Last Friday, after a full week of Humanities Without Walls Alt-Ac Workshop, I felt my head was spinning with so much information and insight from a vast, incredible wealth of resources. I was sure my head was going to spin off that evening. When it didn’t, I figured it would on Saturday, but I didn’t really mind (!) as long as I was sleeping.
It’s difficult to explain this exhaustion without sounding like I’m complaining. Part of the exhaustion was from the sheer volume of information shared with us. In one week, so many industries were introduced to me that I hadn’t ever considered as possible career destinations (e.g., design consulting, healthcare technology), and I also reconsidered industries I already knew about in a new light (e.g. press, higher ed admin, tech). Another source of the exhaustion was realizing that I wasn’t “just” a graduate student, but rather a competent thinker, writer, and teacher with a variety of experience. It also seemed to me that not having time to reflect was causing me some stress. After each presentation or field trip, I was a little frustrated because I felt unable answer any questions I thought I should be able to answer: I didn’t know whether I could see myself in any particular industry or job; I didn’t know what I wanted to do; I didn’t know what my core values and skills were, and what industry or job would appreciate both of those.
One way to explain this workshop is to highlight what it is not meant to do — it is not meant to give us a menu of options* from which to pick our future form of employment (although that doesn’t seem like an implausible outcome). After some group discussions, I’ve found that the best way to think about the workshop for me is to think of it as acquiring the most powerful toolbox of resources currently available to any humanities grad student interested in nonacademic work**, so that we can go answer a series of The Ultimate Research Questions: What is the value of my advanced humanities degree? What contributions can I make to which industry? What impact do I want to make? What do I want to do for a living? The HWW workshop, as I see it, is intended to help us approach these questions in the spirit of humanistic inquiry. These questions are complex, multifaceted, and nuanced in different ways for each of us, and the workshop programming encourages us to use our skills, developed and sharpened in our humanities doctoral programs, to approach them as such.
So of course it made sense that I was exhausted — I was starting to think about all of this the wrong way, that there are existing answers to these difficult questions. But consider the questions we ask in our dissertations. Of course the specific argument that we are going to defend doesn’t already exist before we start the project. If it did, proposals would be perfect outlines for the final dissertation! Yet we are told, “It’s all gonna change, anyway.” The dissertation wouldn’t take years to shape, remold as necessary, and continue reshaping. Likewise, in this workshop we are doing the research, acquiring tools and resources along the way, to begin crafting an answer to these important questions about ourselves and our lives.
Though the following may sound like a cautious suggestion, it is meant more as an observation. Having never been on the academic job market, I don’t know a whole lot about it. But there seems to be a general formula with a dash of magic involved: send your application — writing sample, teaching portfolio, and letters — to a zillion places, and then pray for divine winds to blow your way. Perhaps ask yourself, Why did I pick academia? But out of despair, and not as a refreshing reminder of your intellectual curiosity and love of learning. The HWW workshop, I’m finding, is a place where I am constantly asking and re-asking myself why I chose to study philosophy in the first place; what my close family and friends think of my research and teaching (if anything!)***; why I’m in this workshop to begin with; what the value of my dissertation work is. I should keep asking these questions each day, noting when the answers change or differ. They treat this ultimate research project of what I want to do and what my value is in this world seriously, as a string of related, complex, and dynamic questions. I must say that the academic job search process doesn’t impress me as valuing this kind of humanistic inquiry, so crucial to any humanities study at an advanced level. But I’m certain I’ve I found a fine place that does and a group of brilliant scholars who are helping me get my new research project started.
*This phrasing and thought comes from one of our wise programmers and workshop guides, but also a kindred spirit, Ian Blechschmidt.
**I arrogantly decided this is the case because if there were a workshop as great or greater than ours, I’m sure I would have heard about it already.
**Many thanks to independent scholar and writer, Garnette Cadogan, for trying to ease our anxieties and for reminding us to value the input of our friends and family, who are overlooked but natural resources for career advice.
Kei Hotoda is a PhD candidate in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her research focuses on self-understanding, particularly by examining its absence and redevelopment in the context of oppressive and traumatic circumstances. To develop her view of self-understanding, she draws on moral, social and political philosophy, philosophy of the self, fiction, and the psychological effects of sexual assault. During her graduate career, Kei has also developed a strong interest and enjoyment in teaching philosophy to undergraduate students and is often thinking about how to better engage students in class. In her spare time, she enjoys baseball, reads Japanese modern history and fiction set in Japan, watches detective shows as well as Japanese television shows to help keep up with her Japanese language skills, and loves hanging out with her dog, Mitsu.