Preparing Doctoral Students for (Un)Common Jobs off the Tenure Track

CCCC Panel information: B-3 4/7/2021 Wed 6:30-7:30 pm ET (Live)

Recent PhD graduates in Rhetoric and Composition have faced the worst faculty job markets in recorded history, and the dramatic drop in tenure-track jobs cannot be ignored. We need to acknowledge that by concentrating on specialized research within the field, our doctoral programs are preparing graduates for jobs that many will not get. Fortunately, some doctoral programs are addressing this challenge. Our proposed Engaged Learning Experience Session will begin with a brief discussion of the needed reforms in doctoral education, followed by descriptions of strategies recently implemented by some doctoral programs to support graduate students’ preparation for alt ac or nonacademic jobs. We will then transition to facilitated table discussions intended to help doctoral students and their advisors prepare for a job search that includes jobs beyond the tenure track.

The broader job crisis in the humanities and social sciences is not new, and the need to expand graduate training beyond a focus on research is well established. Nevertheless, recent surveys of job seekers in Rhetoric and Composition reveal that many graduate students feel unsupported in their efforts to land jobs beyond the tenure-track. Contributing to the problem is that many advisors who have spent their careers in academe do not know how to help. To address this gap, our panel will share strategies from programs who are expanding doctoral training via internships, job search course requirements, cross-disciplinary experiences, and grant-funded professional development. We will also share specific job search advice based on the experiences of Rhetoric and Composition PhDs who have found employment off the tenure track as well as on resources such as the Versatile PhD and the Mellon Foundation’s Guide to Humanities without Walls.

These resources highlight the changes that doctoral programs can make to support the multiyear process of preparing for jobs off the tenure track.  The same basic process is outlined on many sites:

  • From early in their programs, students need to have opportunities to inventory their interests and skills and explore targeted employment sectors, including nonfaculty jobs in higher education as well as varied business and nonprofit opportunities.
  • Students need to be supported in developing broader skills and collaborative networks through engaged learning experiences.
  • Finally graduates need support with marketing themselves, in part by looking beyond immediate opportunities to consider broader trends in their targeted employment sector. 

Many programs are already helping graduate students engage with historic changes in student demographics, faculty work, and the online economy. We also require graduate students to do annual reports and other self-assessments of their progress, and we offer jobs workshops and professional development programs. But all graduate programs need to offer more opportunities for students to connect with nonacademic settings through alumni networks, internships, innovative courses, and research aimed at audiences beyond the academy. These doctoral program reforms are important for all students, including those who will become tenure-track, because the dramatic changes in higher education are not likely to end anytime soon, and the next generation of graduate faculty will need to be informed advocates for their students.

The following presenters will share brief statements on the need for changes in doctoral education and strategies for implementing those changes. Each presenter will then serve as a table leader prepared to facilitate discussions and share relevant resources in response to the following questions such as 1) How can graduate students prepare themselves for alternative career opportunities throughout their graduate careers? How can requirements be revised to expand connections to nonacademic settings? How might graduate research be re-envisioned as producing useful knowledge for communities outside academe? How can faculty better support students’ uncommon career plans?

Speaker 1 will share experiences and consequences of a pilot career-diversity program, coordinated through a business school, to place liberal arts PhD students in paid summer internships with entrepreneurial start-up companies.

Speaker 2 will present practical strategies and approaches to translate traditional academic skill sets to careers outside of the university, including but not limited to how to present tutoring, teaching, and research experience on a resume, how to develop a portfolio of materials for a non-academic job search, and how faculty can help students make connections with workplace experiences in graduate coursework.

Speaker 3 will discuss a program at her institution in which graduate students complete a PhD in RhetComp while also pursuing a law degree.

Speaker 4 will report on his program’s efforts to revise its mission, learning outcomes, and curriculum to include an emphasis on non-traditional positions. He’ll share these revisions and highlight the community engagement and internship experiences now embedded in the program.

Contact info:

Chair             Jim Ridolfo, University of Kentucky

Speaker 1     Brad Lucas, Texas Christian University

Speaker 2     Cristina D. Ramirez University of Arizona

Speaker 3     Jennifer Bay, Purdue University

Speaker 4     Dan Bommarito, Bowling Green State University

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