March 21, 2014

On developing new paths for history phds

This week has been frustrating for several reasons.  I am struggling to get traction with non-profits who don't seem to know what to do with my skills, and unfortunately, I still don't know enough to offer.  I have offered my services to several people locally, and I don't seem to get much in the way of feedback.  Part of that is they are overworked and underfunded, and part of that is my own lack of knowledge.

Second, my work on the arts board has been frustrating for reasons I think my father would appreciate.  After years of community organizing, he often talked about the difficulties of getting volunteers organized and moving.  I am working with a committee of really good people who are really busy and who often, actually usually, don't even respond to my emails.  Again, for most of them, I get that, but I had a pretty terse interaction with one other board member who pushed me into this particular role, but now can't find time to even email me back.  I think I figured out how to mollify him, but even that email went unacknowledged.

But the cherry on the top started with another recurring dream about my former profession.  That was followed by several people posting this story about the American Historical Association's grant to broaden career options for history Phds.  I suspect this is a good thing, mind you, as the numbers continue to show that my experience is far from unique and is closer to the norm.  But I found it incredibly frustrating to see this link coming from tenured or tenure track faculty friends.  I know they thought they were being helpful, but they weren't.  And they couldn't even see it.  I posted a friendly warning that I would be snarky to those with jobs posting something like this, and the only ones who "liked" the post were those who are outside tenure.  I suspect those inside were a bit taken back and didn't know how to take it.  As I said, this project is probably positive and even helpful.  But when someone inside posts it, it comes across as "let them eat cake."  "Oh good, there is help for those."

Personally, I can do without the condescending paternalism from people who are convinced they are simply better than those of us who didn't make it inside.  Spare me.


leighton said...

I've been out of academia for close to a decade, but it seems like a lot of the initiatives the grant will fund are basically just interdisciplinary conversations. Data-mining history sounds awesome, but it seems like the kind of thing you could get if you locked history and statistics grad students in a lounge with a couple bottles of vodka. Seminars on job possibilities sound really, legitimately helpful, but I'm not sure why it would require a 7-figure grant and a 3-year dedicated position to make it happen. Maybe the culture is even more ossified than I remember.

leighton said...

Key example: "...crafting curricula designed to give students better real-world skills, such as how nonprofit organizations work." Most business divisions have existing courses that cover this with emphases on how to get hired and work there; why duplicate that effort in history departments, instead of tweaking the major requirements to let a class like that count toward required credits? Weird.

weave and spin said...

I have wrestled with what might have better prepared me in my graduate and post graduate work for real world job options. Due largely to my age I was immediately put into non-profit-a nice placement except I just wasn't ready to accept that I had no future in academia. My second job was in a public history option-preparing expert witness historical studies. The writing for these was expected to be completely non thesis driven, impartial, objective. I was told my "expertise was a detriment to this job." Eventually I quit. Both jobs could have been done (and eventually were done) by people with undergraduate degrees. My wish is that there would be better bridging in history specifically with policy oriented disciplines--esp for us environmental historians. History is so rarified and seems to treasure that in itself to such a high degree that any real world application is held in distain. While policy driven disciplines are so frequently woefully lacking in historical knowledge. I had a history professor ask me once what public history was?! Secondly, tenured professors who take on the challenge of being graduate advisors should be held more accountable for their students success. Obviously this has limits but there are many more profs out in the world pushing their students and if your prof is just too polite, insecure, lofty, etc. to pick up the phone you are at a real disadvantage. Over time, if a program sees this happening, there should be more pressure to do right by its students. I have had such a high degree of success in scholarly writing that I am now thinking of that as some sort of career path on its own--how to cash in on that talent but it is still not likely to ever be monetarily adequate. It is a frustrating struggle.