“Identifying and Applying for Grants and Fellowships in the Humanities” workshop notes

Below are my notes and several handouts from a University of Nebraska-Lincoln Office of Graduate Studies-sponsored workshop I attended last week geared toward offering tips for locating and writing successful grant and fellowship applications. The workshop was led by panelists Katherine Walter (Co-Director of UNL’s Center for Digital Research in the Humanities and Professor and Chair, Digital Initiatives and Special Collections), Margaret Jacobs (Chancellor’s Professor of History, UNL), and Colin McLear (Assistant Professor of Philosophy, UNL). Each panelist began with a brief introduction of themselves and their entry into grant-writing, then the workshop progressed into discussion of specific prompt questions, and concluded with a Q & A session.

Identifying and Applying for Grants and Fellowships in the Humanities

Dr. Jacobs: applied for first grant not long after getting her first job, had small children, a 3-3 course load, no time to write at length (book chapter, article) BUT had time to write a grant proposal

  • started small & local –> great way to gain experience, build the resume, less competition than a national grant, university = eager to help one of its assistant professors with international travel for research
    • small grant won, helped build knowledge to write better applications for larger grants
    • rarely get a large grant the first time –> be persistent, rejection isn’t the end, revise, be attentive to reviewer comments, and resubmit

Dr. McLear: first grant = a Heidelberg exchange grant

  • admits he “didn’t plan very well and did everything last-minute” & learned this is not a good idea
    • e.g. Fulbright application takes about 18 months of advance planning
  • get to know people in other departments –> there may be something that comes up elsewhere that can help you with your research

Dr. Walter: first grant = not a university fellowship, was related to urban planning and based on federal guidelines

  • this grant required her to help administer smaller grants –> showed opportunities for funding in other places

Prompt question: What are some of the hallmarks of a successful grant/fellowship application?

Dr. McLear: don’t start late, plan ahead, learn to communicate with non-specialists effectively –> why is it important? make this clear in your application. what projects can you pull out of a dissertation?

  • network – especially with host institutions or persons –> can help if you are in good standing with the people behind grants/fellowships
    • can even e-mail them “out of the blue” or make contact through another party

Dr. Walter: working well in teams is crucial

  • Does your research fit the category? If you aren’t sure, call the grant specialist
  • echoes McLear’s recommendation to start as early as possible –> give yourself more time for dealing with snags (getting in touch with people you need to ask questions of, your letter writers, …)
  • pay attention to the various components of a grant too –> narrative isn’t the only important part
  • let other people read your grant
  • if rejected, read reviewer comments and reapply!
  • if get a grant, be sure you do all the required follow-up work (very often a component of federally-funded grants)

Dr. Jacobs: served on NEH panels reviewing applications

  • good applications = crystal clear in the 1st paragraph, written in non-specialist language (resist theoretical jargon) –> be straightforward
    • show that you have a realistic plan –> don’t overstate what you can do in the time given
    • how does your work engage with other scholarship? –> be humble and respectful of other scholarship, show yourself as a collaborator, give credit to the shoulders you stand on
    • demonstrate that you have the skills to accomplish the work –> reference specific examples from your c.v. in your application

Prompt question: What advice would you offer to graduate students writing their first grant proposal?

Dr. Walter: Jacobs’ suggestion to start small = good

  • also look at the UNL library website under e-resources for a section on further advice for grant/fellowship applications
  • keep in mind that often you must request reviewer comments –> do so
  • work with faculty on grants when you get the chance, suggest it –> gives you experience to propel you forward

Dr. Jacobs: “show, don’t tell” when you write –> model these things in your grant proposal

  • be sure you write impeccably
  • find ways to make yourself stand out & then quickly move into what you are doing, why your project is important
  • YOU know how important you research is, but others don’t: show the readers why your work is important – don’t just state it

Dr. McLear: know who, in your department, is/has been successful in writing grants (especially in your area, but outside too)

  • they = your most likely draft readers & they’ll know about the process
  • be prepared to revise your proposal several times
  • be aware that the norms of writing conference proposals, journal articles, dissertation proposals = very different from successful grant-writing
    • in some ways, you must learn to live & communicate in two worlds

Q & A session:

Tips for figuring out more about the audience for your proposal/application? Concerns about backgrounds of different reviewers, academics versus funders, investors, members of the business community

  • Dr. Jacobs: pay attention to their mission, language
  • Dr. Walter: federal agencies won’t tell you a lot, other than reviewers = from a lot of general disciplines
  • Dr. McLear: look at and e-mail award winners from previous years

Tips for how to choose the best letter of reference writers?

