Sunday, December 8, 2013

Transferable skills

We interrupt this thesis-blogging procrastination (I said I'd do it every week, and have ignored this for 3 or 4 of 'em...sorry) to take stock of what we're doing and why we're doing it.

Kris Shaffer tweeted the other day asking about possible non-PhD options for Music Theory MA grads. I have a lot of thoughts about this, so I'm answering publicly. This is the first time I'm really organizing my thoughts about post-grad options other than "find job doing something I can stand behind," so I welcome comments from across the board. I'm pretty much mentor-free at the moment, and post-ac careers are taboo subjects in my corner of the academic world, so feel free to step in and offer some suggestions. As someone in year 2 of a terminal MA program in musicology, I'm often asked what I'm going to do with my degree. The only thing one would actually "do" with a musicology MA would be to go into a musicology PhD program. Even though I once really wanted to do that, I've changed my mind*, and I'm looking to enter the aptly scare-quoted "real world" and find a job so I can have some version of the middle-class bougie life in which I was raised. With the economy being what it is, I doubt it'll happen that way, so I'd like to at least get by, but with a much healthier work/life balance than I currently have. So when people ask me what I'm going to do with my degree, I tell them I'm going to hang it on the wall. (Sometimes they laugh.) I'm thinking now about what I'm going to do with my education, including the education I get from my TA duties. I have some additional cards in my hand from a paid research internship at the Library of Congress, and my current job as a teaching artist at the Seattle Symphony, though I assume anyone actively planning to do something non-academic has some sort of non-academic professional experience in one area or another.

It seems the most successful way to go about getting a job after a master's degree in the humanities is to do temp work and apply widely. Since I was very young, my mother has (rightly) told me that it doesn't matter what you do, as long as you like your co-workers. I can't tell if this is new, but my generation has been told time and time again that we can do whatever we want (we can't), and that our work should be fulfilling and challenging. Elizabeth Keenan has been writing and tweeting about this sort of stuff a lot. Without engaging in the "having it all" debate, I'd like to propose that a job can be amazingly fulfilling and challenging, or it can be tolerable and allow room for exploration of hobbies and relationships (of all sorts). With that in mind, the temp-and-apply-widely advice feels less like settling and more like exploring. Thanks to the ACA, I won't need to worry (much) about health insurance, and saving/investing can happen when it happens.

So, what kinds of jobs will I get? I'm not sure, but I'm betting no employer will be looking for someone with a bachelor's and master's degree in musicology. Still, I have a set of skills that I've acquired/refined since beginning my MA in late September of 2012.

  • Organization 
    • With a department structure like mine (and lack of colleagues in my degree program to double-check anything with), I've been the primary person responsible for making sure all my boxes are checked.
    • I've TA'ed for a 200-person lecture course, and been responsible for these crazy things we call add codes. Distributing them to everyone trying to get in the class (with varying degrees of English proficiency) over email, and keeping track of students' grades is a lot more difficult than I assumed, but I figured out a system and it worked.
  • Project Design & Managment
    • Twice, I've designed and taught my own writing class, having no prior experience solo teaching (especially for a full-term), and little training for the assignment. Writing a syllabus, planning each class, and seeing students' progress through a full term of a writing class has been a huge learning experience, even if it has caused some of my work to suffer. Which brings me to...
  • Prioritization
    • You just can't do everything, and still do it well. Grad school has taught me how to pick my battles and spend time where it would best be spent. I've come to think of this as non-medical triage.
  • Self-awareness**
    • Landing in a new program can be a lot like starting a new job. You think people know you based on your application, but they really have no idea (and they've probably forgotten your application by the time you arrive). Being in a new program means figuring out who you are and what you bring to the table, and how to do it while working effectively with other people.
  • Research and Thinking
    • This is what the humanities are about, and I think employers get it. I won't link to one of the many pieces I've read about how millennials don't know how to think, but I'll say that all of my colleagues excel at thinking independently and problem-solving, even if we disagree with one another.
    • While the type of research I do as a grad student is pretty specialized and doesn't have much application beyond the academy, I've had some opportunities to do musicology for the public, and it's been really great. Thinking about presenting work to diverse populations forces you to think about what people are are interested in, rather than what is innovative scholarship. Tailoring research to reach diverse groups seems like a pretty transferable skill!
    • I'm good at finding stuff! I used to be decent at it, but I've gotten a lot better at it now that I have nobody feeding me sources or ideas.

I'm sure there are more buzzwords I could throw out about skills I've acquired in my MA program, but this seems like a good place to start. Like I said, I would welcome feedback and comments. I won't be job hunting until the summer, so we'll see how these things pan out eventually.

*This could be a long, heartfelt post on its own, but probably won't be.
**This could be a multi-volume book, but probably won't be.