The Official Blog of UChicago's PATHS Program

Category: Event Summaries

Recap: Conferencing 101 Workshops

Session 1. “Networks, Social Connections, and Social Capital”

On Wednesday, November 28, graduate students and postdocs joined Professor Kate Cagney (Sociology) for a discussion on the values of building and maintaining social connections and networks. Through theories of social capital and illustrative data from local and national research projects examining varied forms of human connectedness, Cagney had us convinced that social connections really do matter and that they can have positive impacts on our mental and physical health, our happiness, and our careers.

This presentation set solid foundations for session 2 in the Conferencing 101 short course that took place on Tuesday, December 4: “What Do You Work On?” Starting Conversation at Conferences led by Michael O’Toole (UChicago Grad.) Conversations at academic conferences help build important professional and personal relationships. You never know—you may be one (conference) conversation away from a job interview, from making a new friend, or a possible scholarly collaboration.

Session 2. “What Do You Work On?”: Starting Conversations at Conferences Tuesday, December 4, 2018.

Many of us can relate to feeling nervous at the prospect of starting conversations with other scholars at academic conferences. Will I come across as interesting and make a good first impression? Will I be able to talk about my work in a coherent way? To help alleviate some of these fears, we welcomed Michael O’Toole (Assistant Director, GRADTalk) to lead an interactive workshop on the topic. Networking at conferences, O’Toole explained, needn’t be anxiety-inducing, especially if you spend a little time pre-planning. For example, before arriving at a conference, think about a handful of individuals with whom you’d like to connect. Can you introduce yourself over email before the conference or even arrange a short meeting? Can you follow up afterwards? For those more spontaneous encounters, prepare brief “elevator pitch” descriptions of your research. To do this, you might think about constructing a list of general research interests, followed by one, two, and three-sentence synopses that encapsulate your research. Avoid opening a conversation with a five-minute soliloquy of your dissertation abstract. As successful conference encounters might open further avenues of dialogue, listen attentively and ask questions about your new contact’s research. The most successful and long-lasting conference connections are those that are made on mutually beneficial grounds. Instead of thinking “what can I get from this encounter?”, you might instead ask “how might this connection enrich the scholarly lives of us both?” To access the workshop handout, click here.
Recap: Session 3. How to Deliver a Compelling Conference Presentation. 
 Thursday, December 6, 2018. 

English Ph.D. and current Humanities Teaching Fellow Michael Dango led a workshop on best practices for conference presentations. From formatting and content to visual aids and delivery, Dango described (and demonstrated) to participants how to make the most of their presentation time. Some key takeaways:

On format: We tend to present faster during the real thing when reading from a paper (because we read faster under pressure) and slower if presenting from notes (because we’re more likely to get stuck on a tangent or improvising). If reading, originally budget 2 minutes per double spaced page, and still try to provide room for improvisation or thinking off the cuff.

On content: In the body of your presentation, provide transitions frequently and explicitly. Go light on references to other critics but be generous in your offerings of context and synopsis.  Think of your entire paper’s goal not only as communicating your argument, but also as generating good questions from your audience. 

On visual aids: If you’re making a slideshow, consider using it less to communicate and more to structure. Slides can be used to signpost and remind people where you are in your presentation, rather than being full of bullet points and small text.  

On delivery: Your tone will set the tone of your audience’s response. If you’re eager to criticize other scholars, your audience will likely be prepared to do the same to you. If you’re more casual, your audience will be more casual in their questions. No need to tell lots of jokes, but if you can, try to convey how excited you are to be “chatting” or “thinking out loud” with your audience, about some topic or text.  

Recap: “From Humanities Ph.D. to Independent High School Teacher”

On Friday November 2, PATHS welcomed UChicago alums Brady Smith (English) and Fran Spaltro (Classics) to share their experiences teaching at independent high schools. Facilitated by Professor Zachary Samalin (English), the discussion highlighted the rewards, challenges, and practicalities of pursuing a career as a teacher in secondary education.

Based in New York City, Brady Smith teaches writing at Avenues: The World School in the High-Intensity Practice Thinking Program (HIP). HIP is a unique pedagogical approach that helps students develop and exercise heightened skills in critical thinking. Before Avenues, Smith gained teaching experience as a Humanities Teaching Fellow, and mentoring experience as a College Housing Resident Assistant, both here at UChicago. Over the course of the discussion, Smith explained some of the similarities and differences working with undergraduates and secondary school students. In some ways, many of his current duties are similar: curriculum planning, course design, and mentorship. Yet the scope of these tasks differ quite significantly. Regarding mentorship, Smith conveyed that his current position requires significantly more time with students both inside and outside of the classroom—goodbye academic solitude! Most satisfying, however, is getting to work with the same students over multiple years, seeing how they develop both as scholars and as young adults. Whereas undergraduates (especially at UChicago) are generally self-motivated and understand how to work independently, high school students require assistance to cultivate these skills. In terms of training, Smith explained that high schools are keen for their teachers to continue refining their pedagogical practices thus offering ample opportunities for professional development. 

