Alt-Ac: You Don't Have to be a Professor to Work at a University

By Cathy Day, Assistant Chair of English

On Tuesday, September 27th at 6:30 PM in 104 Bracken, we’re hosting our second Stars to Steer By session. The title of this one is “You Don’t Have to be a Professor to Work at a University.” RSVP if you’re coming! 

Why this title? 

I’ve been teaching in higher education for over 20 years, and all too often, I hear students say things like this:

“I want to do what you do. Teach college. I love English. I love reading and writing. I love my professors. They are my role models, and I want to do what they do. I want to stay in school forever.”

This is exactly what I wanted in 1991 when I decided to go to graduate school in English/Creative Writing instead of entering a tough, post-recession job market. When I graduated in 1995, I went on the academic job market. First I got a two-year “contract” position and then a tenure-track teaching position. I’ve been in academia ever since.

But the academic job market in the humanities has changed. You can read all about it.

This does NOT mean you should give up your dream. I am not a dream squasher!

But I do want you to consider following that dream, but from a slightly different direction.

The Alt-Ac Route

I pursued an academic teaching career because, to me, a college campus is a small utopia and because my college professors changed my life. To thank them for that, I wanted to follow in their footsteps. But since becoming the Assistant Chair, I’ve realized that teaching is NOT the only way to live in that utopia and NOT the only way to change the lives of college students.

Maybe you should consider the Alt-Ac Route.

Alt-Ac means “Alternative Academic,” and here’s a great article about it.

Since 2010, we’ve been archiving our alumni stories, and many are about alternative academic careers. Here’s a list of previous “Stars to Steer By” posts from English majors and grad students who do various things in higher ed.

It’s a goldmine of advice. Click on their name to read their post. When possible, I’ve also found the person’s LinkedIn bio and/or Twitter account and/or professional bio. (And man, did this take a long time, people.)

Connect with them. They are your stars to steer by!

Student Advising

Alex Wenning. “I offer this reflection from Friedrich Nietzsche: ‘You have your way. I have my way. As for the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist’.”

  • Alex is the Associate Director of the Honors Program at Wright State. Connect with him via email.

University Advancement

Lola Mauer. “At times I felt like I was standing at the end of a path, staring at two roads – one led to a potential Ph.D and the other took me deeper into the advancement world.”

  • Lola is the Associate Vice President of Annual Giving at the Ball State University Foundation. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

Student Affairs

Lindsey Jendraszak. “When I used to tell my parents that an English major opened me up to a world of possibilities, I was mostly trying to placate them. However, now that I travel the world routinely, I suppose I was inadvertently telling them the truth!”

  • Lindsey is currently the Associate Director of Graduate Studies in Psychology at the University of Minnesota. You can connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Ethan Johnson. “What I learned from that year between “careers” is that careers (and life) do not always go according to plan. I imagine my professors, advisers, and mentors told me this in some way, but it was not a message I internalized.”

  • Ethan is a graduate assistant for academic initiatives at Southern Illinois. You can connect with him on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Michael King. “To this day, I view my work with students in terms of their stories, a perspective that enables me to help them do as English majors do: dissect events, interpret their feelings and opinions, and make meaning of their lives.”

  • Michael is a residence hall director at Ball State. Connect with him on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Career Training and Professional Development

Jennifer Banning “At Earlham, I get to interact daily with individual students, providing advice and support as they explore their career and grad school options. Every day I use the skills I gained as an English M.A.”

  • Jennifer is the Director of Career Education at Earlham College. Connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Joseph Goodwin. “The director of the Career Center called me for advice. She wanted someone with editorial experience. As we talked, she explained that she could teach the career development skills. She also mentioned she needed someone with a library background (I had worked in libraries and archives while in college and graduate school) and public speaking experience. Hmm. She was describing me!”

Brianne Nickel. “I never in a million years would have told you that after college, I would work in graduate medical education. I didn’t even know what graduate medical education was. But we somehow found each other, and it’s now a career that I love.”

  • Brianne is the Education Manager for Residency and Fellowship Programs at Indiana University School of Medicine. Connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Sarah Smith-Robbins. “It’s too easy to stereotype us as Shakespeare fanatics or commodity composition teachers. We’re more than that, but only if we leverage our skills in realms other than our own. If we do, slowly but surely, we’ll change the perception of an English degree.”

  • Sarah is the Director of Learning Technologies at the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University. Connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Sean Southern. “Steve Jobs once said, ‘You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward.’ Looking back, I can connect a few dots from my English degree up to my current role.  They both involve finding people and their stories interesting and worth encouraging.”

  • Sean is the Associate Director in the Office of Professional Development at IU’s McKinney School of Law. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

Information Systems

Emily Reed. I remember sulking. I was forced to realize that a struggling liberal arts major was what I was destined to be. Perhaps I would be homeless and live in a cardboard box, but I knew I’d be the best critically thinking hobo there ever was.”

  • Emily is a Digital Records Archivist at Mercy Heritage Center. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

Greek Organizations

Gaylena Merritt “There are a number of things I should have done differently in college (ahem, internships), but I do know this: even if you’re never going to be (or don’t want to be) a high school English teacher, or a literature professor, or a published author, or a lit nerd roaming the aisles of antique book stores, majoring in English can inspire and spark passion in a seemingly unrelated field.”

  • Gaylena is the Director of Programs, Kappa Alpha Theta Foundation at Kappa Alpha Theta Headquarters. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

Divinity School

Kelsi Morrison Atkins. “The humanities is the most subversive of all scholastic endeavors. Even when it seems to be preparing you for nothing that will get you on the cover of Forbes magazine, it is helping you change everything.”

  • Kelsi is in divinity school at Harvard University. Connect with her on Twitter.

Med School

Sam Edwards. “I am quite confident…that my English major will take me wherever I want to go next. There will always be employers who need skilled writers to communicate their awesomeness to the public/clients. Ergo, a job.”

  • After pursuing internships at the Indiana statehouse and Sarabande books, Samantha is a student at University of Louisville School of Medicine in the Business and Leadership track. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

General Advice

Tiffany Sedberry Rieger. “Don’t go to graduate school just for the sake of going to graduate school. Be sure to have a specific goal in mind and a back up, just in case the first doesn’t work out.”

  • Tiffany is a writer living in West Lafayette, Indiana. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

Johna Picco. “I do not recommend pursuing an advanced degree in the humanities unless you have a source of funding (and by funding I don’t mean a bunch of loans), or, a good plan for securing said funding. For me, funding came in the way of a graduate assistantship within my department’s advancement office.”

  • Johna is the Associate Curator at the Filson Historical Society in Louisville. Connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter.

LinkedIn and Twitter

Notice that almost all of these people have a professional LinkedIn and Twitter account. You should do this, too!

  • For help with LinkedIn, bring your laptop to the third Stars to Steer By session on Wednesday, Oct. 25 at 6:30 in 104 Bracken. After the talk by Monica Scalf, we’ll help you set up an account or edit the one you have already.
  • For help with Twitter, bring your laptop to the fourth Stars to Steer By session on Tuesday, November 29 at 6:30 in 104 Bracken. After the talk by the linguistics faculty, we’ll show you how introverts network and talk about how to use Twitter professionally.

Are there more Alt-ac alumni?

If you read this post and would like to be featured, send me a message at cday (at) bee essssss you dot eeee deeeee you.

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