  • Dr. Jacobs: people who know you really well, dissertation advisor = really important, want the letters to be very specific, long-term relationships are important
  • Dr. McLear: people who know you and your project very well
    • give your writers a copy of your proposal so they can integrate that into their letter (+ this = a good way to show potential writers you will follow through)
  • Dr. Jacobs: agrees with McLear –> make it easy for your letter writers and it will pay off

Handout, “How to Win a Graduate Fellowship”

Handout, “Grant-Writing Tips for Graduate Students”

Handout, “Preparing Fellowship Applications”

“Healthy Habits During Dissertation Writing” workshop notes

Below are my notes and a handout from a workshop I attended yesterday morning on maintaining healthy habits while writing a dissertation. The workshop was sponsored by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Office of Graduate Studies and was hosted by licensed psychologist Dr. Scott Winrow, who did an excellent job summarizing some of the most recent research on stress management and wellness practices.

Managing Stress During the Dissertation Writing Process

  • highly recommend the book, Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day: A Guide to Starting, Revising, and Finishing Your Doctoral Thesis by Joan Bolker
  • your dissertation = unsupervised work
    • avoidance is a common problem, which is why 15 minutes per day is always a good starting point
      • even on days off, 15-20 minutes of work can be good to keep your focus on your work, keep your thoughts flowing
      • scheduling = also critical –> don’t let other things eat into the time you’ve set aside for your dissertation work
  • plan out goals of different lengths
    • daily, weekly, monthly, semester goals
    • focus just on daily goals can lead to tunnel vision and/or missed bureaucratic deadlines (keep your eyes on paperwork deadlines!)
    • milestone goals = when chapters are to be finished, drafts to readers, etc.
  • consider different writing approaches
    • e.g. don’t edit when just beginning to write your dissertation –> free-write and then go back, so that you can get your ideas flowing
  • be sure you can say “no” to other people to protect your writing time
    • look for balance, set priorities –> with friends, yes, but with your advisor too
  • get your writing space set up the way you need it –> figure out what you need
    • be aware of avoidance behavior and correct it when you notice it
    • communicate your needs to your advisor (especially if you are working from home and they may not see you around as much –> make sure they are aware you are working)
  • take some breaks – after one or two hours of work AND at the end of the week
    • but don’t reward yourself if you don’t do the work
  • break away from social media if you are the type of person who needs to do so
  • keep perspective: your dissertation is not your magnus opus!
    • most people average two years or more to write their dissertation
    • be hesitant about trying to add too much as you go and/or about going back and changing things –> this can drag the writing process out (and your expenses for attending graduate school, missed job opportunities)
    • get support from peers — especially if your family and/or friends have never been to graduate school
      • writing groups can also be good –> you may need people to “call you out on your B.S.,” on your avoidance behaviors (in a healthy way)
    • maintain contact with your advisor and/or committee members –> be active in seeking out support from these people and also be aware of avoidance
      • find other mentors if you need to, if you aren’t getting what you need from your advisor
      • follow up if you don’t hear back in a reasonable amount of time –> can also be proactive by setting a timeline when send e-mails
      • keep track of your advisor’s ideas for your dissertation
        • taking notes helps clarify the changes they want you to make (and whether or not you’ve done what they want)
    • take the time to take care of yourself: you will be more productive in the long-run –> all research supports this
      • taking care of yourself is NOT competing for your time — it HELPS you
      • this includes exercise, eating well (especially breakfast –> otherwise your brain doesn’t have the glucose it needs to move things into long-term memory)
      • adequate sleep = crucial –> even 1 night of less than 6 hours of sleep impacts your brainwaves for 3 days (takes 3 full days to recover from 1 bad night)
      • plan rewards but ONLY for getting things done
    • keep in mind that it’s normal to feel inadequate, overwhelmed from time to time: “imposter syndrome”
      • “you know more than you think” so give yourself credit for it
      • these fears^ = healthy as long as you keep them in perspective
    • come see the folks at CAPS if you need help
      • about 40% of their clients = graduate students (perhaps in part because assistantships make student health insurance visits “free”)

Q & A session:

  • What if your dissertation is done but your advisor keeps getting “ideas?”
    • enlist the help of Graduate Studies in reminding your advisor (as a 3rd party) that there are time limits involved, financial burdens to you taking more time to finish your program
    • sometimes profs get used to you being here, doing things, don’t want to let you go
    • can ALSO turn drafts of your dissertation in extra early, may give them the time they need to suggest revisions in time for you to graduate on target
    • also try stopping by your advisor’s office in person, rather than e-mailing
      • try sending e-mail first thing in the morning, cc other committee members, to increase the chances that your request goes to the top of their “to-do” list

Handout, Managing Stress During the Dissertation Writing Process

“Writing a thesis or dissertation,” UNL History grad student retreat workshop notes

Grad Student Retreat, Fall 2013

Notes, 8.23.2013, “Writing your thesis/dissertation”