Fran Spaltro teaches Latin and Greek at the UChicago Laboratory Schools and co-chairs the World Languages Department. A class session with teenagers, Spaltro stated, is quite different from one with undergraduates. A lot of this is to do with pacing. Ideally, teachers at the secondary education level should always be thinking up new, inventive ways to engage teenagers with short attention spans. 

Spaltro explained that a successful high school teacher knows how to “take the temperature of the classroom” and has the ability to keep a session moving by mixing up activity types and transitioning smoothly between them. Regarding pedagogical satisfaction, both Smith and Spaltro spoke of abundant “magic” teaching moments—moments when students came up with outrageously wonderful and perceptive insights.  
What, then, could interested graduate students be doing to prepare for this career path? Smith and Spaltro gave much valuable advice: 

  • Observe as many high school classes as you can. See how different teachers command the classroom space and engage with teenagers.
  • Talk with teachers! Arrange informational interviews! See if you can obtain guest lecture spots in their classes. 
  • Apply to be a substitute teacher. 
  • Don’t assume a Ph.D. is an open door to a career in secondary education. High school experience really is favorable. HUGE numbers of Ph.D. holders are applying for these jobs already—this job market, like the academic job market, is also highly saturated. 
  • In your cover letter, application materials, and interview, have a story to tell. Why do you really want to teach at a high school? 

Recap: Showcasing Graduate Student Work at Humanities Day

On Saturday October 20, 2018, members of the university community and public gathered on campus for presentations and performances from esteemed faculty and graduate students of UChicago’s Division of the Humanities. Humanities Day—an annual event established in 1980—continues to present an incredible breadth of subject matter with a unified message: that humanistic scholarship matters and has the potential to impact the world in positive, powerful ways. 

While the vast majority of panels were faculty-led, one afternoon session consisted entirely of graduate student work. Entitled “Animal Cognition in Antiquity,” this panel featured presentations from three students in the Department of Classics: Amber Ace, Jordan Johansen, and Rik Peters. With broad-ranging topics ranging from Aristotle, “wonder,” and fish (Peters) to animal morality (Ace) to dancing elephants (Johansen), each scholar showcased their compelling research in an accessible fashion. 

A useful skill (and CV/Resume builder) for scholars to develop is the presentation of complex research to general audiences. Keep an eye out for the 2019 Humanities Day call for participation in the Spring—you, too, can be involved. 


Recap: Career Conversation with Alumna Amanda Norton (Germanics ’10)

On Friday, October 12, alumna Amanda Norton sat down with graduate students to share the story of how she went from a Germanics Ph.D. into a successful career in university communications. After scanning the job postings at the University of Chicago, she applied for a college advisor job, which turned out to be her gateway into commmunications positions elsewhere in the UChicago system. In the college advisor role, she did as much writing as she could, and eventually applied to work in the Dean’s Office of the Medical Center as a “Strategist Planner.” Sounds vague, right? Norton explained the day-to-day behind this title, which included a lot of challenging, interesting, time-sensitive ghost-writing. Sometimes she would go sit in someone’s office and listen to them talk for 15 minutes, and then go write up a document based on what she’d heard. After the Medical Center, Norton worked at the UChicago Crime Lab when it was just starting out (now UChicago Urban Labs). Now she works in the Development Office of the Northwestern Business School and has so far enjoyed getting to know a different university system.

Some concrete takeaways:

1. Your UChicago Humanities Ph.D. prepares you to be a valuable communications professional because:

  • you are a highly skilled writer, and have acquired skills in stylistic mimicry, i.e. you know how to adapt your writing for particular occasions and audiences 
  • you write well because you have learned how to think through complex things well
  • you have proven yourself to be a self-starter with the capacity for commitment and attention to detail
  • you are very comfortable with revision 

2. Some perks of a job in university communications: 

  • you get to learn new things all the time, so it’s a great career if you are curious  
  • day-job parameters means you time for other intellectual/sideproject interests 
  • you can be more productive when you’re doing other people’s writing, so there are more concrete milestones (i.e. you finish things regularly!) 

