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Higher Ed

Book Launch Q&A

Screenshot of Katina giving talk and smaller thumbnails of event participants
Click to watch the full conversation

I had the great pleasure of speaking with Dr. Teresa Mangum at the University of Iowa to celebrate the launch of Putting the Humanities PhD to Work. Following a generous introduction by Dr. Cathy Davidson, Teresa and I had an invigorating conversation about the nature of graduate education, the challenges of navigating tacit knowledge, and the value of the humanities in a moment of great unrest. The discussion moved along so briskly that we didn’t have time for a thorough Q&A with the audience, but many people added thoughtful questions in the chat and I’m happy to be able to address them here. I have included attribution when possible, and have lightly edited for clarity in some cases.

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Higher Ed

Fracturing tacit knowledge to create new possibilities

After reading Mushroom at the End of the World by Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing I’ve been mulling over some ideas about fractures in higher ed’s prestige economy, how those fractures make other ways of being and knowing possible. The precarity and opportunity of those spaces, the glimmers of light.

I think this is connected with silence/tacit knowledge—the mechanisms we cannot escape if we don’t know they’re there. Something about these silences, these fractures, seems like the space to explore. Though they bear the weight of trauma they also carry the spark of possibility, of imagining otherwise.

COVID has brought massive changes to higher ed, astonishingly quickly. This rupture brings the overall structure and assumptions into focus. Which institutions are bringing students back, heedless of all the pain and loss we have seen to date? Where are students finding care and support? Do these things ever coincide?

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Higher Ed

The time to reinvest in public education is now

More than a week into worldwide protests against racial injustice in the United States, the glaring resource discrepancy between police departments and other public services—including health care, social services, and education—is more apparent than ever. Calls abound to reduce funding to police departments, and are already having an effect. NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio has announced that he will shift some NYPD funding into youth services, and the Minneapolis City Council recently moved to disband the police department all together. 

Shifting funds away from punitive measures like policing and incarceration would immediately open up significant opportunities to better support individuals and communities. Education has long been a place where budget cuts happen first when city and state budgets are tight, something that the City University of New York is facing right now. Even though CUNY’s summer enrollment is up 17% as more students look to affordable online learning options in the midst of COVID-19, CUNY is bracing for budget cuts of 10-25%, which will entail significant course reductions and mass layoffs of adjunct faculty. Students from marginalized racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds will likely be hurt most significantly by these cuts, given that many are already in precarious positions—not only with respect to their education, but also with respect to their health, safety, and financial well-being. These compounding factors have been brought into painful clarity by the combined effects of COVID and police brutality.  Black lives matter.

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(#Alt-)Academia Higher Ed Personal

Reflecting on a decade

2020 is on the horizon, ushering in a time of looking back and looking forward. January will bring not only a new year but a new decade, and a metaphorical connection to 20/20 vision. In the U.S., the year also brings a high-stakes and emotionally fraught presidential election that feels something like a moment of reckoning. Naturally, this is a time of reflection for many, myself included.

I’ve been thinking especially about how much has changed in my professional life in the last ten years. At HASTAC, we’re in the midst of planning our 2020 conference at UT Dallas, with a theme of Hindsight, Foresight, and Insight. That theme resonates as I reflect on my own journey. Part of this professional trajectory connects to another unexpected ten-year mark. As Twitter reminded me, ten years ago Jason Rhody and Bethany Nowviskie started describing their work as “alt-ac”.

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(#Alt-)Academia Higher Ed Writing

Putting the Humanities PhD to Work: Updates, abstracts, and more

I’m delighted to share that Putting the Humanities PhD to Work is in production at Duke University Press, and should be out in the world in time for Fall 2020! It has a fresh new subtitle (Thriving in and Beyond the Classroom), and a structure that has been much improved thanks to thoughtful comments and questions by generous peer reviewers.