  • starting with M.A. thesis
    • Dr. James Garza recommends beginning writing in your 3rd semester
    • defense dates come in March or early April
    • need time for revisions
    • gave his students about 3-4 weeks to write a chapter
    • some people on your committee will want the entire thesis all at once
    • don’t worry too much about the organization at first b/c you can change the organization around
    • the earlier you start the writing cycle, the better it will be
      • write a “skeleton” first chapter if you need to
      • hang your primary sources on it as you go
      • anything you write for a prospectus will eventually be part of your thesis/dissertation in some form – don’t think about it as a “throw away” writing exercise
    • remember that you’ll be preparing applications for the PhD programs too (and your professors will also have deadlines related to these)
      • M.A. thesis will be part of your application SO leave time to do corrections
    • be aware of all the technical things you have to do for your thesis
      • all the formatting is your responsibility to figure it out
    • Graduate Studies wants a copy pretty early –> doesn’t have to be finished
      • they are mostly checking the formatting
    • your M.A. thesis is also “for your future advisor”
      • it will reflect on you AND on your committee members
    • even if they aren’t all completely developed, write a few paragraphs per day
  • Dr. Carole Levin on dissertations
    • writing anxiety = something most academics suffer from (even at professional level)
      • “one of the most difficult obstacles to finishing a project”
    • she’s telling us how to write the “good enough dissertation” NOT the perfect dissertation
    • two mantras: (1) “It does not have to be great. It just has to be good.” (2) “You can always revise it for the book.”
      • you DO need to get publications out of your dissertation: either book or series of articles
      • chapters do NOT have to be ready as articles; nor does your dissertation have to be ready as a manuscript
      • dissertation = “a step, not the endgame”
    • finding a topic early in your grad career = good but it’s important not to latch onto a topic just to have a topic
      • you have to be excited about your topic, you will spend a lot of time on it
      • what are the questions you want to start digging around in?
        • think big, then narrow over time
        • think about how you can add to the scholarly conversation
    • “get a committee you can work with”
      • who will read drafts and give feedback
      • who will discuss your/their ideas with you
      • want to get the most out of your committee –> it is a multi-year committment
      • stay in contact with your committee and especially your advisor
      • don’t be avoidant even, especially if you are behind and feeling guilty about being behind
    • dissertation prospectus
      • Department requires this
      • preliminary bibliography, chapter descriptions
      • think of it as the first draft
        • you haven’t done all the research yet
        • no one ever writes exactly the dissertation they prospose
        • your committee is not going to pass/fail you on basis of this –> it will be about the dissertation
      • okay to pretend you know exactly what you’re doing but know that it will change
        • your material, as you do your research, will tell you where to go
    • recommends start writing within a semester of submitting your proposal
      • yes, research is so much fun – could do it for years
      • you won’t stop doing research, but start writing
      • often you won’t see the holes in your ideas until you start writing them down
      • if can do the dissertation by holding off then writing full-time for months at a time, okay – do what works for you
    • keep very careful notes on all of your research
      • helps get rid of anxiety come writing time
    • it’s tough, but “just start writing”
      • keep a notebook with you specifically for writing ideas that occur out of the blue, when you don’t have your computer with you
    • find a writing rhythm that works for you
      • figure out what rituals you need to write, what time of day works for you
      • if feel overwhelmed, break it into small parts
      • even if you only wrote a page a day, you’d have a dissertation in a year
      • even if can’t write an actual draft, write ideas, make outlines
      • Dr. Levin made herself write 5 pages per day on writing days
        • could stop whenever she finished writing 5 pages (early or late)
      • if get stuck in beginning, jump to another point
      • look at other people’s dissertations, get a sense at how they got started
        • good historians in your field
        • how did they set up their argument’s
    • form a dissertation support group
      • between 3-5 people
      • work out commitment of how often you will meet
      • will you read one another’s work?
      • figure out what will be most helpful for you
      • don’t necessarily have to be in your field
      • making a committment to your colleagues as well as to yourself
    • talk to your friends about your ideas
    • make appointments with your committee members
    • send an abstract to a conference
      • trying out your ideas
      • sets a deadline for getting a conference paper done
      • new people to talk with your ideas about
    • look at fellowships to support your work
      • is there a specific archive or library that you need to visit? they may well have travel grants
      • important on practical level, improves your c.v., helps with professional networking
      • Warren & Edith Day travel dissertation award = UNL award of $500
        • floating deadline
        • write proposal, letter from advisor
        • her student’s have had great success getting this award
        • means more on your c.v. than you might think, goes further than you think
      • UNL has Presidential, Fling, Dean’s fellowships
        • are incredibly competitive
        • but if you don’t try, you won’t get it
        • handful of students in our department have gotten these
      • UNL Department also has some fellowships
      • be open to applying for everything you can find
      • even the act of writing the proposal is significant – gets your ideas down
      • National Endowment for the Humanities has summer seminars with slots for graduate students
        • deadline = March 1
        • call posted in January (ish)
        • longshots, yes, but not impossible longshots
    • think about audience in your dissertation
      • don’t use competitive, combative approach to fellow scholars
      • not civil, bad habit to get into
        • and these will be people you will encounter later in your professional career
        • you want to think about your career in terms of building on work of those who came before you – not trampling it/pushing it out of the way
    • when get to 300 pages in your dissertation, think about stopping
      • if what you have yet to write is still valuable, you can return to it later
      • can put hopes of where your work can go further in future in your conclusion
      • no press wants a 600-page dissertation & you need to move forward with your doctorate
      • recommends reading Univ. of Chicago Press’s From Dissertation to Book
  • Dr. Jared Leighton
    • try out different writing strategies, be flexible
    • structure was important to him
      • certain amount of time dedicated to writing each day
      • kept track of this carefully
      • deadlines for each chapter – even if you don’t meet them, aim for them, know where you want to be at a particular time
    • “write through your process”
      • even if it doesn’t make it into the dissertation, it will be helpful
      • will give you momentum
    • keep your Grad Studies deadlines in mind or they will cause you AND your readers trouble
      • sessions for those planning to graduate held regularly
      • recommends going to these even if you aren’t graduating soon
      • construct backward calendar of your graduate goal date & deadline
      • you have to attend these once anyway before you can graduate
    • can register for 1 dissertation credit full time but only for 4 semesters
      • ONLY do this if you are confident that you can graduate in 2 years
    • leisure time is not a luxury when writing your dissertation; it’s a necessity
      • taking that leisure time will help you write, as will sleep
      • must think of these things as necessities for your writing time to be quality time
    • keep up on any new developments in your field
      • read programs of your major conferences
      • read most recent reviews in journals in your field
      • continue this process after you complete your prospectus until you are finishing
    • reading anyone you think is a good writer is a good idea
      • not just outside your field, maybe fiction too
      • best work is that which is also accessible to the general public
      • think about: who influences you as a writer?
    • dissertation bootcamps
      • can google and get idea how these are structured
      • perhaps Office of Graduate Studies needs to start doing these
      • 1-2 weeks of writing dissertations each day, usually 8:30-4:30
      • talk at end of day with fellow attendees where you are at