3. Parting advice on how to positively navigate this career shift: 

  • Focus on the positive thing you are working towards (so, no bitterness about what you are leaving behind) 
  • Redesign your CV as a resume
  • Start a LinkedIn profile and make the most of social media connections in general
  • Leverage your people and planning skills (developed through teaching and university organizing of workshops, conferences, etc.)

Career Exploration Series: Networking

In winter quarter of 2018, PATHS hosted a series of workshops covering different aspects of career exploration for humanities graduate students. This article is the third in a three-part series summarizing the advice and discussion from those workshops. PATHS would like to thank our panelists Monica Felix, Natasha Ayers, Mollie McFee, Donald Chae, and Novia Pagone for sharing their experience and expertise.


How can students use networking to pursue their goals and interests?

Networking, especially informational interviewing, is consistently one of the most reliable ways to find new career options. The main advice our alumni give to current students is to use your networks–including acquaintances and classmates’ contacts–to try to get a personal introduction to anyone you want to talk to. Learning from people in a field that seems interesting is one of the easiest ways to get a sense for the work and whether it might be a good fit for your background and interests. Cold emailing people can be a fruitful way to network, but is likely to require more effort to get the same success as contacting people through introductions.

Informational interviews can also help by expanding your own network. Even if the person you talked to never has a job opening to recommend to you, he or she can often introduce you to other people or point you to related jobs. Donald Chae, a Music PhD alumnus with a long career in business and consulting, said he talked to 50-100 people for every big job search, more during the times when he wasn’t sure what type of job he was looking for. Informational interviews can help you pinpoint specific jobs or industries that fit you the best, and help you find leads once you narrow that down.

When doing an informational interview with someone, flexibility is key. Don’t be afraid to ask open-ended or even vague questions about their experience and background, especially if you are in early exploration stages; you want to learn as much as you can! Be open to picking up on the negative, which sometimes requires paying attention to recurring themes, as not everyone will be completely open about drawbacks to their jobs. Questions to ask include: What allows you to do your best work? What does success look like for that industry? What skills do you use daily, and what skills are you working on developing?

UChicagoGRAD has resources like practice interviewing and career counseling to help you identify networking opportunities and make the most of them.

Career Exploration Series: Branching Out during Graduate School

In winter quarter of 2018, PATHS hosted a series of workshops covering different aspects of career exploration for humanities graduate students. This article is the second in a three-part series summarizing the advice and discussion from those workshops. PATHS would like to thank our panelists Monica Felix, Natasha Ayers, Mollie McFee, Donald Chae, and Novia Pagone for sharing their experience and expertise.

What can students do to explore these options during their graduate studies?

Students should regularly reflect on the skills they are developing and on the skills they want to develop. Opportunities like grant writing, project managing, and public speaking can lead to interesting career options.

When looking for ways to branch out in your career, getting some experience in a field adjacent or related to academia or your subject can feel like a natural evolution. A professional network built through side projects, conferences, or other related work can also help facilitate a long-term career move. Be flexible and creative about looking for jobs broadly related to something you’re interested in or good at. Joining other professional organizations–at a student rate–can be a way to explore related fields and meet active professionals without committing to a job.

Trying new experiences outside of graduate work, even if it doesn’t lead to a career, can also be valuable more generally. Having experience that non-academic employers understand can help communicate that you have the skills they want, even if it’s volunteer or part-time work. These skills and experience are useful even for people who are doing the academic job market; being a professor is not necessarily a ‘more natural’ evolution from being a grad student than other jobs! Cultivating new skills and experiences helps any career transition, even when they don’t immediately seem directly relevant.

Consider what time-management approach works for you. Some people find that doing career and scholarly exploration together during coursework is helpful while reserving time to work full-time on a dissertation in later years. Other people find that the structure of having a part-time job while ABD helps them manage their dissertation project more efficiently. Don’t feel bad if something that works for a colleague doesn’t work for you! Everyone manages time differently. UChicagoGRAD advisors can help you think through this question if you’re not sure what would fit best with your working style.

Career Exploration Series: What’s out there?

In winter quarter of 2018, PATHS hosted a series of workshops covering different aspects of career exploration for humanities graduate students. This article is the first in a three-part series summarizing the advice and discussion from those workshops. PATHS would like to thank our panelists Monica Felix, Natasha Ayers, Mollie McFee, Donald Chae, and Novia Pagone for sharing their experience and expertise.

What career options are available for humanities graduate students?

There are a huge array of careers that build on skills from a humanities graduate education, and a surprisingly large community of fellow humanities scholars interested in these fields.

