Publication Date

September 4, 2018

Perspectives Section

Letters to the Editor

To the editor:

We write to comment on “The Real Academic World” (Perspectives, May 2018), which narrates the early career challenges of four recent doctoral students from the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), a very “real” world in its own right.

When four graduates of your PhD program with tenure-track positions report on their professional experiences in Perspectives, you know you have done something right. We could not be prouder of the accomplishments of our graduates. Though the Borderlands History PhD program at UTEP is a unique program at a unique institution, Drs. Nancy Aguirre, Cristóbal Borges, John Paul Nuño, and Jamie Starling offer excellent suggestions for departments across the country regarding how we prepare PhD students to teach history in diverse settings.

Like most programs, we require a course in history teaching and learning. But beyond that, teaching sits at the center of our training. Over a decade ago, at the prompting of our students, we replaced qualifying exams with a professional portfolio, which takes a holistic approach, requiring students to create syllabi and pedagogical statements, and reflect on their professional philosophies, as well as demonstrate knowledge of their fields.

Our students have also always been encouraged to teach. We have not, it is true, invited them to formally assist in graduate courses, perhaps on the assumption that the demands for student participation in their seminars conveyed the necessary skills. In this regard, Nuño’s remarks on teaching in a stand-alone MA program are instructive. While we have also found it difficult to create opportunities for students to teach upper-division undergraduate courses in history, our students have often taught such courses elsewhere on campus. We have sometimes facilitated those opportunities, but they have also frequently come from the kind of initiative by the students themselves that our four former students display.

We have also worked with El Paso Community College to expand teaching opportunities for our students, and a recent grant from the Mellon Foundation to fund the UTEP-EPCC Humanities Collaborative has created opportunities this year for students to teach at EPCC as Doctoral Fellows.

Finally, with the help of two AHA Career Diversity grants, we have become increasingly conscious of the need to prepare students to work outside of the academy, and we are working to develop internship opportunities and mentoring partnerships with regional teaching institutions, nonprofits, businesses, and government agencies.

We acknowledge that we cannot do it all, and that sometimes the career successes of our students indeed build on their experiences working for Apple, as Borges reveals, or simply their ability to think on their feet when faced with demands that neither we nor they anticipated. We hope that we learn from them both while they are students and after they graduate and move on to circumstances we may not share. By challenging us to keep looking ahead, their insights are critical to the future of our program and our field.

Jeffrey P. Shepherd
University of Texas at El Paso

Samuel Brunk
University of Texas at El Paso

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