Discussion of Career Options for Humanities PhDs

If you’re a graduate students or recent doctoral program graduates who is thinking about pursuing careers beyond the classroom, you won’t want to miss Friday’s discussion on career options for humanities PhDs.

This nuts-and-bolts conversation features three career-services professionals, who will lead an informal discussion and offer brief presentations about the various employment paths and postdoctoral opportunities open to recipients of PhDs in the humanities. It will cover practical suggestions about where to begin, how to approach different kinds of searches, how to prepare application materials, how to incorporate a postdoc into career development, and how to make good use of campus career-services offices. The discussion is part of the MLA’s ongoing work, with support from the Mellon Foundation, to broaden the career horizons of humanities scholars and graduate students. Participants are encouraged to bring their CVs and other application materials for review. The presenters will be Jennifer E. Hobbs, Northwestern Univ.; Patrick Houlihan, Univ. of Chicago; and Kamilah McCoy, Northwestern Univ.

The discussion will take place from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. on Friday, 10 January, in the Regal Room, Fairmont Chicago.

Exhibit Hall Events

Going to the convention? The exhibit hall in the Sheraton Chicago (River Exhibition Hall, level 1) will be open from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. on Sunday. Pick up an exhibitor map or visit the MLA Web site for a complete list of exhibitors.

Once again this year the exhibit hall will feature an Exhibit Hall Theater, where exhibiting companies will conduct presentations, feature publisher highlights, and offer product demonstrations during exhibit hall hours. Don’t miss the demonstrations of MLA Commons on Friday at 4:50 p.m. and on Saturday at 9:50 a.m.

Visit the MLA booth (100) to catch up on the latest MLA publications and services, to meet with MLA staff members, or just to take a breather and sit in a comfy chair. All MLA titles will be available to order at a 25% discount off the list price, with free shipping.

A reception celebrating new MLA titles will be held on Friday, 10 January, at 3:30 p.m. Please join us for wine and cheese and visit with the authors of our latest titles.

Check the Convention Daily (available free at the registration and welcome centers on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday) for updates on receptions and events that will be taking place at various exhibit booths throughout the hall—and remember to wear your badge!

Making the Most of Convention Resources

The MLA offers more ways than ever to stay on top of the latest convention information—the Program is available in print, Web, and mobile versions; MLA Commons features two groups for attendees; we’ll continue to post resources and reflections on this blog; and informal conversations are already under way on Twitter using the #mla14 hashtag. Whether this is your first convention or you’ve been attending for years, there are a number of things you can do to ensure you don’t miss any of the details.

  • Join a convention group on MLA Commons. Two groups—2014 MLA Convention and First-Time Convention Attendees—will help you navigate the convention, connect with colleagues, and keep up with the latest information.
  • Annotate the online Program. Did you know you can add information to your session’s entry in the online Program? Log in to mla.org, find your session in the online Program, add information to the text box below the Program entry, and click Update Annotation. The annotation will be publicly visible. This is a great way to add links to supplementary materials, such as a blog or Web site that you and your copresenters have created. (Note that annotations are not visible in the mobile version of the Program.)
  • Share your presentation materials. If you’re presenting, we hope you’re already planning to bring large-print handouts to your session. Why not make those materials available online as well? Join the 2014 MLA Convention group on the Commons and upload your handouts as a file or post the text in the Forum. If you have your own blog, either on the Commons or elsewhere, link to it from the Forum so it’s easier for fellow convention goers to find. Make sure to include the session-specific Twitter hashtag (“#s” plus the session number [e.g., #s471]), and annotate the online Program to include a link to the materials.
  • Know where to find the information you need. If you’re looking for general information and aren’t sure where to find it, check the 2014 Convention Information and Services page. Maps and floor plans are available in the Convention Guide (PDF), as well as in the mobile Program. For the latest updates, make sure to pick up a copy of the Convention Daily each of the first three days; there, you’ll find special notices, changes in schedule, and brief reports on convention activities. (Copies of the Convention Guide and the Convention Daily are available free at the MLA registration and welcome centers.)
  • Give Twitter a try. Not sure where to start? Guest contributors Roopika Risam and Ernesto Priego share their tips in two recent posts.