“Organizing your research,” HGSA Academic Workshop Notes

Below are my notes from a UNL History Graduate Students’ Association workshop I attended yesterday afternoon. The workshop, on tactics for organizing your research, included a detailed introduction to the research tool Zotero as well as a discussion of the ways Google Drive can be used to organize source material and facilitate a more seamless writing regimen.

“Organizing Your Research”

HGSA Academic Workshop, 18 January 2013

Leslie Working:

  • Zotero = quickest way to collect and organize books, archival materials, articles
    • originally a Firefox plug-in, now for all major browsers
    • Zotero plug-in and stand-alone (downloadable – lets you access your library of collected materials even when you do not have access to the internet)
      • sync with the Zotero server (which is also one more place to save your work)
    • Zotero has excellent documentation and Help forums – someone will always get back to you when you ask a question
      • has an established community of people invested in improving the tool and helping you with tech issues
  •  quick intro to Zotero for first-time users:
    • icon on search bar to instantly save an item to Zotero: can save webpages, Google Scholar docs, JSTOR pdfs & citations, more
      • sometimes, for JSTOR, the icon does not appear (tech issue folks are working on this) – workaround = go into Zotero plug-in and manually save the pdf as a new item (then have to right-click manually to save the metadata for the item, to use later to generate citations for the item)
        • ALL the instructions for this are on JSTOR
      • same problem sometimes occurs in WorldCat & ProQuest
  • Zotero great for archives with no/spotty internet access –> still able to access your secondary source material for reference to help in your research work
  • allows you to search tags AND text (from notes you put in Zotero)

Regarding Organization & Zotero:

  • allows you to think about the organization of your work while you are interacting with it
    • recommends building a folder in Zotero for items of interest to read later (things that pique your interest but that you aren’t quite sure yet how they are relevant to your research)
  • can also create groups in Zotero to collaborate on work (e.g. bibliographies, class materials)
    • these can be as open or as closed as you like
    • Leslie is working in a Western Womens History group to produce bibliographies
    • thinks it would also be great for collaborating on comps – sharing notes, having conversations, support
  • can search for groups on Zotero.org
    • very easy for classes to use and contribute to as well
  • there is a plug-in for OpenOffice, MS Word that allows you to easily and quickly import citations from Zotero in a specified citation style of your choice
    • footnotes AND can ask Zotero to create a bibliography for you
    • formatting for this comes from the text editor you are using, NOT from Zotero (so if you find yourself having difficulty with formatting, check your default settings in your text editor)

