Opening Doors to Varied Careers


Jen Teitle

Jennifer Teitle is Assistant Dean for Graduate Development and Postdoctoral Affairs, University of Iowa. Jen’s Twitter handle is: @jteitle.

Spring in Iowa City—flowers blooming on the Pentacrest, froyo for lunch, anxious final-semester graduate students reconsidering their career options.

For humanities students in particular, definite commitments to employment can be a struggle at the end of graduate school. Career stress is compounded in this last leg as tired dissertators face additional personal and financial strain. By March, some students have chalked up 50 or more failed academic job applications. This is decidedly not the easiest season in which to self-assess or brainstorm transferable skills.

So as newly-minted PhDs blink hard against the bright sun outside the academy, they are often thinking not about the next opportunities, but rather about the last ones, the ones they lost. They wonder what else they could have done, how anyone striving so hard to be good could fail to achieve that goal. They can’t see the big picture. We can, and we’ve known many brilliant candidates who couldn’t land tenure-track jobs. But myths persist, and I meet students every spring who feel like disappointments.

Knee-deep in a March snowstorm, it’s hard to believe spring is right around the corner.

This will be the fourth year for Open Doors, the University of Iowa Graduate College’s career education event. On April 22nd, we partner with the NEH-funded #NextGenPhD, The Carver College of Medicine, and grants from NIH and NSF. The day includes workshops on identifying transferable skills, polishing resumes, crafting elevator pitches, and leveraging graduate teaching experiences. A networking lunch connects students with mentors. Most importantly, over 35 PhDs and MFAs will host chat rooms and provide insights and advice for current graduate students and postdocs. These experts include:

  • Craig Eley, Assistant Director of Humanities Networks, UW-Madison; formerly ACLS Public Fellow, Wisconsin Public Radio
  • Stephanie Horton, Associate Professor of English, Harper College
  • Eliza Sanders, Writer for Corporate and Foundation Giving, Field Museum
  • Tom Keegan, Head, Digital Scholarship & Publishing Studio, U of Iowa
  • Jonathan Gajdos, Academic Advisor, Defense Language Institute, Washington Office
  • Lynn Nugent, Managing Editor, The Iowa Review
  • Lauren Haldeman, Web Designer and Poet
  • Matt Drabek, Content Developer, ACT
  • Elizabeth Lundberg, Undergraduate Student Advisor and Instructor, U of Iowa
  • Matt Gilchrist, Co-Founder and Director of IDEAL; Lecturer, Department of Rhetoric, U of Iowa
  • Megan Knight, Lecturer, Department of Rhetoric, U of Iowa
  • Lisa Kelly, Student Success Program Builder, U of Iowa

For graduate students of all stripes, spring offers the perfect moment to reframe the way they look at their hard-earned degrees, their careers, and themselves. A moment to pause and reflect. Then, when opportunity knocks, they’ll be ready to tell a new story when they open the door.

Risk, Creativity, and Careers

Jen Teitle

Guest post by Jennifer Teitle, Assistant Dean for Graduate Development and Postdoctoral Affairs, University of Iowa. Dr. Teitle’s 2012 dissertation, completed in the UI Department of Teaching and Learning, focused on the decline in the number of youth “hangout” spaces. Her cartoon blog post juxtaposes Nick Sousanis‘ Next Gen PhD presentation with Kevin Birmingham’s Truman Capote Award acceptance speech. Jen’s twitter handle is: @jteitle. (You can click on the image for a larger version.)

The comic below, “3 Talks on Risk, Creativity, and Careers,” uses dialogism—the notion that all statements presuppose earlier statements and anticipate responses—to explore narratives about graduate school and careers. The three juxtaposed narratives in the comic happened on the same day, October 19, 2016, here at the University of Iowa. Nick Sousanis came to speak on our campus as part of the NEH funded #nextgenPhD project. His talk was inspiring, full of the same unapologetic creativity that characterizes his comic book dissertation, Unflattening. Sousanis was candid about his job search, which was challenging despite that fact that his award-winning dissertation was being published by Harvard University Press. Kevin Birmingham’s acceptance speech for the 2016 Truman Capote Award must have been astonishing to witness, but I read it later that night after my sleepy children were put in bed. Birmingham’s parrhesia is an icy splash in the face, an important contribution to conversations about PhD “placement,” and it should be shared widely. Finally, I wanted to include a nod to the narratives I hear most frequently: those of graduating PhDs and MFAs. Today’s graduate students are struggling to find their scholarly voices at a moment when if one deviates from the expected scholarly norm, one may put at risk the dream of a tenure-track position.

I wanted these three voices to anticipate, and respond to, each other, as well as to add dimension to the complex decisions at play in graduate education. How are we to be transparent with students about their work and prospects? Do we understand what is at stake when we encourage students to take risks or to play it safe? Where is the line between student ambition and faculty intervention?
by Jen Teitle