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Graduate Student Futures

In recent years, our profession and its graduate students have had to face some hard facts. Historically, humanities programs have single-mindedly prepared students for jobs as tenure-track professors. In recent years, however, these positions have become increasingly rare, and alternatives such as adjunct and other contingent positions are not sustainable options. Universities and academic departments have struggled to adjust to these massive changes in the field, and graduate students often find themselves confused and disoriented as they near the end of their degree programs.

This year’s MLA Annual Convention provides graduate student and other humanities scholars and teachers with strong professional development tools to respond to the changing environment. Humanities PhDs often feel unqualified for work outside the university. But as several of our panels and workshops show, they are in fact highly equipped with valuable, marketable skills.

Several panels, including “Graduate Student Futures” (session 124), are designed to explore ways that humanities students can leverage their skills in nontraditional ways, and a roundtable featuring professionals affiliated with the Mellon/ACLS Public Fellowship convenes to discuss potential challenges and opportunities for PhDs as they pursue careers beyond academe.

The convention also features the Possible Futures Career Fair, which offers job seekers a chance to meet recruiters from mission-driven organizations and helps mid-career academics find ways to use their leadership, writing, language, and research skills.

The MLA’s Connected Academics initiative has also planned a number of workshops and panels at this year’s convention. One such panel provides “A Tool Kit for Doctoral Student Career Planning” and helps both PhDs and their departments train to use “their expertise for the social good throughout our society and economy.” Other sessions invite discussion among graduate students, faculty members, and public humanities professionals to generate a thoughtful response to the new limits and possibilities of graduate student employment.


Photo by Elliot Margolies, via Twitter

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