AHA Activities

Not Just for Graduate Students: Faculty and Career Diversity for Historians

Emily Swafford, March 2017

The Career Fair at the 2017 annual meeting attracted more than 100 visitors over three hours. Marc MonaghanHow can I share your stories and experiences with my students?” At many other sessions at the AHA annual meeting, this might have been an unremarkable question for a faculty member to pose. But at this session, at this meeting, it was a welcome surprise. The “Many Careers of the History PhD” session in Denver featured historians in a broad range of employment, from the National Museum of American History to the Consumers Union. Now a staple at the annual meeting, panels such as this one usually attract an audience of graduate students and recent PhDs looking for career guidance. This time, however, the audience also included many graduate faculty, who peppered speakers with questions on how to apply the lessons of the session to their graduate advising and teaching. Faculty engagement is crucial to the next phase of the AHA’s Career Diversity for Historians initiative—with generous funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the AHA will enable up to 20 departments to implement the lessons, programming, and activities developed over the past three years.

The annual meeting now routinely offers a variety of sessions and workshops oriented toward expanding career horizons and opportunities. Having focused initially on students, the AHA has broadened the scope of this activity toward faculty. Participants at the annual luncheon for directors of graduate studies, for example, heard about the AHA’s work, the Council of Graduate School’s efforts to help universities gather information on the career aspirations of students and alumni, and the experiences of Annie Maxfield, associate director of graduate student relations and services at the ULCA Career Center.

The AHA also invited faculty to drop in on the jobs workshop, wander through the Career Fair, and attend one of 15 sessions highlighted on the Profession track in the AHA annual meeting app. Organized annually by the AHA Professional Division, the jobs workshop offers job seekers the chance to review application materials and discuss possible interview questions with volunteers from a variety of institutions, including independent schools, nonprofits, community colleges, and research universities. In Denver, 65 attendees and more than 20 volunteer advisers checked into the workshop.

Graduate students and early career historians also kept these events buzzing. At the fourth annual Career Fair, which attracted more than 100 visitors over three hours, attendees could speak with more than 20 advisers—history PhDs who had volunteered their time to talk about their career paths. In order to help attendees get the most out of the Career Fair, Maxfield led a pre-fair interactive workshop entitled “Decoding Work: Aligning Values and Careers,” which attracted around 20 participants. At the workshop, attendees discussed the results of a free, confidential online Life Values Assessment (a sort of Myers-Briggs for personal and professional values) and how these results might affect their professional choices. One participant described the workshop as “possibly life changing.” To Maxfield, the workshop reflected a familiar theme in her work: “graduate students do not feel empowered in the job search process.”

The AHA is pleased by the number of faculty who attended annual meeting sessions on careers and who want to incorporate ideas from the Career Diversity for Historians initiative into their graduate classrooms. Evidence shows that over the years of this initiative, faculty interest in these issues has increased: in applications for our departmental grants, in the grant-­funded activities of our pilot sites and grant recipients, and anecdotally, from visits to departments and informal conversations at academic conferences.

Faculty interest in Career Diversity sessions at the annual meeting reflects the concerted efforts of AHA staff and the Program Committee to encourage sessions on careers at the annual meeting. It also reveals that initiatives similar to Career Diversity are building steam. Indeed, the next phase of Career Diversity will include an online “census” of career programming in history departments in an attempt to further collaboration and communication among interested parties. The most prominent related initiative is the recently funded Next Generation PhD grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, in which many departments involved with Career Diversity are also participating.

In addition to the explosion of career programming for history PhDs, the proliferation of comparable initiatives points to a renewed emphasis on how important faculty are to their success. Faculty are—and ought to be—the guardians of graduate curriculum. As the AHA’s Career Diversity for Historians initiative moves into the next phase, it must help empower graduate students to feel in control of their education and career paths. This can be achieved only by understanding how the skills and experiences of a doctoral education align—and sometimes misalign—with desired career outcomes. Faculty are crucial to creating the cultural and curricular change essential to our goal of broadening career horizons and expanding opportunities.

Emily Swafford is manager of academic affairs at the AHA. She tweets @elswafford.


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