Training grad students for a new scholarly landscape

Here’s what I just said about graduate student training at a workshop (with Daniel Chamberlain, Mary Francis, Tara McPherson, Leslie Mitchner, and Patrice Petro) on “the changing profession” at the Society for Cinema and Media Studies annual meeting:

As we watch the academy change around us, I think it’s becoming clear to us that the way we prepare grad students has some inadequacies. We talk about preparing them for the job market, but I think we’re all aware that calling this crisis a “market” — implying that there’s some basic equity between supply and demand — is becoming increasingly perverse. I know you’ve seen good, smart, hardworking people washed up on the rocks. I know I have.

What can we do, as the ground shifts underneath us, to prepare these people whom we care so much about? By now, it should be obvious that it is no longer humane or sufficient to tell ourselves that our best students will get jobs. This is a fiction that helps us sleep at night.

But neither is it humane or sufficient to simply despair. So I offer four suggestions:

We need to get serious about tracking statistics about our students once they graduate. What kind of labor are they doing, how secure is it, where is it happening? Entering students need to be able to make better-informed decisions about the programs they choose.

We need to start seeing that caring about our grad students requires caring about the issue of adjuncts and other casualized labor in the academy. We need to see that this is part of mentoring, too.

We need to start countenancing the possibility that not all students will want to be professors. I want to be careful here, because I know not all students will want to follow a path like mine. But you might be surprised at how many grad students are quietly curious about other kinds of jobs. We need to help graduate students see that these paths are OK, too, and part of helping them to see this is visibly taking seriously the intellectual labor of other academic professionals in our orbit — the librarians, archivists, technologists and others.

Finally, I would like to see a reconsideration of methodological training for our students. Students are highly aware that they need different kinds of skills — digital skills, collaborative skills, administrative skills, budgeting skills — and we should see it as our job to meet these needs. For reference, I offer the example of the Praxis Program, at the University of Virginia, where graduate students work in teams alongside developers and administrators to accomplish projects collectively.

I know you’re here because you care about your students, and I know we’ve all been doing everything we can to prepare them for this new landscape. What I hope to say, more than anything, is that truly advocating for grad students requires understanding and intervening in the larger academic ecosystem.

Things we share

Green print that reads "Make something good today."
This print, by Jen Renninger, hangs in my office. (Click the image to get one of your own!)

So, that post. I’ve never written anything that’s gotten much attention before, and the experience has been strangely, intensely stressful. Is it too divisive?, I wonder. Too hastily written? When I wrote the post, to be honest with you, I was livid about job-market news from friends, not to mention the latest VIDA stats. Should I have been more constructive? I was short with people in the comments, and I regret that. (Sorry, Ben.) Should I have said more about how much I love the community of DH? Because I do, because it’s been life-changing for me, because I love spending time with you. Am I now Gender Lady? I hope not, because I really don’t want to talk about this all the time.

I was glad to see the post gain traction — and I prodded it along — because I want the conversation to take place. But I’m extremely self-conscious about being near the center of it.

On Sunday, it felt like time to shut down the computer and dig out my sewing machine, which is something that consoles me. I first learned to sew from my mom, but I was too impatient to stick with it. It wasn’t until college that I picked it back up again. I really came of age too late to be a riot grrl. But this was in Portland, where, as we all know, the dream of the ’90s lives on, and stuff like sewing and crafting was part of DIY feminist culture. (Just as it was for Jacqueline Wermont!) We taught each other to sew and knit, and, yes, we put many a bird on it.

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