Originally published in the Fall 2016 MLA Newsletter
As most of you already know, more and more departments are shifting their in-person first-round interviews for academic positions to videoconferencing platforms such as Skype.1 Yet candidates may still envision the MLA convention primarily as a job market, during which they interview, if they are fortunate, and attend ADE- and ADFL-sponsored demonstration interviews or sessions on graduate school life or the academic workforce. The faculty members who conduct interviews generally describe their convention experience as time spent in a hotel room with the same colleagues for long mornings and afternoons, leaving them few occasions to attend sessions, go to the exhibit hall, or participate in one of the MLA-sponsored cultural excursions. Not ideal for anyone, especially in a brutal humanities job market.
When we surveyed members recently, we learned how they want the convention to change. Many said they would like to see even more opportunities for career development than already exist. As part of the MLA’s current strategic plan, that’s exactly the direction the convention has begun to take. We have started to expand the scope of offerings at the convention to reflect members’ burgeoning interest in new forms of career development. Of special interest in this regard are the sessions linked to Connected Academics, the MLA project, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, to prepare humanists for a wide variety of careers. Workshops focus on transferable skills, writing for broader audiences, networking, and job-search strategies. For the second year, we are showcasing the diverse and rewarding careers of humanities PhD recipients. Attendees have an opportunity to discover the wide range of employment possibilities available within and beyond the academy. Presenters, available for one-on-one discussions about their jobs and the career paths that led to them, include PhDs who work in universities, secondary education, nonprofit fund-raising, finance, management consulting, public humanities, journalism, and public policy. For a complete list of convention sessions related to Connected Academics, see https://connect.mla.hcommons.org/2017-mla-convention-activities/.
Members frequently tell me they have few chances to learn what it’s like to teach at institutions that don’t resemble their own. The Philadelphia convention offers several sessions to guide members in this regard. Session 329, Teaching at Teaching-Intensive Institutions, elucidates the rewards and challenges of careers at schools with 4-4 and 5-5 teaching loads. Attendees are invited to bring their CVs and cover letters for practical assistance. Session 414 features faculty members in English and foreign languages who discuss career opportunities in community colleges, focusing on job seekers who are starting their careers. Panelists in session 495, Career Training for Humanists: Best-Case Scenarios, consider innovative public humanities programs, multi-institutional initiatives, faculty best practices, and career center workshops. In the words of the session organizers, “[t]hese talks recalibrate career training as essential to our discipline: a way of acting on our values, challenging academic and public boundaries, and articulating our purpose.”
As we plan future conventions, we are thinking about the kinds of support that our members want across the arc of their careers. Graduate students may wish for information about building an online research profile or making connections with scholars in their fields. Early-career faculty members might seek guidance as they take on new responsibilities in student advising, personnel matters, or curricular development. Senior scholars seeking new career challenges might want to explore possibilities for moving into administration. Some members will want to focus on grant writing, journal editing, national humanities advocacy, or collective bargaining as developmental areas in which to engage. The convention will, of course, remain a site for scholarly exchange and informal networking, which have always been its heart and soul. Yet in expanding the range of professional opportunities at our annual meeting, we think more members will find attending the convention an even richer experience, one that might produce anything from discovering effective ways to restore shared governance to forging a new career path. If you have ideas for the kinds of professional-development workshops you’d like to see, please let us know by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org. I hope to welcome you to the 2017 convention in Philadelphia!