By Julia Nelsen and Marina Romani

Community, peer mentorship, career diversity. These were some of the key concepts that resonated for us at Inside Dope: Life as a Humanist, a professional development workshop hosted last week by the Townsend Center for the Humanities, Graduate Division, the Career Center, and Beyond Academia. On Friday, April 6, we had the pleasure of joining nine fellow Berkeley Ph.D. alumni to network with current graduate students and share our experiences as humanities professionals working outside the tenure track.

Unlike many career panels, Inside Dope –– now in its second year –– favors interactive small-group conversations that give a window onto diverse professional pathways for those trained in the humanities and social sciences. “For me, it is of the utmost importance to create the space and structure for graduate students to have lively, low-pressure, eye-opening interactions with Ph.D.s working in a beautiful variety of livelihoods,” said John Paulas, Director of Fellowships and Special Projects at the Townsend Center. “It is also a great joy to be able to welcome Berkeley Ph.D. alums back to the Townsend Center. Such events strengthen our humanities community.”

In a series of ten-minute interviews, we “Ph.D. networkers” discussed our working lives across a wide array of sectors including university administration, tech, entrepreneurship, and nonprofit management. While sharing how we navigated the sometimes challenging transition from grad school to our current positions, and what we learned along the way, we also encouraged the 35 student participants to entertain the many different career directions they also might pursue.

Kelly Anne Brown (Associate Director of the University of California Humanities Research Institute and leader of Humanists@Work) set the tone for the afternoon with powerful keynote remarks. Emphasizing the importance of professional development resources for Ph.D.s, Brown urged the audience to consider more than just transferable skills, which, taken alone, risk diminishing the transformative potential of what she calls “humanities expertise.” But what is “humanities expertise?,” Brown asked, encouraging attendees to think critically about its uses and values: “Why does it matter? Does it matter? For whom?” Reframing career exploration around these key questions, Brown argued, can help humanists build community, envision different professional models, and engage with the public beyond the academy in productive ways.

The conversations sparked enthusiastic responses from graduate students and networkers alike. Jerilyn Sambrooke, who recently completed her doctorate in Rhetoric, appreciated how hearing multiple career narratives helped participants “envision many good versions of our working selves.” Megan O’Connor, a graduate student in English, “left the event feeling inspired by the variety of jobs represented by the Ph.D. participants,” and found that fellow student attendees “helped articulate my own experiences and concerns” with their questions. Tara Hottman from the German Department similarly described the discussions as “invigorating” and felt “encouraged to not be afraid to reach out to our extended network to ask for advice, to pursue projects or contract work that might be of interest while still in grad school, and to think about teaching outside of the university.” Fellow networker Laura Welcher (Ph.D. in linguistics, Director of Operations at the Long Now Library) summed up her experience this way: “I’d say it is exactly the kind of event I would have liked to have participated in when I was a grad student at Cal.”

Having experienced both sides of Inside Dope –– as students and as networkers –– we feel energized by the conversations it has enabled. Events like this one open up innovative and unexpected ways for Ph.D.s to imagine their future careers. But they also offer an opportunity to remain connected to academic students, colleagues, and mentors, and to find camaraderie in the ongoing practice of shaping our professional identities, even long after graduation. From a broader perspective, we find that such spaces can also change the way we think and talk about academic life not only during, but also after grad school, as we pursue multiple intellectual and professional avenues for the Ph.D. Our communities can only grow stronger by reflecting together on the unique capabilities and leadership skills that humanists have to offer, and putting those to work.

About the Authors: Julia Nelsen received her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from Berkeley in 2017. Marina Romani received her Ph.D. in Italian Studies (with a Designated Emphasis in Film Studies) from Berkeley in 2015.

To join ongoing conversations and community around careers for humanities Ph.D.s, attend the upcoming Humanists@Work workshop in downtown Berkeley on April 30, 2018. To learn about other upcoming events and how to get involved, contact Graduate Professional Development.

Inside Dope featured networkers with PhDs in the humanities from Berkeley.

Photo caption from picture above, Front row left to right:

  • Eric Blind, Ph.D., Anthropology, UC Berkeley; Director, Heritage Programs and Sites, Presidio Trust
  • Gabe Yoon-Milner, Ph.D., History, UC Berkeley; Teacher, The Episcopal School of Los Angeles
  • Alberto Ledesma, Ph.D., Ethnic Studies, UC Berkeley; Assistant Dean for Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity in the Division of Arts and Humanities at UC Berkeley
  • Julia Nelsen, Ph.D., Comparative Literature, UC Berkeley; Program Manager, Institute of European Studies at UC Berkeley
  • Marina Romani, Ph.D., Italian and Film Studies, UC Berkeley; Academic Specialist, Berkeley International Study Program, Department of Sociology at UC Berkeley; Cultura et alia, co-founder; San Francisco Opera, Contributing Writer
  • Laura Welcher, Ph.D., Linguistics, UC Berkeley; Director of Operations and The Long Now Library, The Long Now Foundation
  • Rebecca Bodenheimer, Ph.D., Music, UC Berkeley; Writer, editor, independent scholar
  • Anne-Marie Harvey, Ph.D., English, UC Berkeley; Associate Director, Principal Gifts University Development and Alumni Relations at UC Berkeley

Back row left to right:

  • Amyrose McCue Gill, Ph.D, Italian Studies, UC Berkeley; Director, TextFormations
  • John Paulas, Director of Fellowships and Special Projects, Townsend Center
  • Luke Terlaak Poot, Ph.D., English, UC Berkeley; UX Writer, Google
  • Kelly Anne Brown, Assistant Director, UC Humanities Research Institute and Humanists@Work
  • Christopher Wu, Ph.D., Education (Education in Mathematics, Science, and Technology Program), UC Berkeley; Founder/Principal of Metacyber (higher education consulting) and community college instructor