Dr. Katrina Jagodinsky

  • didn’t know about Zotero when started her dissertation so used Google Docs (which is now Google Drive)
    • benefit of being able to use Zotero offline is a big plus
    • Google Drive also accepts pdfs
  • Jagodinsky puts footnote citations for both primary & secondary sources at the top of each and every document –> pulls the citation this way
    • makes footnote citation as opposed to bibliographic citation because that’s what she wants to be able to grab quickly when writing
    • makes her own notes
      • uses for transcription of archival material too
    • tags materials as well
  • carefully document every source you look at in archival visits EVEN if you are not going to cite it directly or use it –> put in notes reason you are NOT planning to use the document/source, specifically why it is not relevant

    • this way you can state clearly everything you’ve looked through
      • especially handy for writing research reports (summaries of research finds) after an archival visit –> shows you did the work (even if had fewer relevant sources than you thought going into it) and justifying your trip and the funding you received for it
  • write down whenever you read someone who agrees with your line of thinking –> way of later justifying your line of thinking and/or analytical leaps when writing
    • your notes should not just be about things you plan to quote
  • Jagodinsky researched for a full semester (in conjunction with conferencing)
    • writing pace = 5-6 hours per day, 6 weeks for each chapter
      • split her work days as 1/2 writing + 1/2 secondary reading (helps inspire you, keeps you in the terminology of your focus, break from tedium of writing) BUT be careful not to allow yourself to become distracted by your reading –> keep the focus on writing
      • 4 weeks: would have a chapter draft of about 20-25 pages
        • wrote with a hard copy of primary sources laid out chronologically for easy reference while drafting narrative
      • on footnotes: would search her Google documents for a given subject, pulls up a list, can run through these as writing to pull the footnotes and relevant quotes
        • having to dig through books slows down the writing process
        • Jagodinsky was casual with her footnotes in her first draft (to be able to move through the writing) –> used bad writing days to go back through and formalize these
        • everyone will experience writer’s block – you MUST have some things set aside to do on these days that will still keep your productivity up and you moving forward
          • read secondary sources
          • transcribe primary sources you haven’t gotten to yet
          • fix your footnotes
          • do some outlining
        • recommends against ever using “ibid” in footnotes until your final draft
      • keep the same writing schedule so you don’t need to even think about “what am I going to do today?” –> have an ingrained habit instead
        • do NOT work 7 days a week – get out of that chair!
    • after Jagodinsky had the 4 week draft, would take about a week off, do “prepping” (cleaning up grammar and other compositional loose ends)
      • week 6: working on the next chapter while advisor looks over the draft you sent in
      • week 7: revise returned chapter, working from your notes
      • week 8: return to working on your next chapter

“The Job Interview,” UNL History Department Workshop Notes

Below are my notes from the UNL History Department’s workshop for graduate students on the subject of the academic job interview. It was one of my favorite workshops of the semester and included a lot of specific insight into the interview process at community colleges, small liberal arts colleges, and research one universities. I’ve included links to profiles of the panelists when possible.

Department Workshop: “The Job Interview,” 11/30/2012

Dr. Carole Levin introduces panelists: Joy Schultz of Metro Community College, Omaha; Meghan Winchell of Nebraska Wesleyan University; Timothy Elston of Newberry College, South Carolina; Katrina Jagodinsky of University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Joy Schultz, Metro Community College, Omaha:

  • job opening at Metro starting Monday, Dec. 3rd – requires 18 credit hours in the field to be an adjunct –> Schulz: great way to get teaching experience for your resume
    • Metro has 30,000 students across all campuses, 4 full-time history faculty – jobs more competitive now (more than 200 applications for 1 or 2 positions)
  • Pros of working at a community college: very student-oriented, full control over classroom (can go into context you are interested in/working on currently), small class sizes (10-35 students max), very flexible work schedule (evenings, weekends, online; standard schedule = 2x/week), can go very in-depth in your subject matter
    • emphasis on teaching and relationships with students (mentoring)
  • Cons: students of diverse backgrounds (16-60 years old), no academic requirements for entry into the course, heavy workload (18 credit hours/quarter – although sometimes same course twice + 2 online), time for research = very, very limited
  • personal relationships will help you make connections over time (adjuncting now helps with full-time interviewing later)
    • expect the interview to include a 20-minute teaching demonstration –> demonstrate range of teaching methods (for audience of diverse backgrounds) and use of technology in the classroom

Meghan Winchell, Nebraska Wesleyan University:

  • phone interviews = “tricky,” almost a separate topic from AHA interviews
  • research not just about the school you are interviewing for – prove to yourself and to them that you can live happily in the town the school is in (Winchell also thinks this helps build a personal connection right away)
  • Tips: small schools are looking for teachers (“jack of all trades” – SO also advises to get a lot of teaching experience now and come to interview with syllabi, teaching statement, teaching evaluations); be sure your courses are different from the faculty where you are applying
    • be prepared to meet with everyone at a small school (because everyone will talk about you); have fun and be personable
    • Winchell says sometimes it’s okay/appropriate to ask about the schools for kids if you have them or things related to your hobbies