Plenty of people with PhDs have great outcomes and professional satisfaction outside of academia! Many professional organizations, such as the American Historical Association and the Modern Language Association, have started tracking where people with PhDs in their field make their careers. For example, even before the recession in 2008, MLA & AHA tracked that over a quarter of PhDs were working in fields outside of academia. The University of Chicago has also started tracking PhD careers– you can see a list of some of these careers here.

Many successful careers outside of academia are based on skills developed during graduate school, like writing, editing, project management, and building expertise. Some of the most popular fields for humanities PhDs to pursue include academic and arts administration, teaching and research–both inside and outside universities, marketing and communications, and government. More general career options, like consulting and entrepreneurship, can also be a good fit for humanities scholars who are motivated by things like problem-solving and building relationships. When considering careers in these types of fields, it it sometimes fruitful to look at the intersection between fields, where non-traditional applicants like a humanities PhD can build their own niche.

Remember, you’ll always be stepping into a different role with different skills no matter where you go. Consider whatever you do next to be a career transition, and start working on how to make that transition easier before you finish your degree–whether your next job is as faculty or somewhere else. Treat your future career like a research project: learn as much as you can about your options and what you need to prepare, and reflect on what that means for your personality and background. Take advantage of UChicagoGRAD resources like career guides, or other sources like ImaginePhD and Versatile PhD for researching career paths.

A Grad Student’s Intro to Authors’ Rights

Are you considering publishing an article, and wondering about copyright? Elisabeth Long, Associate University Librarian for IT and Digital Scholarship at the UChicago Library, recently provided an overview of authors’ rights and publishing contracts for humanities graduate students.

Copyright law governs the creation, ownership, sale, and use of original works of authorship. Long stressed that, in the United States, copyrights are granted automatically as soon as the work is written down, and authors do not need to petition or apply for them! For graduate students, that means that everything you have written is already copyrighted.

Copyrights can be transferred by the owner. If a piece of writing is created as part of a work-for-hire contract, the employer may own the copyright from the start. Otherwise, the creator of the writing owns the original copyright, and can choose to transfer those rights in various ways. Licensing a copyrighted work grants another party permission to use the work, and licenses can be exclusive (nobody else can get a license), as well as transferrable, depending on the terms of the license. Transferring the copyright either in part or entirely then grants the control of the entire work to another party, such as a journal publisher.

Graduate students looking to publish their work should be sure to read the details of a contract before signing! Rights that you may want to keep include: the right to self-archive your work (e.g. in an institutional repository), reuse rights (e.g. if you plan to include an article as part of a book), and rights to use the work in teaching or to share with other researchers. Long encouraged graduate students to negotiate for the rights they want when signing a publishing contract. Although some journals and publishers are more open to negotiations than others, it is worth thinking carefully about the tradeoffs of copyright transfer before making any agreements.

Long described three models common among academic publishers. Traditional publishing includes copyright transfer to the publisher, and published works are available by subscription only. Gold open access publishing uses Creative Commons licenses, meaning the author retains the copyright, and does not charge subscription fees to view published works. This model may require publishing costs to be covered in other ways, such as author fees or grants. Green open access publishing transfers copyright to the publisher but typically allows the author to retain some rights, such as self-archiving on a personal website or repository. Two online databases help authors learn about the practices at various publishers: the SHERPA/RoMEO database and the Open Access Spectrum Evaluation Tool.

For UChicago graduate students, Elisabeth Long and other librarians are available to help navigate the publishing process. UChicago also provides an institutional repository for archiving academic work. The slides for Long’s presentation are available in Knowledge@UChicago and provide further information and links to sample author rights agreement addenda another other useful resources for understanding how to manage your rights. 

Advice from a CEO with a Classics Degree

How can a graduate student stand out as a job applicant outside of academia? Jack Emmert, CEO of the Austin studio of Daybreak Games, offered useful advice on this question at a PATHS event in Fall of 2017. Emmert, who holds a UChicago Master’s Degree in the Ancient Mediterranean World, reflected on his years of experience building teams for game development and the value of his academic background. His advice for job-seekers boils down to one basic goal: be interesting!

Emmert suggested thinking of resumes and cover letters as a conversation starter, not just simply checking all the boxes of a job ad. He said his company’s job ads regularly receive 90+ resumes, so anything that helps the hiring manager remember you is an advantage.

Have you done challenging fieldwork on a unique archaeological site? Discovered a new molecule or historical document? Faced a particularly tough challenge while teaching? Describing specific accomplishments like these not only illustrate the skills a recruiter is looking for—like teamwork, creativity, or analytical thinking—but also make you seem like an interesting person a hiring manager would want to talk to for an hour. Graduate students’ specialized knowledge and unusual experiences, if framed correctly, are both unique and relevant to a wide range of jobs.