No matter which resources you choose, we hope that they help you make the most of your time in Chicago. As the convention progresses, please consider providing feedback for the sessions you attend by clicking the Session Survey button at the bottom of each session page in the online Program. Your input helps shape future conventions.

Virtual MLA: A Quick Guide to Using Twitter at the MLA Convention

This year’s MLA convention name tags are getting a makeover, as participants were given the option to include their Twitter handles on the badge. Since 2007, MLA convention attendees have been extending their participation beyond the session room on Twitter. Tweeting convention-goers mark their 140-character observations about the convention with a common hashtag (this year, #mla14), allowing other Twitter users to keep tabs on convention happenings. A quick look at hashtags of yore (from the first tweeted convention, #mla07, to the most recent, #mla13) reveals a neat archive of the convention discussion, which has grown to include commentary on sessions, questions about conference logistics, calls for casual meetings (or “tweetups”), and even tips for a good breakfast.

There are a number of compelling reasons for engaging with the MLA convention Twitter back channel. First, it opens up convention spaces to members and scholars unable to attend. In doing so, convention tweets emphasize the importance of public scholarship to our work and expand the conversations in which we engage broadly. At this vulnerable juncture in our profession, the Twitter discussion renders our labor as academics visible to the public. Within academic circles, convention tweets give us insight into developments in fields beyond our own. With so many choices for sessions, we are limited in what we can attend, but we can catch up and forge connections on Twitter. There, we can widen our academic communities beyond the divisions of department, college, and university that may otherwise circumscribe our intellectual communities.

Tweeting from the convention offers the potential for both richer experiences and missteps. Here are a few tips for maximizing the convention experience through Twitter:

Follow the Hashtag: The official hashtag of this year’s convention is #mla14. Tag your conference tweets with the hashtag, and search #mla14 to keep track of convention events. For laptop users, the TweetDeck app lets you keep a window dedicated to the hashtag open and pushes updates to it automatically. On a smartphone, the HootSuite app lets you combine Twitter with other forms of social media.

Work the Network: At loose ends for dinner? Looking for a running buddy to brave the frigid clime? Send a tweet using the convention hashtag. Check out #mla14 tweeters whose content matches your interests and follow them. Look at the lists those people are on to find others who share your interests. Building academic networks and finding support beyond the local has never been easier.

Invite (or Decline) Tweets While Presenting: Presenters who welcome tweets about their talks should consider making an announcement to that effect to the audience. Presenters with Twitter handles may wish to share them with the audience so they can include it in their tweets. Presiders on panels with presenters who are all comfortable with tweets should consider making an announcement on behalf of panelists and remind attendees of the specific hashtag for the panel: “s” and the session number (e.g., #s597), alongside #mla14. Presenters who do not want audience members tweeting during their talks should consider requesting that the audience refrain from doing so.

Tweet with Care: Respect the wishes of all presiders and panelists when tweeting. The #mla14 hashtag will be followed by a lot of people, so Twitter-averse colleagues may not want their ideas disseminated beyond the session room. When tweeting, make sure to name the speaker, being careful to properly attribute and faithfully represent the speaker’s words. When responding to tweets about others’ talks, remember that the tweets are a snippet of a larger conversation. Asking questions may be a more meaningful way to begin engaging than making assumptions or drawing conclusions.

Remember that Twitter Is “Real Life”: Abstractions of the digital world notwithstanding, tweets feel very real when someone is talking about you, directly or indirectly. Maintain decorum, professionalism, and civility on Twitter. If you wouldn’t say it during the Q & A at the end of a talk, do not tweet it. Tweets can be limited in their ability to convey complexities, so whether tweeting or being tweeted about, do not be quick to react, judge, or attack. Tone, snark, or sarcasm can be difficult to discern, so start with the benefit of the doubt and pursue concerns through more private channels.

