This is a guest post by Daveena Tauber, PhD. Read Daveena’s original Transition Q & A from March 2015 over at University Affairs.
How has your work evolved since we spoke last?
What hasn’t changed is my fundamental commitment to fostering success and retention in graduate education. While I continue to work with individual academic writing clients, I am working more and more with institutions in a consulting and speaking capacity. This work has taken me around the US and to Canada. I love working with new groups of faculty and students when I visit campuses. And I am tremendously excited about collaborating with academic programs to help them address “wicked problems” such as skill building, retention, and time-to-degree.
I am growing my skills as a researcher in unexpected ways. The deep skepticism about quantitative approaches that I absorbed in my training an English PhD dovetailed nicely with my own learning disabilities and information preferences. But reading hundreds of dissertations across disciplines has given me a crash course in the many ways that we can ask and answer questions. The kinds of questions I am most interested in answering call for quantitative and qualitative information, assessment thinking, as well as curricular and pedagogical knowledge.
I am excited to partner with and learn from people who can do certain kinds of data analysis and visualization. This year I was privileged to hire a talented researcher to help with projects for both institutional and individual clients. I am proud to be able to generate work for other PhDs and it is exciting to create a team of PhDs who bring research and organizational development skills to the work of serving higher education.
This year I also launched the Writing Remarkable Literature Reviews course, which is the product of years of giving live workshops and testing exercises with graduate students across disciplines. The course answers the question that so many graduate students struggle with: what do I do with the literature after I find it? Students come away understanding both the conceptual and rhetorical work of synthesizing literature. The course is available for adoption by individuals and graduate programs.
I am working to blog more often and it’s interesting to try to speak to two audiences (graduate students and faculty) on the same platform. This is actually intentional. I hope students and faculty will read posts intended for the other audience and thus “overhear” the perspectives and challenges that their counterparts face. It’s great to see that the blog resources pages on mental health and neurodiversity in graduate education are well used and have been linked to by dozens of university programs.
This year I also invested time and money in learning and creating business systems that support the “back end” of the practice. I love learning new software and figuring out how to link systems together. I finally feel like I have a fully functioning set of tools to support the work itself.
How do you think the dialogue about “alternative” PhD careers has evolved?
I am heartened to see that the MLA and AHA and several foundations are dedicating resources and conference time to increase dialogue and skill building related to “alternative” career paths. I wish this had happened, say, 10 or even 20 years ago.
I have been surprised by the resistance to the term “alt-ac” I have encountered, particularly from older faculty members. I take their points: that the term could be considered dismissive; that there is nothing “alt” about these career paths since the majority of humanities PhDs will not work on the tenure track. Still, the term and particularly the hashtag, have enabled an experience of collegiality that many PhDs miss once they graduate—sometimes because they’re working in contingent teaching situations or because they simply become invisible to the departments where they earned their degrees.
One thing that has changed is that social media now allows people to form communities across great distances. There is a flourishing culture of DIY professional development work among PhDs. In particular I am awed by the rich community and services that Jennifer Polk and Maren Wood of have been able to create. [Ed. – Aw shucks!] In addition to the yearly BeyondProf conference, they have rolled out an ambitious lineup up webinars, workshops, and services. They offer something that is hard for students to access on an individual basis: the chance to hear from PhDs who have entered a wide variety of professions. I am inspired not only by prominent figures like Kerry Ann Rockquemore and Karen Kelsky but also by people like Fatimah Castro Williams, Katie Rose Guest Pryal, Ramona Houston, Michelle Thompson, Lisa Munro, Jane Jones, and many others who are finding new ways to put their training and talents to work.
What is your current challenge?
Every business reaches a chicken-and-egg phase where it’s hard to grow without capital and it’s hard to get capital without growing. My biggest fear is that my cost of living will go up faster than ScholarStudio can keep up. It is truly terrifying to live in Trump’s America as a self-insured person. Having waited years for Obamacare to kick in so that I couldn’t be denied medical coverage for pre-existing conditions, the near repeal of Obamacare was a nail biter. We are returning to the days when a hospitalization could spell bankruptcy and that keeps me up at night.
What keeps you going?
Fundamentally, what gets me out of bed in the morning my love of the scholarly project in most of its manifestations. I have a prodigious ability to take interest in a wide variety of disciplines, subjects, and methods, which means that I have the pleasure of learning constantly in collaboration with my clients. Other things that have made a huge difference include a professional “mastermind” group with two other “alt-acs” and participation in Jennifer Polk’s Self-Employed PhD group, both of which offer information, structure, feedback, and encouragement. I cannot imagine inventing this wheel alone.
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