Timothy Elston, Newberry College:

  • small liberal arts colleges (e.g. Newberry College = 1,100 students); faith-based colleges looking at starting good programs in teaching
  • these colleges often include students in the interview process (this matters); understand the accrediting agency that the college is responsible to (need to prove accreditation in areas you are teaching)
  • try to give the impression you are happy with everything about the college and will get along with everyone
  • get access to a faculty manual (many small liberal arts colleges don’t offer tenure – only 3 or 6 year contracts); teaching is #1 (service to college and town important too); beware the administrative assistants (they can make or break you)
    • perk = tuition exchange (for kids)
  • you will interview with everyone, take them all seriously – are you a good fit? (input from variety of perspectives)
  • Newberry College putting an ad out for U.S. History soon

Katrina Jagodinsky, University of Nebraska-Lincoln:

  •  echoes advice to “bulk up” on teaching experience while obtaining the PhD
  • Jagodinsky was on the job market for 2 years and applied to everything (especially community colleges in regions she wanted to live in) – says 1st year apply for everything; 2nd year apply in a more targeted way
  • interviews at research one universities: dissertation should be finished (or nearly finished) AND should be able to discuss your next project (to show you can achieve tenure)
    • demonstrate an ability to teach for both undergraduates and graduate students, balance service with teaching (service for networking – illustrates dedication and enthusiasm; CAN discuss your experience in a grad student organization or other committee work)
    • be sure to come off as positive and energetic
    • the job talk is emphasized but will have teaching demonstrations too, meetings with both administration and students
      • do NOT read your job talk (it’s about 45 minutes and should be strategic, not comprehensive coverage, high image, low text powerpoint)
      • be prepared for some people in your audience to be uninterested in what you have to say (based on faculty interest and your contribution to the department)
      • explain what phase your dissertation is in, what course you will teach with it, specify where you hope to publish it and how (specific presses, books or article series), demonstrate ability to recruit undergrads to your courses and into the department)
    • ask meaningful questions of the faculty – what is their experience with committees, chairs, diverse students, any other problems you’ve faced; illustrate desire and ability to organize workshops, symposiums (show off your networking)
    • re-emphasizing need to be positive: don’t appear tired, think of how others are feeling even when you are stressed out, nervous, and tired –> think of the interview as much easier than the job you are about to take on
    • graduate student meetings – demonstrate ability to fill a mentorship role, let them talk about themselves
    • ask tough questions of deans and administrators – tenure rate, department strategic plan, areas for improvement, opportunities for faculty research funding, diversity on campus re: faculty and students, benefit questions (here Jagodinsky says it is “safe” to tip your hand about kids, marriage)
    • wear suit to job talk, 2 other dressy outfits for rest of visit
    • be positive and humble (others are there to help you be better); know how you’ll fit within the department – know who the faculty are, what they study, and ask them good questions to show you care and are serious

“Careers in History in the 21st Century: The Job Market and the State of the Field,” UNL History Department Workshop Notes

Below are my notes from a workshop I attended yesterday afternoon. In addition to gaining some valuable insight into the current job market and the application process, I was very pleased to hear our department express its enthusiastic support for both academic and non-academic career paths for history graduate students. This is something the UNL History Graduate Students’ Association, of which I am currently serving as president, has recently been working to encourage greater faculty discussion of. Our department chair, Professor Will Thomas, offered an overview of recent research into the production and job placement of history PhDs over time and discussed the many ways individual history graduate students can work to maximize their job opportunities. I have included links to some items on the handout Dr. Thomas provided.

Department Workshop, “Careers in History in the 21st Century: The Job Market and the State of the Field”


Upcoming department workshops:

  • January 20th – “Using the New Blackboard to Teach”
  • March 30th – research forum with Dr. Jessica Coope
  • April 27th – “Teaching Online”

Dr. Tom Smith, “Numbers and All That”