Not convinced? Test the waters by signing up for a Twitter account, and check out the conversations about #mla14 that are ongoing. You may be surprised to find clever conversation, a new group of colleagues, or even friends.

The Collective Weight of Contingency

At the 2014 MLA convention, I will present on the panel “Vulnerability and Survivalism of the Humanities in Corporatized Academia,” organized by the Community College Humanities Association. The panel is part of the presidential theme, Vulnerable Times, and I will speak alongside Steven Hymowech, Lee Skallerup Bessette, George Louis Scheper, Paul Lauter, and Stacey Lee Donohue. The following post offers a glimpse of my presentation’s content.

I find myself increasingly unwilling to rest on my own privilege. In August 2013, I accepted a tenure-track position at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I’m working in the Division of Continuing Studies, advocating for lifelong learning and what I call the public digital humanities.

In my previous position, I was a faculty member in and director of a new hybrid digital humanities degree program at a small liberal arts institution in Portland, Oregon. I had taken the job with the belief that it would be my career for ten years or more. It was a full-time, non-tenure-track position with benefits within a system that was described to me as “tenure-equivalent.” My colleagues seemed collegial, the campus was lovely, and the students were some of the best I’d worked with in fifteen years of teaching.

Ultimately, though, I discovered that my position was, in fact, deeply contingent. As the financial woes of the institution mounted, the mistreatment of faculty members, and especially adjuncts, increased. What I discovered was that as people got scared for their own welfare, they began to guard their perceived territory, whether administrative or scholarly, more tightly. The work I value most—collaboration and interdisciplinarity—suffered and was at times even actively discouraged. The treatment of adjuncts was downright appalling. Tears were not unusual at committee meetings.

This was the environment in which I wrote my proposal for the 2014 MLA convention panel “Vulnerability and Survivalism of the Humanities in Corporatized Academia.” Parts of my abstract were adapted into an article written by me and Lee Skallerup Bessette. That article begins with the line, “Higher education needs more bravery.” Our goal in writing the piece was to stir the pot—to unsettle assumptions about how academia should operate in the wake of widespread exploitation of contingent laborers. For me, every aspect of higher education is either suspect or somehow implicated: hiring practices, administrative bloat, disciplinarity, traditional academic publishing, the notion of a terminal degree, and the tenure system itself.

Too much of the system is designed to defend the status quo and reinforce the mistreatment of seventy-five percent of the academic labor force. This is, quite frankly, not healthy for any of us, whether on the tenure track or not. This will be the focus of my MLA presentation in January 2014, “Right Leaders of Wrong: A Revolution in Higher Education.” As Lee and I wrote back in April 2013, “full-time faculty must be willing to take risks in support of their adjunct colleagues and students.”

Throughout fall 2013, Hybrid Pedagogy, the journal I founded and direct, is publishing a series of articles focused on our role as pedagogues in a system wherein education does not always lead to opportunity. In the first article from the series, “A Lecturer’s Almanac,” Katie Rose Guest Pryal offers a harrowing account of her experiences as a contingent laborer, a litany of seemingly mundane grievances, the collective weight of which becomes quickly oppressive. Tiffany Timperman, in her article “Adjunctification: Living in the Margins of Academe,” describes her experiences in “extreme adjuncting,” hoping with her story “to tip the elephant in the room.”

I recently tweeted, “If bigger and bigger bits of our ‘wellbeing’ is what makes it go, I suddenly feel like all of education is contingent.” This was in response to a blog post by Kate Bowles, “Irreplaceable Time.” In that post, Kate describes the physical burden of academic labor and what it has literally wrought upon her body. She describes “the corporate culture of team-building that is so reckless with people’s time and trust,” and she concludes, “[Y]ou don’t have my consent to use my remaining time in this way.” If we’re contingent, we labor. If we’re tenure-track, we labor. If we’re students, we labor. And rarely are we asked to labor for each other’s mutual benefit.

