“Stories from the Field” panelists Silvie Liao (Ph.D. in Linguistics, Global Curriculum Development Manager at RiseSmart), Simon Abramowitsch (Ph.D. in English, English Instructor at Chabot College), Elizabeth Gessel (Ph.D. in History, Director of Public Programs at the Museum of the African Diaspora), and Dana Linda (Ph.D. in Comparative Literature, Executive Operations and Content Strategy at Menlo Ventures) (left to rignt). Photos: UC Humanities Research Institute

Humanities Ph.D.s discuss career paths and dialogue with employers

On April 30, approximately 80 humanities Ph.D. students and alumni from nine UC campuses gathered together at the David Brower Center in downtown Berkeley for the eighth and final daylong “Humanists@Work” workshop. Humanists@Work is a graduate career initiative organized by the University of California Humanities Research Institute, and funded by the Modern Language Association’s Connected Academics grant from the Mellon Foundation. This initiative, which began in 2014, has changed the conversation around the humanities and conceptions of work in just a few short years. While the Berkeley event was billed as Humanists@Work’s “terminal workshop,” the initiative has produced resources and theoretical frameworks that will remain vital for current and future humanities Ph.D.s.

The day’s agenda kicked off with “Stories from the Field,” a panel of humanities Ph.D.s speaking about their work experience in settings ranging from a community college to a venture capital firm. For some panelists, being a humanist at work means acting as a kind of workplace gadfly. Dana Linda, a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature currently working in Executive Operations and Content Strategy at Menlo Ventures, said that she defines herself as a “venture humanist.” She described a “humanist at work” as someone who is “an educator first, someone who advocates for people, places, and cultures different from myself.” Silvie Liao, a linguistics Ph.D. working as Global Curriculum Development Manager at RiseSmart, similarly said, “My coworkers tease me: why do you ask ‘why’ all the time?” But then, she said, “They started asking ‘why’ too, because they see the value of it.”

Humanities Ph.D.s dialogue with employers about the future of work. Photos: UC Humanities Research Institute

Some panelists’ current positions were more directly linked to their area of study. But these speakers also described their current roles as the result of a conscious, and sometimes difficult, effort to find work that coincided with their interests, values, and family commitments. Elizabeth Gessel, a history Ph.D. who works as Director of Public Programs at the Museum of the African Diaspora, described how she landed her current job by first interning at the museum. “I was probably the most overqualified intern they ever had,” she said, “but it taught me how I could contribute to their work.” Simon Abramowitsch, a Ph.D. in English who is now an English Instructor at Chabot College in Hayward, said that his current role at a community college was a result of asking himself, “Who do I want to work with? Who do I want to serve? And where do I want to be?”

Another centerpiece of the day’s events was a two-part session on “Developing our Questions and Narratives about the Humanities Ph.D.” This session, led by Kelly Anne Brown, leader of Humanists@Work and Associate Director of UCHRI, and Rebecca Lippman, a PhD. student in Comparative Literature from UCLA, staged a dialogue between humanities Ph.D.s and employers from a variety of industries, such as Gallup, Google, LinkedIn, and the California Department of Industrial Relations. The goal of these dialogues was, in Brown’s and Lippman’s words, to discuss “how to clearly articulate the experience and expertise that humanists bring to the world of work,” and to “gauge the extent of translational challenges that graduate students face as they transition out of the university.”  Brown says that this session, in particular, “pushed Humanists@Work into new territory.”

One of the ways that Humanists@Work is distinct from other graduate student professionalization programs is its emphasis on combining the practical and the theoretical. (Alongside the sessions mentioned above, the Berkeley workshop also included sessions on “C.V. to Résumé,” by Jared Redick of The Résumé Studio, and “Managing Up,” by Annie Maxfield and David Blancha of UCLA Career Services.) Brown described this combination of approaches as the result of “a model that is grounded in graduate students’ needs and interests.” Brown said, “When we talk about careers, we have to talk about all these other issues that may, at first glance, seem very much outside the work of professionalization. What does it look like to do a resume workshop alongside a conversation on debt and the humanities, for example? How do the two conversations, and types of work, influence and shape one another?”

Questions like these make it clear that while the April 30 event was billed as Humanists@Work’s “Terminal Workshop,” the long-term impact of the initiative is just beginning to take shape. Some of Brown’s ideas for how Humanists@Work may develop in the future include: building on the outreach to employers that began at the Berkeley workshop, and developing a series of workshops for faculty. “We often heard from graduate students that they wanted their professors in the room for HumWork workshops and yet, except for a few exceptions, we weren’t able to attract many faculty,” Brown said. “We’re hoping that a faculty-focused workshop model will enable us to have conversations with faculty about professionalization and graduate student education.”

In the meantime, many of the resources that grew out of the past four years’ Humanists@Work workshops are freely available online. These include:

  • Videos of past “Stories from the Field” panels, where Ph.D.s discuss their post-graduate careers.
  • Articles written by members of Humanists@Work’s graduate student advisory committee, on topics such as “Money, Debt, and Shame,” “Humanists Breaking Into the World of Business and Entrepreneurship,” and “‘Leaning In’ Without Selling Out.”
  • Research projects from the graduate student advisory committee, such as a four-campus survey on humanities graduate students’ attitudes toward and experiences of career preparation.
  • Podcasts on topics such as the concept of “value” in relation to the humanities Ph.D.
  • Resumé tips from frequent Humanists@Work presenter Jared Redick.
  • And much more!

Contact Professional Development Resource Coordinator Linda Louie if you are interested in learning more about future Humanists@Work initiatives, or taking part in conversations about humanities career development at Berkeley.