Sunday, April 22, 2018

Thinking Beyond Your Degree: Eleven Suggestions for a Competitive Job Search

By Dr. Rebecca Dirksen (Indiana University)

*This article originally appeared in SEM Student News Volume 12.1, Spring/Summer 2016.

There’s a great deal of handwringing over the state of today’s job market. This anxiety makes sense: we are facing restructuring of the academic world, with a move toward fewer tenure-track positions for humanities scholars. Moreover, there’s a generalized (and often poorly articulated and thus poorly received) antipathy toward academics, as public dialogues turn to “elitism,” “irrelevancy,” and “employability.” Technically, however, academic job rates for early career ethnomusicologists have been relatively constant if not higher over the past several years, based on the unscientific measure of job postings to the job wiki, ethnomusicology-related listservs, and the Chronicle—although as a discipline we have no firm grasp on where these figures will stand in just five years. But let’s be blunt: even the most accomplished ABDs and recent PhDs with the best connections and the most exciting, cutting-edge research are not guaranteed an institutional home at a university. That said, there’s a comparatively strong market outside the university setting for those with serious public/applied/activist research skills. And there’s an extensive and growing range of available tools and resources that have opened up tremendous latitude for self-designed and directed careers.

So it may be time to reframe a solution to job market stresses: ethnomusicology graduate students might be best advised to build the skills necessary to be a competitive applicant for university and community college jobs while simultaneously positioning themselves to pursue other avenues. Landing a job on either “path” doesn’t preclude anyone from also walking down the other “path.” Academic work and public sector/applied work are not mutually exclusive categories. With this in mind, I’d like to share a few thoughts I’ve had while navigating the process of becoming an applied/engaged scholar, and as I now reflect on how best to assist my own graduate students.