Welcome to the 2018 HWW Predoctoral Career Diversity Summer Workshop!

Welcome to the blog for the Humanities Without Walls (HWW) Predoctoral Career Diversity Summer Workshop!

Humanities Without Walls is a consortium of humanities centers and institutes at 15 major research universities throughout the Midwest and beyond. Based at the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities (IPRH) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), the consortium is funded by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

The fourth of the HWW Predoctoral Workshops is scheduled for July 16th through August 3rd, 2018. The summer workshop will instruct students in the various ways they can leverage their pre-existing and developing skill sets towards the pursuit of careers in the public humanities and the private sector. Familiarity with the vital connections between academic and public worlds can also enrich traditional scholarly endeavors.

This blog is intended to engage participants through reflection and commentary about the workshop’s activities, particularly its focus on potential career paths inside and outside of academia. Our intention is that workshop Fellows will emerge with a network of contacts in a range of professional realms; a significantly broadened sense of the career possibilities that await humanities PhDs; a cohort of friends and colleagues from whom they may draw support and advice; and a set of resources aimed at helping them advance into the various realms considered under the broad rubric of “the public humanities.” It is our hope that having current Fellows, as well as workshop alumni, write and reflect about their experiences will benefit all the participants as well as all of those graduate students who have not had the opportunity to attend the workshops.

We send a heartfelt welcome to the 2018 Fellows and we look forward to spending a few weeks together this summer! We also send a warm greeting to our friends from the 2015, 2016, and 2017 workshops.

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I Know What I Learned This Summer, or, the Value of Curiosity and Kindness in Creating a Career in the Humanities

As the project manager for the Humanities Without Walls (HWW) consortium (“jack of all trades, Master of Buddhist studies”), I have a good deal of experience juggling a variety of objects and coordinating myriad personalities. In that capacity, I had a good sense of the logistics involved in putting together a workshop of this scope and duration. What I did not know was what to expect from our inaugural Humanities Without Walls Alt-Ac workshop, other than that I would be working closely with onescore and nine doctoral students for three weeks in Carl Sandburg’s City of the Big Shoulders. I knew I would learn from my inevitable mistakes and oversights about how to improve the workshop for next year (because, as I noted to a colleague as I attempted to make espresso and instead enjoyed a demitasse of hot water, “learn” is spelled F-A-I-L), but I was frankly unprepared to learn so much about my own non-tenure-track career trajectory, to appreciate the meaningful coincidences and connections that brought me to this career, and to grow increasingly excited about future potentials and prospects. While I engaged in the usual administrative and problem-solving challenges that characterize my work as the project manager for a consortium spanning fifteen universities across the Midwest, I was also furiously scribbling notes during most of the presentations, adding to my already sprawling “to-do list” a variety of resources, connections, suggestions, insights, and other things to follow-up on. My head spun as I jotted down skill after skill I plan to cultivate to further my career in academic administration – 21st century etiquette, networking, grant-writing, fund-raising, and seeking links to foundation relations, to list a few.

What really surprised me, though, was the realization that the circuitous route to my present professional position – what I fondly call “taking the scenic route” – is not that out of the ordinary, and is in fact in keeping with many of the career trajectories of the speakers who shared their stories with our doctoral students. (I suspect it also aligns with the pasts, presents, and futures of many of our fellows.) Time and again I was reminded that we often create our own “luck” by practicing certain humanist habits of mind, by cultivating curiosity and a lifelong love of learning and of solving problems, and by embracing challenges with an open mind, and perhaps more importantly, with an open heart. Maintaining our non-research-oriented interests – whether gardening, cooking, parenting, playing poker, volunteering at a homeless shelter, attending the opera, or whatever – out of passion and curiosity may afford us the “peripheral vision” necessary to see interesting and fulfilling career opportunities that aren’t immediately obvious. (Following our bliss, to paraphrase Joseph Campbell, is the essence of the hero’s journey – and who doesn’t want to be a hero? Being a gainfully employed hero is even better, no?) And “networking,” it turns out, need not be a cynical endeavor about meeting others and staying in touch for one’s own benefit, but can instead be about connecting with different people of various backgrounds around the matters that matter to them, about listening to and caring about them, and working continuously to strengthen and cultivate those connections, those relationships, those friendships. In other words being a concerned, caring, and kind person can – in addition to being the right way to live – have career benefits.

I’m truly blessed to have been a part of this workshop from its beginnings and look forward to discovering where this road leads. Be seeing you on the scenic route!


Jason Mierek (“jack of all trades, master of Buddhist studies”) is the project manager for the Humanities Without Walls consortium. He received his B.A. with a dual degree in religion and bio-social studies (a major he designed, combining biology, sociology, and anthropology) from Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington, IL, and earned his M.A. in Buddhist studies from The Naropa Institute in Boulder, CO. He subsequently completed coursework toward a PhD in Humanities, with an emphasis on Asian and comparative religion and philosophy, at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco, CA. When he is not coordinating the myriad activities of the HWW consortium, he may be found reading omnivorously, puttering about in his vegetable garden, fermenting various elixers and comestibles, composing surreal collages, singing with the band Foreign Accent, and relaxing at home with his wife, teenage daughter, and dog Pugglesworth. He loves learning new things and skills.