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Brandeis Professors speak on podcast about PhD opportunities and careers

On Thursday, Jan 26, the New Books Network released a discussion featuring two members of Brandeis staff ; Alyssa Stalsberg Canelli–Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs–and Jonathan Shapiro Anjaria (ANTH), who is the Faculty Director of Professional Development at the Graduate School for Arts and Sciences (GSAS). Their host on the program was Christina Gessler, a historian of women and gender. 

The podcast touched upon a number of issues, but was primarily concerned with the professional development of graduate students outside of the academic sphere. The discussion touched on many topics , including the lives of graduate students outside of the classroom setting. 

As Anjaria mentioned in the first few minutes of the program, Brandeis needed  to “be more deliberate about professional development, and provide more help to enable graduate students to be prepared to pursue a variety of careers after graduation.” Canelli also explained how, while she never operated in a faculty position, she was still able to continue making a career in Higher Ed administration.

The two guests expanded on their career paths and how they ended up working in the roles they have today. Both made the point that while they had thought that pursuing a PhD was only a viable path forwards in a career related to academia, it actually turned out that many with PhDs are able to find work and conduct research in other roles outside of a school setting. 

The pair also talked about how the roles they held prior to their current jobs contributed to the attitude they have working in their positions today. Canelli reflected on this, “I have been working full time since I was 14, so I have had so many part-time gigs, all through high school and college…One of the things I internalized was that this hustle, these side-gigs, were not important. They were one of the ways I could pay my bills but they weren’t going to get me to where I actually needed to go.” 

Canelli mentioned how this experience influenced her decision to help secure mini-grants in collaboration with the initial phases of the Connected PhD program. Anjaria expanded on this, saying how he had worked with many individuals who had found themselves in jobs far-removed from their planned future ones, and how they began to see these as an opportunity to help students work through the earlier phases of their careers. 

“Working with students on thinking about working back from what their top career goals are, I can talk with students about what potential audiences they might want for their dissertation…that naturally flows to thinking about connections between their dissertation work and people in the industry. So, there doesn’t have to be this sharp divide between career-thinking on one hand and scholarly pursuits on the other. There’s a natural overlap between the two,”said Canelli.  

Canelli also brought up the nature of time management when it came to holding side jobs while also pursuing a degree. These sort of experiences can help handle expectations of perfectionism when it comes to achieving academic pursuits. Conditioning students to view their work as something which does not necessarily have to be the most pristine, transcendental writing they have ever done can be useful encouragement when trying to complete major assignments on time, and on message. 

“This thing that I’m writing – it has a beginning, middle and end – I can track it, I can do it, I can get it done and I can move forward and get to the next thing,”said Canelli.

 This led the discussion to move onto the topic of internships, as Gessler pointed out that a vast number of student internships are unpaid positions, with the chance of compensation often coming from University grants. Canelli explained how at Brandeis there is “the World of Work Fellowship, where there’s an understanding that if students want to go into non-profit organizations for an internship that are unpaid, they can apply for the institution to fund them for their summer work.” 

Given the opportunity between making more money as a server for a summer, or working at an unpaid internship, many graduate students would naturally take the job to help pay bills. Having an institution help with funding this type of professional development, through the Connected PhD program, will help give students the support necessary to take risks and grow into their chosen field of employment. 

Gessler talked about how graduate students’ work feels disconnected from internships and career opportunities which they may end up pursuing in the future, and they don’t feel supported by their professors or faculty while considering these different routes. Anjaria encouraged graduate students to think hard about why they pursued their PhD, and what they hoped to achieve with it. 

For graduate students interested solely in teaching, he offered the suggestion of looking for teaching gigs at access-oriented institutions, such as community colleges, and networking with professors and other faculty in order to broaden the horizons of places where you could work. 

“Once you figure out what that career goal is, that’s going to have you approach the PhD differently from how your committee might encourage you, because the committee is going to encourage you to focus on the dissertation, and on that scholarly monograph for academics. So you need to have a clear sense of whether or not that really works for you or not,”explained Anjaria.

 Canelli also urged the need for self-reflection, noting that having a small circle of academic advisors for five years and then suddenly needing to exercise your own judgment could be an onerous process if not accounted for. Especially if life events factor into a student’s development in unexpected ways, Canelli stressed that talking with graduate advisors for these types of situations was paramount.

“I think there have been ways, productively, we have been able to use the Connected PhD to drive and support curricular change…so I think that these things are happening and I would encourage faculty to be open to these conversations and to be open to partnering with their graduate school administration…they’re realizing that they actually share some really big things in common about these conversations and these challenges,” explained Canelli.

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