As I write this, Kate Bowles is my hero. Tiffany Timperman is my hero. Katie Rose Guest Pryal and Lee Skallerup Bessette are my heroes. They’ve said to me what I can’t always say to myself: We must be brave. But we must also take care. “What we need,” Kate writes, “is the courage to put work itself at risk.” For her—for myself—I will, if necessary, fight to the death of my own tenure.

Works Cited

Bowles, Kate. “Irreplaceable Time.” Music for Deckchairs: Edtech, Risk, Planning and Precarity in Australian Higher Education. N.p., 24 Nov. 2013. Web. 26 Nov. 2013.

Pryal, Katie Rose Guest. “A Lecturer’s Almanac.” Hybrid Pedagogy. Hybrid Pedagogy Inc., 21 Oct. 2013. Web. 26 Nov. 2013.

Stommel, Jesse (Jessifer). “If bigger and bigger bits of our ‘wellbeing’ is what makes it go, I suddenly feel like all of education is contingent.” 24 Nov. 2013, 4:01 p.m. Tweet.

Stommel, Jesse, and Lee Skallerup Bessette. “A Scholarship of Resistance: Bravery, Contingency, and Higher Education.” Hybrid Pedagogy. Hybrid Pedagogy Inc., 1 Apr. 2013. Web. 26 Nov. 2013.

Timperman, Tiffany. “Adjunctification: Living in the Margins of Academe.” Hybrid Pedagogy. Hybrid Pedagogy Inc., 18 Nov. 2013. Web. 26 Nov. 2013.

Innovative Session Formats at #mla14

One of the most exciting and valuable aspects of the convention is the presence of the many thoughtful colleagues with whom we have limited in-person interactions throughout the year. To take advantage of this, session organizers are increasingly asking speakers not to read prepared papers but to experiment with more interactive and dynamic formats that allow for greater engagement among panelists and audience members. By including workshop elements or by focusing on discussion rather than presentation, participants of innovative sessions gain new insights and consider topics more fully.

If you’re looking for something a little different this year, consider the following:

For many members, sessions that try something a little different are the most engaging at the convention and leave the deepest impression after it has ended. What other innovative sessions have caught your eye? What ideas do you have for future session formats?

Many Interpretations of Vulnerable Times at #mla14

The presidential theme, Vulnerable Times, is the focus of more than two hundred sessions at this year’s convention. You can now view the list of sessions in the online Program. As the convention approaches, we will feature a few of the sessions in greater detail here on MLA Commons.

There are myriad ways to think about vulnerability in our disciplines. Some relate to the works we study, while others center on the profession itself. In her post discussing the theme, MLA President Marianne Hirsch reaches far beyond the walls of the academy to evoke the global and humanitarian vulnerabilities we face. The Vulnerable Times sessions reflect this broad scope by including a wide range of disciplines and topics that are certain to spark vibrant discussion.

As presider of a special session that is included within the theme, I’ve chosen to lead a discussion on ways that graduate and undergraduate programs might respond to the vulnerability that students face after earning their degrees. The roundtable brings together representatives of programs in the Praxis Network, a new international partnership of graduate and undergraduate programs that are embarking on collaborative, interdisciplinary, project-based approaches to humanities education.

The Praxis Network programs help prepare students for a range of careers. They also encourage students to explore ways to make humanities scholarship meaningful to an expanded audience by developing public-facing projects that are accessible to nonspecialists, without sacrificing disciplinary rigor.

Chairing or participating in a session relating to this year’s presidential theme? Mention it in the comments or contact us to have it featured on this blog!

2014 Presidential Theme on the Commons

The presidential theme for the 129th MLA Annual Convention is Vulnerable Times, and more than two hundred sessions will focus on the theme. Between now and January, the Commons newsletter and this blog will highlight descriptions of presidential theme sessions that have been posted on MLA Commons. View these panel descriptions and share Commons blogs you’ve created about your Vulnerable Times session by commenting below. To learn more about Vulnerable Times, read Marianne Hirsch’s letter.

