grad school, I developed a course on western film.  It started as simply a money-making venture and morphed into a pretty decent class.  I taught it for years and honed and fine-tuned the films and readings.  Students often came expecting an easy course of looking for historical anachronisms, but found, instead that they had to challenge some of their deeply held assumptions about American exceptionalism, race, gender, sexuality and history.  Watching that dawn on some students was a delight.  Some never got it or never cared.  But many found the analysis fascinating and embraced it.

I haven't taught the course for several years.  My university changed how they funded adjunct classes (revenue stream, I am pretty sure) and my department simply could not offer my film class.  I think another tenured prof teaches something similar, but I feel pretty confident that mine was better.  But for the last few years, I have been unable to teach anything but the survey (which may be one reason why this "reinvention" is timely as I have been bored with that same course).

But I often dream of teaching that film course.  In my dreams, the discussions have moved to that great sweet spot where students are arguing over imagery and history, and talking about big ideas and assumptions.  They are laughing as we often did in the class, and eager to talk about Lonestar or The Searchers.

Then I wake up.

And that hurts.  I miss that.

So I must move on to something else.  SOF believes that not only have I been bored, but that my true essence is to be an advocate, and that it was just as well that I didn't end up in a research-heavy job.  Others have told me that my skills are such that I can do a variety of jobs.  But I have no idea what that means.  What kind of jobs?  Doing what?

For now, I am in a fortunate position.  I don't have to do something right now to pay the bills.  I have the luxury of some time to figure this out.  Does it mean re-tooling in school?  Volunteering for a non-profit for a while?  I have taken some steps.  I contacted a former student now in our state legislature (a reminder, if you don't mind, that my teaching wasn't too bad) and hope to meet with him next weekend for some networking ideas.  I am having beers with a poli sci prof to ask about other opportunities and to see what some of their programs in public administration might offer me.

We will see.


Tony said...

I wish you only the best of luck as you enter into this new stage in your life. I believe in my heart that you have the skills to do whatever you put your mind to. This is your university's loss, and puts you in a unique position, one that you have the luxury of figuring out for yourself, accompanied by family and friends who really do give a damn about you.

Streak said...

Thanks, Tony. I appreciate your comments and nice thoughts so very much.

leighton said...

History professors have a wide variety of marketable skills. Off the top of my head, there's journalism (Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo also has a doctorate in history), politics and public advocacy (campaigns often need researchers, coordinators and copywriters), and some areas even have public historians - Phil Goodstein is the second-most prolific historian of Denver and also an advocate of (literal) socialist politics. This page has links for looking up public historian positions.

I'm more familiar with the IT industry, where a lot of technical writers and technical trainers (probably the majority) get their start on the writing and teaching side rather than the technical side. Not sure how it is in OK, but the county and state governments where I live perpetually have one or two full-time technical training positions open. Sometimes they like you to know database software too, but not always. And even if they do, they're not always hard to pick up.

That's not including entrepreneurial stuff like monetizing a blog - not necessarily this one even, maybe a research project you've always wanted to do, or a series of lectures you've always wanted to give, either funded through something like Kickstarter or maybe the traditional way via Adsense.

Working in academia, you sometimes get the impression that the alternative to tenure is scrubbing grills at Burger King. It just isn't true. You have so many options and you're going to find something great.

leighton said...

This page at Columbia looks pretty thorough too.

Streak said...

Thanks, Leighton. Those are some good suggestions.