Thursday, April 27, 2017

Alt-Academia and Beyond

Contributed by: Marisella Rodriguez

One of the most difficult challenges in graduate school – and there are many – is acknowledging the reality of our career opportunities: tenure-track faculty jobs are not only extremely competitive, but largely unavailable. Data from the University of California 2015 Accountability Report show a limited increase in hiring junior faculty tenure-track positions after suffering a fiscal shock in 2010. Graduate students are now facing a job market that is only beginning to recover from a nearly systematic hiring freeze. Where can graduate students turn to when we are trained for professorships that simply do not exist? I am writing to tell those graduate students (myself included) not to panic; there is an entire world of academic positions that involve many of the same skills we have already developed and nurtured. These positions encompass the “alt-ac” community.

Alternative academia describes full-time non-teaching and non-research positions within higher education (Bethman and Longstreet 2013). Although it is important to note that many of these positions include teaching and research components. For example, university staff and administrative positions are alt-ac, but so are off-campus positions like museum curators, professional writers, and consultants. For those that prioritize scholarly teaching and research, the educational development field is perhaps best suited for you. Educational development is a growing field that works to enhance teaching and learning communities (Felten, Kalish, Pingree, & Plank 2007). Such positions include faculty/graduate student development, instructional development, and organizational development ("What is Educational Development?"). Likely in response to the draining pool of tenured faculty positions, educational development positions have increased 160% over the past 15 years (Bartholomew 2016).

Graduate student persistence to the tenured-faculty image is motivated at two levels. First, most departments neglect to acknowledge the accomplishments of alumni who leave academia or enter into non-faculty positions. Kelly (2016) encourages departments to seek out and provide placement information on alumni in alt-ac positions in order to de-stigmatize and inform continuing graduate students of alternative career pathways. Second, graduate students worry that we are poorly trained for employment outside of the classroom or research lab. However, Rogers (2013) provides evidence to suggest that the skills we have gained in graduate school are in fact highly transferable to alt academia. Rogers (2013) surveyed employees and employers in alt-ac fields, finding that the “most important competencies” in alt-ac positions, such as writing, communication, and analytical skills, are commonly acquired in graduate school programs, regardless of discipline.

If you are interested in learning more or applying to alt-academic positions, head on over to the UC Davis Internship and Career Center website to find resources for career exploration and helpful steps to begin your job search. Additional resources can be found on the POD Network website, including information on how to register for the 2017 POD Network conference for New Faculty Developers. After you have successfully entered the alt-ac workforce, be sure to add your contact information to the growing alt-ac network administered by Katina Rogers.

Bartholomew, T. 2016. “Analysis of educational development position advertisements.” POD Network News.

Bethman, Brenda and C. Shaun Longstreet. May 22, 2013. “Defining Terms.” Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved April 24, 2017.

Felten, P., A. Kalish, A. Pingree, & K. M. Plank. 2007. “Toward a scholarship of teaching and learning in educational development.” In To Improve the Academy: Resources for Faculty, Instructional and Organizational Development, Vol. 25: pg. 93-108. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Kelly, Christine. July 7, 2016. “Stop Resisting Nonfaculty Careers.” Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved April 24, 2017.

Rogers, Katina. 2013. “Humanities Unbound: Supporting Careers and Scholarship Beyond the Tenure Track.” Retrieved April 24, 2017.


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