Coming soon: A directory of #alt-academics

Like everyone, I began January with the best of intentions. My resolution — to write (something, anything!) or take a photo each day — seemed alluringly modest. January was good. February was, too. I saw no reason why I shouldn’t be able to keep going, month after month.

But then, March happened. March, when I changed jobs, and A. and I bought our first home, bringing huge amounts of change to our lives. And suddenly, my goal slipped quietly to the comfy back burner where most resolutions live out their days. The bottom line is that I haven’t been writing much these last few weeks, in part because there’s been so much to do, and in part because I’ve been spending a good deal of time absorbing new information and ideas. It has been a receptive time more than a productive one, intellectually speaking.

So, I’ve been reading and thinking and organizing fixing bookshelves, and took a quick trip to the University of Virginia to check out the actual, physical Scholars’ Lab (my reward for enduring a full-day HR marathon). I have new projects percolating and new responsibilities crystallizing. I am notoriously impatient with transitions — I cannot live in an in-between state for long — so changing both work and home at the same time has taken up a lot of mental energy. The trip to UVa was great in many ways; for one thing, it made the transition to SCI seem a bit more complete, which should help me to stop fussing about changes and spend my energy in more productive ways.

With that, I’m diving into the work. One project — which I’m quite excited about — involves taking a census of people who think of themselves as alt-academics in order to create a directory of the many individuals that work outside of the tenure track. It’s important to me that the census include not only the wonderfully vocal and visible advocates of the alt-ac community, but also the quieter voices that are outside of the Twitter conversations and MLA panels. As I have written about in previous posts, I think (and hope!) such a directory will be hugely valuable for people who are considering, or are already on, career paths that are alt-ac in nature.

The value, I think, will come from a few things: first, I hope that as people demonstrate their willingness to self-identify in an open and public way, the uncertainty and/or stigma that others in similar positions may feel will begin to dissipate. Second, it will be great to see the diversity of career paths that the humanities community has undertaken. Third, the actual names and affiliations may help other alt-ac folks to make connections and perhaps seek out useful allies. Finally, the database will help SCI in our goal of administering a survey of alt-academics in order to determine opportunities for improved career preparation and refined methodological training in humanities programs.

In all, I hope that the directory and the survey will both help the humanities community to have better data to work with, so that we can move beyond the anecdotal and dispel myths in favor of more concrete understanding about our shared field and the opportunities it affords. Alt-academics reading this post, that means you’ll be hearing from me in the not-too-distant future. I know many people have thought a lot about these issues, so one thing I’ll be doing is seeking input about who to seek out for the census/directory that I might not otherwise know about, and also what questions I should be sure to ask on the survey. I’ll post more about that as planning for the project progresses, but in the mean time, please do feel free to get in touch if you have ideas to share or questions to raise. (Also, I’ll be posting from time to time on the Scholars’ Lab site, so watch for updates there, too.)