Size and Scale in Literature and Culture

Terrorism, Temporality, and Contemporary Fiction

#mla14 on the Commons

Are you organizing a session at the 2014 convention in Chicago? Start the conversation now by creating a blog with a description of your session, abstracts, panelist information, and other materials. Comment here with the link, and we may feature your blog in an upcoming e-mail message to MLA members.

Here are posts from a couple of sites that are already up and running.

Early Modern Media Ecologies: Panel Description and Panel Participants

An Alternative Scholar in Training: MLA 2014 Panel: Accepted


2014 Presidential Theme: Vulnerable Times

In January 2014, the MLA convention will take place in Chicago, and I would like to invite you to participate in the presidential theme, Vulnerable Times. In recent years, the MLA president has had the privilege of choosing from his or her scholarly or professional engagements a theme for the convention’s Presidential Forum. The theme is meant to introduce topics, concerns, provocations, and formats that will put divergent fields and historical periods in productive conversation, spawning a network of interconnected sessions during the convention and possibilities of continuing collaboration afterward.

Vulnerable Times addresses vulnerabilities of life, the planet, and our professional disciplines, in our own time and throughout history. Its aim is to illuminate acts of imagination and forms of solidarity and resistance that promote social change. The theme and my interest in vulnerability derive from my long-standing feminist work on lives that have been marginalized, forgotten, or omitted from dominant histories and narratives. They also emerge from a concern about the precarious place of education—particularly in languages, the humanities, and the arts—among the local and global priorities of the present moment. How do we mobilize the textual, historical, theoretical, and activist work we do as teachers and scholars of languages and literatures to shape conversations about broad social and political problems?

Vulnerability and its antithesis, resilience, appear in studies of the environment, social ecology, political economy, medicine, and developmental psychology as terms that help address the predisposition of people and systems to injury and understand their ability to recover from shock and catastrophe. While acknowledging the vulnerabilities stemming from our shared embodiment, feminist theorists have also underlined the unevenly imposed and socially manufactured vulnerabilities faced by marginalized groups throughout history. They have seen vulnerability—both shared and differentially inflicted—not as weakness or victimhood but as a space for engagement and resistance emerging from a sense of fundamental openness, interdependence, and solidarity. Conscious of the critiques that follow from a claim to vulnerability as precarity, they have nevertheless used this claim to imagine and to demand social and political institutions and acts of repair that would strengthen the recognition of interdependence and reduce susceptibility to injury.

Vulnerable Times aims to contribute literary, humanistic, and historical perspectives to these interdisciplinary engagements. It looks to the temporalities that follow from an acknowledgment of vulnerability and asks how different historical moments and different cultural contexts have conceived of vulnerability and invulnerability, how they have attempted to avert catastrophe, envisioning alternative futures. Papers, panels, and roundtables might engage subjects such as social difference and disposable lives; trauma, memory, and testimony; war, genocide, and violence; the effects of conquest, empire, and globalization; exile and migration; species, climate, and environment; intersubjectivity, intercorporeality, embodiment, and disability; affect and the senses; intimacy, collaboration, and solidarity; resistance and activism; justice, repair, and redress; public arts and humanities; and endangered languages.

I hope that Vulnerable Times will generate elaborations and exchanges in a variety of fields. I invite you to propose special sessions for the convention or to dedicate sessions allotted to your divisions, discussion groups, allied organizations, or committees to explore aspects of the presidential theme. On the forms used for session proposals (available in early March at www.mla.org/convention) you can indicate whether you wish your session to be considered for inclusion among the listing of sessions related to the presidential theme. The sessions selected for inclusion will appear in the brochure announcing the Presidential Forum. I would be grateful for your help in identifying potential contributions to Vulnerable Times. I would also welcome proposals of innovative session formats, including (but not limited to) moderated discussions of new books or articles of interest, dialogues and debates, PechaKucha sessions based on rapid sequences of slides, live or electronic roundtables, or workshops.

I hope you will attend the 2014 convention in Chicago, and I look forward to exploring Vulnerable Times with you.

With warm wishes,

Marianne Hirsch

2013–14 MLA President