The first night of the HASTAC 2011 conferences has concluded, and oh what a night it was. The room itself was a feast for a techie’s eyes, with the bright colors, modern furniture, and art installation which incorporated a screen of rolling text on mounted flat screens that made mention of “Semiotics” and “Baudrillard” as well as text scrolling from floor to ceiling. In addition, the Apple logo floated around from MacBooks to iPhones as multiple attendees tweeted (search for #hastac2011) and blogged in real time on the talks. The space was as much of a pleasure as the informative and comedic speeches and conversations.
There were four initial speakers (In chronological order: Shana Kimball, Aaron McCollough, Brian Croxall, and Elizabeth Whirby) that gave personal introductions as well as advice about the “alt-ac” or alternative career track. The main point that was stressed in all of these presentations was the fact that the tenure-track is not the only way to utilize one’s academic knowledge and/or expertise. Alt-ac positions are a viable way to utilize the skills that you learn(ed) in graduate school. Subsequently, the word “failure” was repeated consistently, especially by Brian Croxall, in reference to the fact that you cannot let people or beliefs define failure in your life. Pursuing one of these alternative careers is not a definitive failure; it is simply taking a different path. As Elizabeth Whirby stated, after college or graduate school the path to a career is not always as linear as the tenure-track and some people will have to go down a lot of different roads to end up at the right stop (pathway metaphors!).
The final portion of the conference focused on examining good and bad examples of job materials (i.e. cover letters) in relation to specific job postings in the alt-ac realm. While it was easy to feel that one could never measure up to one particular cover letter/resume (you know which one), the purpose of this section of the conference was to understand the differences between applying for an academic position and applying for an alt-ac position. When applying for alt-ac positions it is important to take the job, as it is presented, into account. Basically, do not fill your cover letter with information about research and skills that do not pertain to the job. Also, if possible, learn more about the job and the institution that you are applying to in order to show what you can bring to the table (for some more examples of the differences between applying for jobs in the alt-ac in comparison to traditional academic positions see Brian Croxall’s article “Playing for both teams, Winning on One: Finding and Adjusting to an Alt-Ac Job and getting over ‘Failure’”)
In closing, the pre-conference ended with a question and answer session which gave everyone a chance to discuss what alt-ac meant to them and whether or not alt-ac is presented as a viable option for graduate students. While some institutions encourage their students to pursue any career path, it was stated that some schools and professors still encourage traditional paths only. However, it is important to remember that in discussing alt-ac and academia we are not discussing a binary which should be reversed in the sense that academics should be encouraged to abandon professorships in favor of the alt-ac path. As an undergraduate student, one of the most important things that I got from this conference was the importance of those in the know (i.e. professors and alt-ac professionals) telling students about the multiple pathways of academia instead of simply encouraging one path and stigmatizing the others.
*P.S. I will be tweeting about the conference as well @Violafaithe90.