Stylized book title and author name

In addition, our team at the Futures Initiative is using ideas in the book as a starting point for what I think will be an exciting nationwide conference in Spring 2020. This conference, Graduate Education at Work in the World, aims to collectively imagine and redesign graduate education to support students, scholarship, and the public good. If you’re interested in these topics, please consider submitting a session proposal (by Oct 21, 2019) or joining us in NYC on April 30-May 1, 2020. Graduate Fellow Cihan Tekay (Anthropology) will be leading much of the conference development, and I’m so excited to be a part of the conversations that emerge.

What has become incredibly clear to me, both through writing the book and now through the process of developing the conference, is how important it is to embed any discussion about career pathways in a broader context of the values and structures of higher education. Even when a university has deeply-held values about its purpose and mission (such as supporting the public good), those values can easily be undermined by inequitable structures. I think a crucial starting point for reform is finding where the tensions are between values and structures, as those points of friction often illuminate tacit values that work against the university’s goals.

These are the kinds of difficult questions that are woven throughout the book. It will be released by late summer 2020, and I hope it will be useful to graduate students, faculty, and administrators alike. Read on for an updated table of contents and abstracts:

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(#Alt-)Academia Higher Ed Talks and Events

Putting the PhD to Work—For the Public Good

I recently had the privilege of giving a joint keynote address at the Big XII Teaching and Learning Conference at the University of Texas, Austin, together with Adashima Oyo, doctoral student in social welfare, a graduate fellow in the Futures Initiative, and the director of HASTAC Scholars. Our goal in giving the talk was to situate the push for career preparation for doctoral students in a broader context of graduate education reform, including issues such as equity, inclusion, labor practices, and more.

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Higher Ed Talks and Events

The problem with prestige

I recently had the honor of speaking alongside brilliant public scholars Jessie Daniels and Alex Gil at an NYC event hosted by the University of Edinburgh. The event, which was organized by (also brilliant!) Karen Gregory, Melissa Terras, Sian Bayne, and their Edinburgh colleagues, carried a daunting title: What is the future of the University? Teaching, learning, and research in a time of crisis. Karen asked each of us to prepare a brief “provocation.” I spoke about the problem with prestige, and about the challenge of moving from a competitive, prestige-oriented model of higher education to one that builds from (and creates) abundance, joy, and a sense of possibility. This was a very quick talk, and one intended to spark questions rather than provide answers. I’m sharing here an edited version of my remarks, as this is a topic I would like to continue exploring in my work—in my writing and speaking, and in my capacity as an administrator.

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(#Alt-)Academia Higher Ed

Speaking with power – as a public good

Next week, GC Director of Media Relations Tanya Domi will join the Futures Initiative for a discussion and hands-on workshop on translating research for broader audiences—and getting it published. (Join us!) One of the major stumbling blocks for academics looking to break into this kind of writing, I think, is feeling confident enough to pitch an idea and strong enough to absorb many potential rejections before something lands. As we prepare for the event I’ve been reflecting on an activity that I led recently for our graduate fellows that had a similar aim of developing confidence in one’s voice.

The activity was part of a professional development session for FI Graduate Fellows. To start it off, I borrowed an exercise from the Op-Ed Project on establishing credibility. I had each person introduce themselves using the template, “Hello, my name is [x] and I am an expert in [y].”

This is a miserable exercise. When I first encountered it as a participant, my heart was pounding as my turn approached, and I felt ill as I began to speak, willing myself to swallow the usual caveats and hedges that I use to undercut myself. When I led the fellows in doing the same, using my own intro as an example, I stumbled even more, feeling deeply uncomfortable to perform in this way among people who know me well (even if they know me *as an expert*).

In both cases, nearly everyone shared my discomfort, even as they spoke beautifully about all that they know and do.

For many of us, it can feel deeply wrong to say that we excel at something. It creates physical discomfort and mental anguish. And yet, this discomfort is precisely what makes the exercise so effective. The degree of discomfort is, in large part, inversely proportional to how much authority participants are accustomed to having when they speak. In many cases women, people of color, and others who are generally not assumed to be experts may be conditioned to position themselves in a way that is more palatable and less threatening. Women know well that asserting authority can be perceived negatively; to avoid that negative perception, we often smooth things over, soften the edges, and defer to others even when we are the expert in the room.