  • finished at UNL in 2006, on the job market for 5 years while working in the field in a host of different positions, now has a tenure-track job at Chadron State College
  • 165 and then 80 applicants for a single position at Chadron State College on two occasions
    • need ways to distinguish oneself from other applicants
  • asks what the students think of the UNL HIST 990 course on pedagogy, Special Problems of Teaching History
    • can point to this in applications → say something specific about your pedagogy to show you have studied it, are aware of the literature, and are making use of it in your teaching – useful even when applying for research one universities
  • “Your Field and Change” – stay aware of where your field is and where it’s going
    • keep your eye on job ads and descriptions throughout your academic career (H-NET)
    • so many applicants do not write to the job ad
    • even after your professional training is finished, you will need to keep up on the latest trends and adapt to them (e.g. Atlantic history → transnational history → transnational history with attention to the Pacific in particular)
    • invest yourself in secondary fields → e.g. Digital History, Public History
    • Dr. Smith emphasizes that he believes transnationalism is “here to stay” BUT warns applicants not to appear “too trendy” → be certain to emphasize that you are well-rooted in traditional history training and methodology
  • “Cutting Edge” or “Get ‘Er Done” – get your research done → need to have cutting-edge research to get published but might also have something “more manageable” that you can get into print before finishing your dissertation – 2 or 3 items at a time
    • cutting-edge project to be emphasized in in-depth conversations with interviewers
  • “The Good Fit” – a code phrase for whether or not you are a personality match for the department you are applying to
    • a judgment not just based on research and teaching but how much people believe they can get along with you → so be pleasant and know something about the department you are applying to – try to get a feel for the culture ahead of time
  • Dr. Smith thanks his advisors – Dr. Timothy Mahoney and Dr. James Le Sueur – for supporting him throughout his entire application process – writing many, many letters of support and also states that he is very proud of his graduate education here at UNL

Dr. Will Thomas

  • has handouts for us with articles to read
  • segue to job market “largely construed” – says we need to start talking and thinking about a variety of job options for academics
    • discusses Anthony Grafton’s piece “No More Plan B” – breadth of what graduate training provides and what jobs grad students can get outside the Academy
      • plan = successful careers, not about “plan A” and/or “plan b” → asks how we can get to helping you get a successful career (your advisor central to this)
  • Dr. Thomas states that, when he was in grad school, he did not immediately think he would go into the Academy → had been teaching and planned to go back to teaching
    • in his program, non-academic careers not discussed (thinks this needs to change) BUT he had a very supportive advisor
    • we need to train broadly and be a department that is willing to think about the non-academic (ALT-AC) department more broadly – “hybrid careers”
  • centrality of advising
  • thinks History is well-positioned and perhaps better-positioned in terms of other humanities departments in enabling students to gain skills that can translate into many different areas (AND that this is an extraordinarily positive thing)
  • gives us the handout
  • starts with Robert Townsend’s piece, “NRC Report Provides Data on History Doctoral Programs” and Anthony Grafton and Jim Grossman’s “No More Plan B: A Very Modest Proposal for Graduate Programs in History”
    • serious decline in jobs advertised (see figure 1 of Townsend’s piece) – about have as many jobs advertised within the past several years
    • BUT over last 20 years, the number of full-time faculty has risen in the 604 registered academic institutions → Townsend believes this is because “history is popular, history is something that institutions value, across a wide range of institutions”
    • need to pay attention to these trends AND discuss how to distinguish ourselves in the broader job market
  • NRC (National Research Council) reports on PhD production within the U.S.
    • NRC rankings have a lot to do with internal funding arrangements, impact departments
    • in the field of history, about 126 PhD granting institutions → these are ranked by the NRC – most recent report published 6 months ago: UNL “not really that high” but “at the very top of the fourth quartile” which is “not a bad place to be” when looking for jobs → 4th quartile producing best job placement figures for their PhDs
      • UNL wants to move up but our institution in particular works hard at placement of its PhDs – though points out that this NRC report only counts academic jobs
    • started the conversation, especially at the AHA, about what certain institutions are doing for their PhDs
    • (1) prepare for hybrid careers, different career trajectories, (2) advisor-advisee relationship needs to be “intentional” on both sides and long-lasting, (3) internships – need to demonstrate your “self-sufficiency” as an applicant (motivated to work to improve your c.v.), (4) more proactive about researching the current job market
    • anticipates a lot of discussion on this topic at the AHA in Chicago

Q & A session:

