Publication Date

August 25, 2015

While at the AHA, I’ve been hearing a lot of conversations on graduate education and careers that have resonated with my own experience as an MA student at the University of Virginia. I’m a bit of a hybrid when it comes to the history/English disciplinary distinction, studying English in grad school but gravitating towards historical projects, book history, and digital humanities. Here are a few reflections on how I used graduate school to navigate my own career decision-making process and figure out what to do with my MA.

Going into graduate school, I knew I didn’t want to pursue a PhD; therefore, I figured I would need to be creative when it came to developing a compelling CV/resume that would speak to employers outside the academy—not to mention find out what that employment could look like! I viewed my graduate education, therefore, as two-pronged. I anticipated it would

  1. broaden my writing, reading, and research skills (applicable and valuable in a variety of careers)
  2. give me the opportunity to intern and assist on projects that would help me develop skills more readily identifiable by outside employers

The Lawn at UVa

With only two years to accomplish these hefty goals, like most grad students, my schedule was pretty tight. At times, I juggled a full course load along with an internship and research assistantship. That was the first year. The second year comprised lighter coursework, writing my thesis, working at Rare Book School, and completing a digital humanities collaborative project. Looking back, I was pretty stressed much of the time, but having been involved in so many different places where academic work intersected with practical skills gave me a glimpse into a variety of worlds where my MA would serve me well.

One area I knew I wanted to consider was publishing, and since I knew I wanted that experience, I made sure to apply to schools that had university presses. As an intern at the University of Virginia Press, I was typically assigned proofreading, writing copy for book jackets and press releases, and compiling mailings of review copies. I also frequently sat in on full staff meetings. Perhaps the most important experience I gained from the internship was the work environment itself. I learned how a publishing house functioned, as well as aspects of book editing, design, and marketing. Since many museums and cultural institutions have publications departments—such as the Georgia Museum of Art, which I interned at as an undergrad at UGA—I knew this kind of experience would be transferable, and could really open up options when it came time to search for a job.

My Mii... or a visualization, courtesy of Wii, of myself as I learn new digital skills, at times a confusing experience.

My Mii… or a visualization, courtesy of the Scholars’ Lab’s Wii (used to blow off coding stress), of myself as I learn new digital skills, at times a confusing experience.

Was I interested in publishing? Yes. Certain it was what I wanted to do? Not entirely. While researching graduate programs I had heard of “digital humanities” (or “digital history” within the history circle) and that knowledge of digital methods could be helpful in a variety of cultural institutions. Being fortunate enough to study at a university that avidly cultivated digital scholarship, I had the opportunity to assist on digital projects in the English department (Alison Booth’s Collective Biographies of Women), the UVA Scholars’ Lab, the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities (Documents Compass’s People of the Founding Era), and the Washington Papers. I developed project management skills and also learned about working in databases, using HTML, blogging, and using social media to publicize scholarly projects. As an intern in public history projects, I also saw how digital tools could help bring history to a wider audience, which inspired me to further cultivate this skill set. And lastly, I got to see how different scholarly work environments functioned, experience the various office cultures, and see how my own scholarly interests could meld with technical skills in powerful ways.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time in graduate school. I loved talking about book history and digital applications all day, but I knew one day I’d have to leave, and when that happened I wanted to know what my options were for finding a job that would let me stay involved in the scholarly world. Turns out, there are a lot of ways to do that. No matter what you’re planning to do with your degree, grad school—with its rich intersection of scholars, institutions, projects, and other cultural forces—is a great place to explore those options.

For more reflections from recent MAs, see Chelsea Tegel’s post on how her outreach internship at the National History Center has informed her career search.

This post first appeared on AHA Today.

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