And yet, undercutting one’s own expertise can prevent others from hearing important perspectives and challenging truths that are so needed in public discourse.

The major paradigm shift that I think is important is moving from imposter syndrome—which is always focused on the self, and how one may or may not measure up to others—to a sense of how our knowledge or expertise might benefit some broader public.

This is such an important transition. I hope that the Futures Initiative’s upcoming workshop offers some concrete strategies to help move in that direction. Everyone has something powerful to share; it is the perfect time to make our voices heard.

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(#Alt-)Academia Higher Ed Writing

Putting the Humanities Ph.D. to Work

I’m excited to announce that Putting the Humanities Ph.D. to Work: Theory, Practice, and Models for Thriving Beyond the Classroom is in contract with Duke University Press. The book is a project that I have been working on in one way or another ever since working with the Scholarly Communication Institute and the Scholars’ Lab at UVa. The book will be a solid discussion of career pathways for humanities Ph.D.’s, from nuts and bolts to why it matters. In the coming months, I hope to blog about the project, especially some of the more complex questions I’m wrestling with. Feedback is most welcome.

For now, here’s the working abstract:

Intended for graduate students in the humanities and for the faculty members who guide them, this book grounds practical career advice in a nuanced consideration of the current landscape of the academic workforce and an emphasis on reaffirming humanities education as a public good. It explores how rhetoric and practices related to career preparation are evolving, and how those changes intersect with admissions practices, scholarly reward structures, and academic labor practices—especially the increasing reliance on contingent labor. The book also examines the ways that current practices perpetuate systems of inequality that result in the continued underrepresentation of women and minorities in the academy. Rather than indulge the narrative of crisis, this book invites readers to consider ways that graduate training can open unexpected doors that lead to meaningful careers with significant public impact. Drawing on surveys, interviews, and personal experience, the book provides graduate students with context and analysis to inform the ways they discern opportunities for their own potential career paths, while taking an activist perspective that moves not only toward individual success but also systemic change. For those in positions to make decisions in humanities departments or programs, the book offers insight into the circumstances and pressures that students are facing and examples of programmatic reform that address career matters in structural ways. Throughout, the book highlights the important possibility that different kinds of careers offer engaging, fulfilling, and even unexpected pathways for students who seek them out.

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Higher Ed Personal

New Beginnings

After my daughter was born in 2014, I couldn’t believe how hard it was to avoid clichés when everything was so startlingly new to me. She was growing so fast, I felt so much joy and so much exhaustion, I worried about diaper rash and breastfeeding and the state of the world. Thoughts of health and growth and happiness and safety—just like every new parent, ever. So many things I had never felt before, but that had been felt and expressed by countless parents across time and space. Words failed me.

I had my second child, a baby boy, this past July. Having watched myself transform into a parent when my daughter came into the world, I feel (somewhat) less stunned by the simultaneous wonder and triviality this time around. Becoming a parent feels miraculous and utterly mundane, a tension that recurs every day through brand-new smiles and endless repetitive tasks, through deep hope and moments of frustration.

So now, with the paradoxes of life with a new human very much on my mind, it’s time for me to return to work and think once more about the ground that we as educators prepare for the generations to come, while building on the work and wisdom of many who have come before. I am at once not ready to be back, and happy to be returning.

I am grateful for the unfailing support of my colleagues, who made it possible for me to be completely focused on my family and my health during these past three months. And I’m full of admiration for the hard work it took our union, PSC-CUNY, to obtain paid parental leave not only for me, a birth mother, but for any new parent in a full-time position. This kind of support, both institutional and personal, is too rare in workplaces in the U.S. and I do not take it for granted.

In the weeks and months ahead, I will be blogging about my book project, Putting the Humanities Ph.D. to Work; our work at the Futures Initiative; and issues around higher education more broadly. And I’ll be trying to bring more of my whole self into these posts than I sometimes do, which may mean reflections on parenthood (especially motherhood) in an academic workplace—especially given that my breast pump often provides my writing soundtrack these days.

So with deep thanks again to all who support me, I’m happy to be embracing the new beginning in my personal life and bringing a fresh perspective to my work.