On resumes and cover letters, instead of simply translating research and pedagogical experience into standardized professional skills, which can sometimes be vague, emphasize the specific things you’ve done that make you interesting. Just as in writing papers or lectures, you should highlight your most important or strongest points, and use specific examples wherever possible. List these parts of your background first when building resumes, or consider whether a nontraditional format like a skills resume might work best.

Emmert used his own academic study of ancient Greek civilizations as an example of how skills from graduate school are useful to him every day. Almost all graduate students excel at analytical thinking, initiative and ownership of tasks, communication, and the ability to learn quickly—all skills that Emmert looks for in any good job applicant!

How to Get Your Dream Job . . . and then Give It Up for Your Dream Job

By Allison Turner, Ph.D. Student in English Language and Literature


Neil Chudgar is one of those rarest of creatures: someone who got a coveted tenure-track position and then left the academy voluntarily. I met him this past April at a UChicagoGRAD event called “What We Talk About When We Talk About Work.” Chudgar was a graduate of UChicago’s English PhD program and a specialist in eighteenth-century literature like myself, so I was particularly eager to hear what he had to say.

I had heard about Chudgar and his unusual career path before—to me, he seemed practically legendary. In anticipation of finally getting to hear his story, I wondered privately: What could possibly motivate someone to give up his dream job—or my dream job, anyway—to become a communications consultant? Isn’t consulting what graduates of elite colleges do when they’re 22? I was baffled but intrigued: I wanted to know what Chudgar knew.

From the moment the discussion began, it was clear that Chudgar must have been amazing in the classroom. There were at least two dozen graduate students circled around him, all from a variety of programs and disciplines. Chudgar has an infectiously vibrant personality and a talent for putting others at ease. We talked about what we valued in our work and ourselves, about what we wanted from our professional lives, and about what we imagined would constitute our success. As if by magic, Chudgar created an environment in which we felt not only willing but eager to share thoughts and desires we so rarely discuss in our home departments.

Chudgar told us about himself too, about the life events that had led him to his position as an Assistant Professor at Macalester College. He recalled feeling lucky to have gotten the job—so lucky, in fact, that it never even occurred to him to think about how much he would be paid. It turns out, he later realized, that you’re supposed to negotiate these things.

In his fourth year at Macalester, though, just as he was beginning to think about putting together his tenure package, there was a death in Chudgar’s family. That loss led him to think about time in a new way. Suddenly, the idea of going up for tenure amounted to choosing to be an English professor for the rest of his life. Did he want to be an English professor when he died? He’d hit the jackpot in landing this job. But did he actually like it? He realized that he didn’t. And so he left Macalester, turning his expertise into a communications consulting business.

Chudgar’s workshop could easily have been a two- or three-part series. Indeed, when it was over, many of us wanted to know more. How did you decide to go into communications consulting? How did you transition from not being able to find anyone to hire you to starting your own business? How do you start your own business? How do you find clients?

We may not have gotten to all the particulars, but what we did get from this conversation with Chudgar was something more foundational: a new (for many of us) sense of confidence in the simple fact that there are other things, aside from academia, that we can do. That a non-academic career path is not a failure. That there are many legitimate choices we can make.

There’s a lot to value in academic work. Many of us are drawn to it for the sense of autonomy it gives us. We steer our own courses, set our own schedules, and define the horizons of our projects. Many of us relish in the thrill of making discoveries. We want to intervene in our fields, to see and help others see the world in a new and different way.

However, as Chudgar helped us to see, these are not the only aspects of our work or ourselves to value. Successful work might not be measured by the amount of autonomy one has. It might also be something that makes other people happy. As a scholar in the humanities, Chudgar consistently felt that no one wanted what he was selling. He had plenty of freedom, yes, but he always had to persuade others to value his work—to take his classes, to publish his articles, and so on. In many other kinds of jobs, people actually want what you do for them. They might even ask you for it. And while there’s much to be said for the kind of disruption we’re drawn to in the academy, there’s also value in work that gives order to our lives. “A lot of the work that the world requires is maintenance,” Chudgar said. “Variety needs structure to make it joyful.”

I am grateful to Chudgar and UChicagoGRAD for hosting this conversation. I took away from it—and have taken great joy in sharing—an expanded sense of what might count as good work as well as a renewed appreciation for the parts of academic life that are special. One example, of course, is the form of the seminar itself—in Chudgar’s words, “sitting around and talking about a thing.”



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