  • Robert Jordan asks about criteria in application that helps make one person make it from “one pile [of applications] to another”
    • Dr. Thomas answers that there are different “cut off points” and different stages at which one is eliminated; one of the first stages is whether your letter and c.v. fits with the job ad; second stage has a lot to do with how you express yourself and your research in your writing and how your advisors support you (in their writing and representative of your field)
    • Dr. Tim Mahoney agrees very much with Dr. Thomas on the point of one’s research and ability and method of articulating one’s research that is the focus; states that grades/transcripts are not really the focus at this level AND the teaching statement; if your advisor writes at length about your research – is invested in your research – this is impressive to those evaluating your application (urge your professor to take the time to print out a separate letter to the chair of the evaluating committee)
    • Dr. Jim Le Sueur notes that truly need to pay attention to the job description – crucial to determining which individual will fit the best; also something to be said for investigating the institution one is applying for (be as specific and tailored as possible in your application); states that he worked with Dr. Smith to tailor the discussion of Dr. Smith’s research in the reference letters); MUST have an advisor you trust to do what you need to do – MUST be on the same page (or switch advisors or think about a non-academic job)
    • Dr. Jeannette Jones states that, to her, the cover letter is particularly important in an application – don’t try to make your work fit if it clearly doesn’t → this is pretty obvious; spend time on the ones where you know your work fits
  • Megan Benson asks for a discussion of community college jobs
    • Dr. Thomas cites Dr. Kurt Kinbacher as a great example of a recent grad to obtain a job at a community college → community colleges as “vibrant,” great places; (1) Kinbacher’s dissertation stood out – did not “play it safe” on his dissertation, has one of the single highest downloaded dissertations on Digital Commons → received a lot of attention for this; (2) non-tenure track teaching “less damaging” to one’s application than adjunct teaching, when one is seeking a tenure-track position; Kinbacher was employed on Dr. Thomas’ Railroads and the Making of Modern America digital project and other unique positions that made him stand out
  • Chris Rasmussen asks about the “damage done” by working as an adjunct
    • Dr. Thomas states that he hesitates to use this phrase, though will speak to it since Grafton does in his piece; Mellon Foundation promoting research fellowships – cites this as an example of something that can be useful for your application in the “intersticial period”
      • not advancing a research agenda if teach an adjunct course here and there and your research is central to the strength of your application
    • Dr. Mahoney recalls UNL having three-year adjunct positions and his own experience working while seeking a tenure-track job BUT was also working to establish connections, a network that could generate a group of individuals who could speak on his behalf about his contributions to their institutions; advises people to always attend workshops when one has the opportunity and keep pushing ahead with the research, even if you are only able to do it by burning the midnight oil after a full day of teaching
    • Dr. Le Sueur also emphasizes the importance of continuing to publish
  • Megan Benson asks what to do about having an advisor who supports your research but not necessarily your personal decisions about job applications
    • Dr. Smith defers on the topic, as he states that he has no personal experience with this
    • Dr. Thomas notes the importance of having other advocates on your side; role of advisor absolutely crucial – returns to the point of needing to have that trust in one’s advisor and if the trust is not there, may want to rethink that connection → it’s your career, you are not being “acted upon,” you have choices here
    • Dr. Le Sueur states that when he was job-hunting, one of his advisors did not have the expertise he thought they needed to represent him on the job market so Dr. Le Sueur sent his dissertation out to a leader in the field, making a connection that was very valuable to him in his applications
      • Andrea Nichols asks about how a letter from outside your institution of study would look when your application is being evaluated
        • Dr. Jeannette Jones says it depends on where one is within their career → directly out of school, of course you need to have letters from your institution; different when 2 or more years outside of your program of study – someone you met at a conference and is familiar with your work, sees this as perfectly okay
        • Dr. Thomas concurs with Dr. Jones on this point
  • I ask about various ways to demonstrate one’s “self-sufficiency” as an applicant
    • Dr. Thomas notes that this varies a lot from one institution to another and one field to another; cites example of Digital Humanities – looking for experience and contribution to the field as a graduate student; more and more places engaging with portfolio representation of work – example of demonstrating self-sufficiency with regard to DH: listing one’s technical sufficiency and expertise on one’s c.v. (Jason Heppler’s c.v. As an example); skills acquired over time, where those skills are certified, showing that you are doing some work on your own outside your graduate training
    • Dr. James Garza highlights the importance of networking – need to take your job as a graduate student seriously, be proactiv, look for opportunities your advisor may not know about
    • Dr. Thomas picks up on Dr. Garza’s point about networking – check out and talk with others at archives when you are researching, find out what they are working on
    • Dr. Garza: if going to a conference that your advisor will be at, ask for introductions to people within your field; notes that his advisor and he are very close to this day – continues to work with his advisor on things; also be aware of what other schools you are competing against → What other institutions are producing scholars in your field?
    • Dr. Thomas returns to Grafton’s point about the breadth within the market and ivy league institutions contributing barely 15% of teaching positions (not quite the “stranglehold” that it once was, though ivy league institutions remain quite hierarchical in their hiring – hire mostly other ivy leaguers)
  • Dr. Jones asks about students pursuing pre-doctoral fellowships in terms of applicants
    • Dr. Mahoney states that anyone who shows initiative and interest in being where scholars are is “a plus” – Dr. Thomas agrees (e.g. ACLS fellowships very significant) – think about positioning oneself for things such as this as they are very valuable and distinguish one
    • Dr. Jones says start applying for these when your dissertation proposal has been approved and is underway → helps you hone your work in a way writing alone cannot
    • Dr. Thomas notes that in the search the department is currently conducting, the top 25 applicants all have had at least one full year fellowship → prestigious mark as a scholar
    • Dr. Le Sueur adds that every one of the final candidates for the German position last year was in a fellowship when being interviewed for the position

Links to handout items: