Tag Archives: pedagogy

Human Teaching in Hard Times: An Interview with Dr. Alan Sears by Dr. Tonya Davidson

In this guest post, Tonya Davidson (Carleton University), sociology professor and co-editor (with Ondine Park) of the forthcoming book Seasonal Sociology, talks with Alan Sears (Ryerson University) about teaching in higher education during these dark times. From the cost of tuition to the challenge of making liberal arts relevant, and the search for a pedagogy that forges not just practical but human relationships, this wide-ranging discussion tackles the contradictions of teaching and learning in a neoliberal age.


In October 2018, Dr. Alan Sears visited Carleton University to be featured in the Department of Sociology-Anthropology’s Colloquium Series. He gave an excellent talk titled, “Resistance in Right Populist Times.”

Alan is an accomplished scholar of sexualities, left politics, social movements, and education. His writing includes Retooling the Mind Factory: Education in a Lean StateThe Next New Left: A History of the Future (Fernwood) and (with James Cairns) The Democratic Imagination: Envisioning Popular Power in the Twenty-First Century, as well as the now-classic A Good Book in Theory. While celebrated for his scholarship, Alan is also a very dedicated and thoughtful teacher. When I was his colleague at Ryerson University for four years, he was one of my key teaching mentors so I jumped at the chance to ask Alan to also be our guest for the first “Teaching Talk” of the semester in the Sociology-Anthropology Department. Predicting that his thoughts on teaching could easily find a wider audience than the group of colleagues gathered in our departmental lounge, I transcribed that interview and present it for you here.

TD: You proposed the title for this talk, “Human Teaching in Hard Times.” Can you tell us what hard times you’re referring to?

AS: I guess the hard times I am thinking of probably have geo-political origins. The long impact of neoliberalism and cutbacks and austerity have had a huge effect on what it is like to be teaching at a post-secondary level. One of the aspects of this is the stress that students are under because of tuition fees, because of the employment they are doing to get by, because of what housing is like now, and because of their deep anxieties about the future. The questions that are always in their minds are: what are they going to do with their degrees and what’s next in their lives?

And then the character of instruction is increasingly supposed to be efficient in content delivery with a real emphasis on information transfer. I think that the shift in the idea of what learning and teaching is supposed to be is increasingly to think of students as materials we are mass producing and the final consumer of what we are producing is the employer. So that has an impact on us in terms of metrics, which in post-secondary education means measurable outcomes in terms of what students could do before and after. Look, I think we can learn a lot by focusing on the learning that is accomplished rather than the teaching that we do, but I also think there is a whole human growth element in education that is flattened by a lot of outcomes discussions.

The scale, at least at Ryerson where I teach, is that most classes are 70 students or more. I teach our capstone course and it’s 100 plus students. The nature of that makes human relations very difficult. I think the most transformative part of any educational relationship, which are always mutual relationships if they work properly, is a human relationship.

TD: Students have always had anxiety to a degree. Have you noticed a change in your thirty years of teaching?

AS: Absolutely.

TD: How do you deal with that within your own institutional constraints? How do you deal with student anxiety?

AS: I find it a real challenge. I saw a chart recently that someone had developed showing the history of tuition fee increases in Ontario and the pay rates for summer employment. I was an undergraduate student at Carleton University in 1973 which happened to be the year that tuition in Ontario was at its lowest in real dollars. That corresponded with, because of government funding, relative ease at getting summer jobs that paid quite well, so I could earn enough money in the summer to pretty much cover my year, including tuition. Now tuition fees are higher and there are fewer summer jobs with decent pay. Students are working more hours for less pay, building up higher debts, and they are worried about their future given the difficulty of obtaining secure employment.

I think that is a formula for generating anxiety, and it’s really noticeable in all kinds of ways. We’ve never been particularly good at raising a discussion about what comes after a degree, but I notice it particularly now in a very sharp anxiety about what the relationship is between an undergraduate education in sociology and what follows.

It’s not like Harvard or Oxford are getting the question, “why aren’t you teaching more forestry?”

I think that the model we have is an elite model that presumes that when people graduate, their class-based networks that are gendered and racialized and have a lot to do with migration status, will surf them between graduation and wherever they’re going next. So if they’re interested in a job in so and so, their mother will call their uncle who works in that area. And that works for some. In the film The Graduate, the summer after graduation was spent by the pool with parents’ friends advising you to get into plastics or whatever was hot at the time. Very few students have the luxury of a summer by the pool or parents’ friends who can give them advice about various sectors, or who can afford a free internship, or who have a way of knowing about occupations that are different from what they’ve been exposed to so far in their lives.

So I think the anxiety is real, and I think it’s incredibly sharp, and it sometimes plays itself out as hostility towards us. I’ve noticed a certain tension around grades, a kind of a more hostile bargaining because that seems to be something that you can deal with more directly. And textbooks, that’s another pain point: “why is this book so expensive?” Sadly, for a lot of other things, like tuition fees or class sizes, there’s little active opposition because there is a feeling that you can’t do anything about it. I think the anxiety plays out in many ways.

TD: Professors have different attitudes about whether there is a place in a sociology program for teaching school-to-work transition skills, or other career-focused projects. How do you approach that, especially in your capstone course?

AS: This is one of the contradictions I continually negotiate. Because I am a committed political critic of the system, I understand when people talk about concern that the neoliberalization of the post-secondary system means, for working class people, a much more occupational focus, and there’s no doubt this happens. And yet if you look at what’s happening in Britain and the US for example, there is a desire to preserve liberal arts education, but only for the elite. It’s not like Harvard or Oxford are getting the question, “why aren’t you teaching more forestry?” That message is something that is very specifically aimed at institutions with a working-class clientele. And I think the concern is that a liberal arts education creates inflated expectations for everyone without differentiating between students with varying life trajectories. Policy-makers are interested in changing that system, particularly in Canada where the university system tends to be more social democratic, to create a more hierarchical system where liberal arts play a smaller role. This is especially the case in institutions that have historically included a higher proportion of working class and first-generation students, like Ryerson or Windsor where I have taught. There’s a part of me that thinks, well let’s resist that push and let’s fight and honour a liberal arts education. I really do believe that that’s necessary and I think the greatest bulk of a student’s education in sociology or anthropology or whatever they are taking should absolutely be in a proud liberal arts tradition that’s challenging students to think critically and so on.

I also think there’s a serious equity issue around being honest about the fact that the transition to work is difficult and we have really failed on our end. We feel like we’ve done our job by pushing them off a cliff at graduation and waving goodbye and giving them a certificate. I think we owe them more. I don’t think career integration needs to consume a lot of the curriculum. I think little bits of it, strategically inserted, can go a long way. We shouldn’t distort the curriculum.

We’re doing a pilot course this year called “career integration” for fourth-year students where they’ll get to do a job shadow experience in a workplace that’s of interest. We’re also building in self-advocacy around worker rights and the like, but also stuff like resume preparation, sample interviews, and how to claim a sociology education in a job interview so you don’t just say “well it’s because I hated English.” At the very least, it gives students a way of describing what they got out of their degree, or, in some cases, just creating space for them to figure out if they got anything out of it. I believe seriously that there’s a class, racial, equity, and migration justice built into this experiment. If we want to simply claim that we do liberal arts in a pure way, we are ignoring the socio-economic relations that surround the institution and the histories that inform our ideas about what a liberal arts education is.

TD: Have you noticed in shifting hard times, different types of student engagement with questions of free speech, bias, and felt that through hostility?

AS: I think I’m fairly fortunate that Ryerson is a downtown Toronto campus with a very high first-generation student body; roughly 60% of the students in our program identify as racialized. The nature of who the student body is means that a lot of the pro-equity ideas are taken for granted, and few students will stand up and challenge fundamental notions of social justice. And I think there’s some self-selection there too because our program is quite equity-focused. I think the students who are most likely going to be upset about that transfer out of our program. I personally haven’t faced it that much.

One of the things that’s happened is that we’ve made our “Indigenous Perspectives on Canadian Society” course required, and it is taught with a very Indigenous-centric perspective that presumes settler colonialism, presumes Indigenous sovereignty, and presumes that universities are colonial institutions. I would guess that course will be one of the litmus tests in our department. I would guess that will be one of the places where even people who know that they’re not supposed to say something racist might express discomfort. That’s the way that settler colonialism operates, it creates a kind of entitlement that may lead to a different order of challenges from students. Certainly, I know people who teach in the US, and other places in Ontario who talk about how much their students have been emboldened to challenge even the most basic equity stuff in classes, but so far, I feel like I’m in a little bit of a bubble around that.

TD: Those two initiatives at Ryerson – the “Indigenous Perspectives on Canadian Society” course as a mandatory course and the “Career Integration” course both sound like great responses, or pedagogical forms of resistance to these hard times. One of the things that has always struck me about you, Alan, is how you are simultaneously very critical of post-secondary education, and broader political and social structures, but somehow seem stubbornly optimistic. So my final question is: what do you find hopeful about teaching sociology in “hard times”?

AS: I think that most students are very perceptive and critical about the injustice in the world today. They do not have illusions that this is the “best of all worlds” or a meritocracy. They know someone is making a killing off of the precariousness and suffering so many face.

The challenge is that they might think that this is the “best of all possible worlds” – and that they do not see a better world as possible, particularly through their own actions. So there is a real base among our students for a new radicalization, if they can begin to realize the power they have to change the world. But that radicalization will not happen through the classroom, which even at its best is a site of alienated labour. For me, human teaching is about trying to reduce the damage done in post-secondary education while working outside the institution to build the movements and counter-power that can challenge these injustices.


For more on millennials, education, and social movements we suggest: The Democratic Imagination and The Myth of the Age of Entitlement.

 

New Book Broadens the Lens for Teaching About Gendered Violence

With violence against women increasingly under the spotlight, we invited authors Chris Bruckert and Tuulia Law to discuss their new book, Women and Gendered Violence in Canada: An Intersectional Approach.

Contemporary feminist actions – everything from Slut Walks to the #MeToo movement – are drawing renewed attention to the ongoing urgency of violence against women. This is certainly encouraging. All around us we see feminists ‒ socially engaged, mindful of intersectionality, and critical of essentialist presentations – build on the work of earlier socialist, working class, Indigenous, and racialized scholars and activists. But sometimes it feels like we keep having the same conversations, leading us to wonder: what has really changed?

In Women and Gendered Violence in Canada, we balance celebrating the significant progress made ‒ certainly it would be unthinkable for today’s parliamentarians to laugh and jeer as they did in 1982 when Margaret Mitchell raised the issue of battered women in the House of Commons – with acknowledging that much remains to be done. Consider, for example, the compelling, emotion-evoking, and all too familiar representation of gendered violence ‒ a lone (often youthful and white) woman, bruised, dejected, looking away/down or staring forward with terror-filled eyes. This image, though deployed to admirable effect, obscures much – context, agency, resistance, diversity ‒ at the same time as it limits the frame to interpersonal violence (by individual men). Endeavouring to expand beyond these parameters, Women and Gendered Violence in Canada attends to a range of inter-related and mutually reinforcing sources, forms, and sites of gendered violence.

Women and Gendered Violence in Canada mobilizes the concepts of intersectionality and interlocking systems of oppression to unpack the ways violence inflicted on women is rooted in social, political, and economic systems that work through and with patriarchy, including colonialism, neoliberalism, capitalism, and national and global economies. From this point of departure it follows that women’s vulnerability to, and experience of, violence is shaped by intersecting aspects of their identities, social location, and negotiation (or rejection) of gender norms. Our use of the term gendered rather than gender-based violence reflects our conceptual framing; while gender is the unifying thread, the diverse instances and forms of violence women experience are rooted in a multiplicity of factors intersecting with gender. This allows us to include violence to which women are vulnerable that does not originate in gender but is a more indirect outcome of gender inequity and scripts (e.g., nurses’ experience of violence from patients and their families, violence for which they are routinely blamed by supervisors). It also broadens the scope of perpetration beyond individual men to violence committed by agents of the state (e.g., the neglect and abuse of Indigenous women by police), by women (e.g., domestic workers at the hands of their employers), by co-workers and customers in the workplace (e.g., the verbal violence endured by call-centre workers), indirectly as the result of policies (e.g., austerity measures that culminate in ill health), and emanating from the criminal justice system (e.g., the deployment of psychotropic medications to regulate incarcerated women).

At the same time we hold that recognizing gendered violence as embedded in our social fabric and acknowledging the complex ways it ripples through women’s lives is not tantamount to ascribing women the master status of victim. All too often the many ways women have contested, challenged, and subverted that which would oppress them is written out of history (an erasure that is, of course, another manifestation of gendered violence). In Women and Gendered Violence in Canada we pay homage to our resilient and brave foremothers – the Indigenous women who, in the face of violent assimilation efforts, kept oral history alive and safeguarded traditional teachings; the generations of Black women who fought tirelessly against segregated public spaces and services; the women garment industry workers who stood shoulder to shoulder with their union brothers to contest exploitative labour practices. We also highlight and celebrate the many faces of contemporary women’s resistance – from everyday acts, to subtle (and not so subtle) calling out of sexism, to clever social media campaigns, to dramatic protests ‒ simultaneously drawing attention to the ways intersecting identities and interlocking systems of oppression constrain (or facilitate) the tactics and strategies women can mobilize. For us, foregrounding individual and collective action, and the limits of what is possible, is part of a larger commitment to grounding the analysis in women’s lives and experiential knowledges. To that end we also spotlight first-person accounts throughout the book.

Women and Gendered Violence in Canada is organized to reflect the progression of an undergraduate course while providing pedagogical flexibility. The introductory section lays out the conceptual and contextual framing for the remainder of the text. The following three sections (each with three chapters) are organized around types of violence: interpersonal, workplace, and structural. In turn, each of the substantive chapters highlights specific elements/manifestations of gendered violence. We have endeavoured to bring cohesion to the collection not only through consistent engagement with the contextual and conceptual framing presented in the introductory section but also via recurring themes that cut across the chapters, including: historical context; resistance, subversion, and agency; the impact of neoliberalism; critical consideration of criminal justice solutions and protectionist policy; reflections on feminist approaches; consideration of the dialectic relationship of myths, social judgement, and state responses; and the foregrounding of experiential evidence. Throughout, we draw on rich Canadian scholarship, illustrated using examples from regions across the country, and put the focus firmly on our unique legal and policy contexts. Inevitably this means harsh light is shed on the ways structural inequality and bias manifest in, for example, anti-Black racism, Islamophobia, and ongoing colonialism. It also means some beloved national myths ‒ multiculturalism, meritocracy, post-racism ‒ are challenged.

In our experience, today’s students welcome the opportunity for critical engagement. They also welcome the opportunity to see themselves in the material they study. To that end we self-consciously sought to ensure the book feels relevant to university-aged students by examining topics they encounter in their daily lives (e.g., sexism on campus, routine intrusions on the street, school dress codes, cyber bullying); this helps to render the links between everyday occurrences, social structures, and gendered violence visible and positions readers to appreciate the ways we are all caught up in systems that create the conditions of possibility for gendered violence.

Like teachers everywhere we dream of classrooms that are dynamic learning environments filled with engaged students as excited about the material as we are. All too often our experience falls short; we find ourselves trying to lay the groundwork with little opportunity (or time) for nuanced engagement to manifest. In writing this book we sought to make theories accessible through application, as well as to introduce students to key concepts, pivotal ideas, and foundational knowledge upon which instructors can build to make the material fresh and timely. After all, in the perpetually-shifting terrain in which gendered violence occurs there are (sadly) always emerging issues to explore: a new provincial government that promises to revitalize neoliberal policies, a novel and exciting (or depressing) social media campaign, a pivotal court ruling. In this way the book can be useful for educators who are interested in integrating active learning and student-centred pedagogy into their classrooms through exercises and activities that facilitate deep learning. To that end, we included a suggested activity at the end of each chapter that teachers may wish to use or adapt. The last activity asks readers to consider how their thoughts have evolved since beginning the text. This reflects our (admittedly lofty) goal of contributing to what we are seeing all around us ‒ contemporary feminists (and others interested in social justice) taking on gendered violence, stubborn stereotypes, and tired tropes in creative and innovative ways.

Chris Bruckert is Professor of Criminology at the University of Ottawa, and Tuulia Law is Assistant Professor in the Department of Social Science at York University. To find out more about their new book Women and Gendered Violence in Canada: An Intersectional Approach, click here.

Most US and Canadian veterinary medical schools support ‘tracking’

Written by guest blogger, Elizabeth A. Stone.

Class of 1950 stained glass window, Ontario Veterinary College

‘‘Abandon the unrealistic concept of the universal veterinarian who can minister to the health needs of all creatures great and small.”Dean William Pritchard, 19891

Each of the three major planning initiatives undertaken by the veterinary profession in the last 30 years has included a version of this recommendation. During this time, veterinary schools have begun to embrace this perspective as shown by a survey of deans, previous deans and academic associate deans of accredited veterinary schools. Seventy-one percent of the survey participants agreed that “at our school, tracking (e.g., emphasis areas, focus areas, streaming) where students focus on a class of animals or a discipline area begins in either year one (2.6%), year two (15%), year three (35%), year four (39%) or year five (6%).”2

Veterinary school leaders want to ensure that their students achieve entry level competencies by the time they graduate, which is a Herculean challenge even for one class of animals or discipline area and most likely impossible for “all creatures great and small”. The visionary, Dean Pritchard, recognized this conundrum in the 1970’s and worked to implement the first tracking curriculum at UC Davis. Since that time the knowledge explosion and emerging new disciplines within veterinary medicine and biomedical science as a whole have made the possibility of educating ‘the universal veterinarian’ even more remote.

One argument against tracking has gradually lost its validity, i.e., that tracking decreases the ability of graduates ‘to change careers in the future’. Given the rapid pace of discovery, we are fooling ourselves if we think that the facts and procedures we currently teach our students, whether they track or not, will prepare them for a major career change 5-10 years from now. Instead, we can focus on helping them learn how to learn, to solve problems, and to develop their own career goals and plans to achieve those goals now and in the future.

If as a profession we can move beyond the arguments about whether or not tracking is a good idea (since most schools are already doing it), we can make more progress figuring out how to ensure that all veterinarians, no matter what their focus, master the essential ‘veterinarian competencies”. What might these be? My starting list would include the following: Be able to 1] provide informed opinions and discuss with the general public such topics as modern food production; key welfare issues; responsible use of antibiotics; importance of translational biomedical research; 2] effectively collaborate with public health and medical professionals within their communities; 3] work in a team environment as an employee, colleague and leader; and 4] monitor and sustain one’s own self-awareness, personal health and well-being.

What would be on your list?

Then the next question is: how do we incorporate these and other critical learning areas into the curriculum so that all students become competent and successful veterinarians?

1 Pritchard WR. Future directions for veterinary medicine. Durham, NC: Pew National Veterinary Education Program, Institute of Policy Sciences and Public Affairs, Duke University; 1989.

2 Stone EA, Reimann J, Greenhill LM, Dewey CE. Milestone Educational Planning Initiatives in Veterinary Medical Education: Progress and Pitfalls. Journal of Veterinary Medical Education. 2018;45(3):388-404.

Elizabeth A. Stone, DVM, MS, MPP, DACVS, is the previous Dean and a Professor in the Department of Clinical Studies, Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON N1G 2W1 Canada, and an Emeritus Professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27607 USA. Her research interests include leadership development, educational innovation, and the role of veterinarians in society. Her article “Milestone Educational Planning Initiatives in Veterinary Medical Education: Progress and Pitfalls” is free to read for a limited time: http://bit.ly/jvme453k

Deeply Rooted in the Present: Heritage, Memory, and Identity in Brazilian Quilombos

Guest post by Mary Lorena Kenny

Mary Lorena Kenny is Professor of Anthropology at Eastern Connecticut State University. She is the author of Hidden Heads of Households: Child Labor in Urban Northeast Brazil (2007) and Deeply Rooted in the Present: Heritage, Memory, and Identity in Brazilian Quilombos 

Over the course of three hundred years, Brazil imported over five million slaves, more than any country in the Americas. One hundred years after abolition, the 1988 constitution included a clause guaranteeing quilombolas (federally recognized descendants of self-ascribed, traditional Black settlements) collective land titles as a type of reparation. Thanks to an international collective of scholars and activists, reparation policies and projects are gaining momentum.

There are an estimated four thousand quilombo communities in Brazil. The quilombola heritage policy (ideally) offers a legal instrument for enhancing social and economic inclusion, as the daily life for quilombolas is marked by a troubling history shaped long ago by slavery and colonialism. It is manifested today by some of the worst indicators in terms of access to healthcare, schooling, and basic infrastructure. Three quarters of the families living in quilombos are categorized as living in extreme poverty and receive public assistance. Deeply Rooted in the Present: Heritage, Memory, and Identity in Brazilian Quilombos maps some of the ways these communities address the still unresolved legacies of slavery through empowering narratives of resistance, land rights, material practices (heritage), and activism. I felt it was important to highlight how past practices are linked to contemporary conditions of exploitative, slave-like labor practices, violent conflict over access to land, and police violence targeting people of color. Woven throughout the book are discussions of how quilombola heritage policies are tied to these social, economic, political, and racial realities of the country.

The book is for general readers rather than specialists in anthropology or Brazilian studies.

The chapters focus on the history of slavery in Brazil, the quilombola movement, and a case study to examine some of the issues and challenges for these “maroons” (communities formed by persons fleeing slavery). Since their inception, the quilombo heritage policies have been stalled by bureaucratic obstacles, violent conflict over land rights, and shifts in the definition of quilombola. One of the first chapters discusses some of the trials and tribulations of field work, which in my experience garners many questions from students. At the end of the book, there is a section of further readings for those who would like to explore more deeply some of the issues raised.

Overall, the material can be useful for generating discussions on how people give meaning to where they have been, who they are now, and (ideally) where they can go in a shifting political, economic, and social context. Re-conceptualizing “who we are” has disrupted some core historical and cultural beliefs. How quilombolas see themselves does not always coincide with how others view them. Opponents claim that the land grant program is unconstitutional and illegal. They argue that slavery ended 130 years ago in Brazil, and that quilombolas are irrelevant in the twenty-first century. They assert that acknowledging a quilombola ethno-racial claim to land as a land reform strategy is corrupt because it provides free land to undeserving recipients, is exclusionary because it encourages groups to invent an identity that did not exist before, and excludes poor, non-quilombolas. This policy, they argue, encourages racial polarity, which is seen as un-Brazilian and imported from a US model that does not correspond to the Brazilian reality of race relations. They contend that it is misguided and does little to help the quality of life for residents in traditional Black settlements. Strong, vocal objection to the reparations program is made by powerful people: agro-industrial oligarchs, logging and mining companies, the military, real estate developers, and, most recently, those responsible for preparing roads and stadiums for the FIFA World Cup and the Olympics, during which time quilombolas were threatened with expulsion and activists have been murdered.

Students will recognize the generational differences in how groups articulate their reality, with some younger members questioning the usefulness (politically, economically, and socially) of “taking on” this identity. The material is framed by key questions in anthropology about identity, heritage, and culture. It includes an appendix that lists ways students can explore their own heritage and identity, including virtual, online communities, and contemporary issues such as gun control, gender, and BlackLivesMatter. In-class or field projects can explore how heritage is expressed in material objects or physical and oral forms. Since so much of the history of enslaved and marginalized groups has been muted, invisible, outlawed, or excluded, students can explore places, monuments, or rituals that have significant religious, political, or social value for different groups, noting which ones have a louder voice or bigger “footprint.” They can tie their own family histories to changes in their community (e.g., the closing of car or textile factories, urban renewal, extreme weather conditions, forced relocation, or resettlement) and note how this larger context has shaped the lives of the members of the community. Students can identify cultural practices in their own community that have continued, disappeared, or reemerged in a new way (e.g., death and burial practices, dance, music, language, food). Which ones have led to a revalorization of social identity, or new source of income? Can they identify development projects that have led to impoverishment, social dislocation, and the erosion of heritage (e.g., oil pipelines and dams built on Indigenous sacred territory)? They can also investigate how development projects have led to clashes over cultural heritage, e.g., construction of a building that unearthed a graveyard, or a heritage building scheduled to be demolished for modern development.

Overall, the book shows how social action can lead to change, how groups give meaning to who they are, and in the process, disrupt historical narratives, re-articulate social relations, and foment political agency.

Ideas for Building Career Development into PhD Seminars

By Loleen Berdahl

Since the publication of our book Work Your Career: Get What You Want from Your Social Sciences and Humanities PhD, my co-author Jonathan Malloy and I have been asked for ideas about how to use the book in PhD seminar classes. I am delighted that faculty are looking for ways to help PhD students start thinking about their careers at an early stage, and that they are working to create a climate where students feel safe to discuss career options. Over the past couple of years, Jonathan and I have led conference sessions and workshops with PhD students, postdocs, and others interested in PhD career development that draw on the ideas we present in Work Your Career. Most recently, we offered a Career Corner session at the 2018 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, and we were pleased to see students across a broad range of academic disciplines enthusiastically engage with the topic.

For our sessions, we have led students in discussions and group activities. The discussions of PhD career development prompt students to think about the many career options—including but not exclusively academia—for which PhD students can prepare. The group activities are particularly useful to help students engage with the ideas; for these, we ask students to complete a self-assessment on a specific area for a short period, and then share their responses with each other in small groups of 3-4 people. This is then followed by a larger full group discussion. We conclude the process by asking students to come up with a personal “action plan” to develop areas they wish to strengthen. What we particularly enjoy about this collaborative process is that it helps students identify further strengths that they already possess. By developing an action plan students increase their awareness of how they can use personal agency to achieve their goals.

Building off these conference sessions, I have developed a list of activities for faculty who wish to use Work Your Career in their PhD seminars or in non-credit, stand-alone professional development seminars offered to students. For the group activities (Table 1), I suggest that students begin with individual work, followed by small group student discussions, and then full class discussion. For some classes, instructors might consider including students at other stages of their program. This can have the dual benefit of bringing in some different perspectives as well as prompting more senior students to reflect on their own studies. For the reading responses (Table 2), I suggest that instructors limit responses to 250 words, and assign grades on a complete/incomplete basis to avoid any perception that there are “right answers.” The reading response items could also be adapted to serve as seminar discussion questions.

It is rewarding to see that so many faculty—and particularly PhD supervisors, graduate program chairs, and department chairs—are deeply committed to advancing PhD student career success. For those who use Work Your Career in the classroom, I hope that you will find these activities useful as you guide and mentor your students. I welcome your ideas to expand this list, as well as any feedback on how the activities work in your classroom, at loleen.berdahl@usask.ca. And I thank you for looking for opportunities to prompt PhD students to engage with their own career development as early in their programs as possible.

Table 1: Group Activities drawing upon Work Your Career: Get What You Want from Your Social Sciences or Humanities PhD

Group Activity Reading and Material
Assess your current career competency evidence and strengths, and select areas where you would like to develop your evidence and strengths further. Chapter 1, particularly Table 1.2
Explore how you can build further career competency evidence through program activities such as classes, comps, and dissertation, and create a personal action plan. Chapter 3
Evaluate how you can build further career competency evidence through non-program activities, and create a personal action plan. Chapter 4, particularly Table 4.1
Create an informational interview action plan. Chapter 4, particularly pages 87-89
Assess and refine the significance of your current dissertation project idea. Chapter 5, particularly Table 5.1
Create a schedule for the remainder of the semester, strategically booking tasks into high energy and low energy schedule blocks. Chapter 7, particularly pages 142-149
Detail your current professional network, and select areas where you would like to develop your network further. Create a personal action plan to do so. Chapter 7, particularly Figure 7.1
Appraise which PhD activities you find most energizing and rewarding. Chapter 8, particularly Table 8.2
Develop a short narrative story that uses evidence to demonstrate one or more of your career competencies. Chapter 8, particularly pages 179-183
Formulate specific strategies to identify the problem that an organization is hiring to solve, and create a personal action plan for how to approach job applications. Chapters 8 and 9
Plan specific answers to the common questions raised during academic job interviews. Chapter 9, particularly Table 9.4

Table 2: Reading Response Topics drawing upon Work Your Career: Get What You Want from Your Social Sciences or Humanities PhD

Reading Response Topics Reading
What is your personal career goal? How does your PhD program fit into this goal? Chapter 1
What are the strengths of your current program for your personal career goal and how can you realize these strengths? Chapter 2
What factors should students regularly consider when deciding whether or not to continue their program? How can you make this a safe question for yourself as you move through your program? Chapter 3
What are the opportunities for you to use non-program activities to increase your experience and skills? (Examine your university’s doctoral professional development opportunities and be specific in your response.) Chapter 4
What are the opportunities for you to build your funding track record? (Search online for opportunities and be specific in your response.) Chapter 5
Identify one potential scholarly journal option and one potential non-scholarly publishing option for your work. Explain why these options are good fits for your research. Chapter 6
In what ways do you personally use graciousness, professionalism, and discretion to cultivate your own professional reputation? Chapter 7
What do you see as the advantages and disadvantages of an “academia-first” mentality? Chapter 8
What amount of teaching experience do you feel would best position you to be competitive for tenure-track academic jobs? Chapter 9
Which of the identified faculty “actions” do you feel would most benefit PhD students? What other actions, if any, do you recommend? Appendix

Loleen Berdahl is Professor and Head of Political Studies at the University of Saskatchewan, and co-author (with Jonathan Malloy) of the book Work Your Career: Get What You Want from Your Social Sciences and Humanities PhD (University of Toronto Press, 2018). After completing her PhD, she worked for ten years in the nonprofit think tank world. Her research considers public attitudes, intergovernmental relations, and political science career development, and she is the recipient of three University of Saskatchewan teaching awards. Follow her on Twitter (@loleen_berdahl), where she tweets about political science, higher education, and opportunities for students, among other topics, and connect with her on LinkedIn.