Wednesday, August 08, 2007


Ask My Readers: How to Make a Career Decision?

A new correspondent writes:

I have a career decision dilemma, and I'm not sure where to
go for help/advice.

After receiving my BA from a Snooty Liberal Arts College, I went on to
an MFA program. I attended the MFA program simply because I wanted to
spend some time focusing on writing. While there, I taught some
classes as part of my fellowship and found that I loved teaching and
working with college students.

I knew that if I wanted to make teaching in higher-ed my career, I
would need more than the MFA; however, I was drained after my final
semester (along with teaching two classes, I was also taking courses,
finishing my thesis, and working as the managing editor for an
international literary journal). I needed to take some time off before
jumping into a Ph.D. program.

I moved back to the area where I grew up and got a job adjuncting at
the local CC (I also have another job, so adjuncting is not my sole
support). I have been adjuncting for two years now, with
ever-increasing teaching loads--I'm now up to four classes with three
different preps. I think after this upcoming year of adjuncting I will
be ready to go back to school.

However, here is my dilemma: I don't know what direction I want to take
with my career; I have always been interested in many fields and
focused on writing because I could constantly research different topics
to inform my writing. I have looked at three different types of Ph.D.
programs (Rhet and Comp; Literature; Creative Writing), and I could
enter any of the three fields and be happy. To further complicate my
decision, I have, over the past few months, become increasingly
interested in working toward a position like Dean of Students. If I
wanted to go that route, I would have to look at a completely different
type of program.

I don't know what to do. I want to move forward with my career, which
means that I need to apply for programs this winter so I could begin
next fall, but I also don't want to begin a program only to find that I
actually should have been in another field. I need some advice, but I
don't know where to go for that advice. The former mentors I have
spoken with all want me to go into their particular field (I've talked
with people from Rhet and Comp, Literature, and Creative Writing

Do you or your readers have any suggestions for how to make this

I like the way you end the letter – rather than asking for the answer, you're asking how to figure out the answer for yourself. Already, that's a good sign.

(For what it's worth, my impression is that tenure-track jobs are much easier to find in rhet/comp than in literature or creative writing, but that assumes you know what you want. Off the top of my head, the mix of enthusiasms and skills you mention screams “Writing Center Director,” since that combines writing, working with students, and managing, but that's just a first impression. If that's accurate, the route is through rhet/comp, to writing faculty, to director. Sorry, couldn't resist.)

Since you have several months before application deadlines hit, I'd advise taking advantage of your contacts at your current cc. Schedule appointments with the Dean and/or Assistant Dean of Students, tell them what you're thinking, and get a sense of what they actually do from day to day. Many of the events in which they're involved can be great fun, but the jobs are twelve months a year, often six or seven days a week, and frequently at the cost of your personal life. (Apparently, these days, Deans of Students can be indicted for “aggressive hazing” if the kids in the frat get out of control. That deserves a post of its own, but for the moment, I'll just say it's a breathtakingly bad idea.) Do you want to be the 'go-to' person for plagiarism charges, allegations of date rape, and angry parents demanding to know why they don't get monthly progress reports on their kids? As with many administrative roles, this is as much about temperament as about talent. But someone in that role can give you much more detail than I could. And since they aren't trying to recruit for their own graduate programs, they can be reasonably objective.

If you're honestly neutral in terms of content when it comes to picking a subfield of English, I'd suggest looking at employability and/or the nature of the job you want. Would a cc be okay with you? Is geographic rootedness a priority, or would you be willing to hop from visiting gig to visiting gig? I'll ask my readers in the English subfields for their impressions on the differences among the subfields. Since my degree isn't in English, I have no dog in that fight.

Career decisions are a funny blend of analysis, gut, and happenstance. So much of what you'll later realize you 'needed' to know is currently unknowable. That's okay; it's the nature of the thing. If you can pick up some clues now, keep straight what's a core conviction and what's negotiable, and can catch a break somewhere, the unknowables should cancel each other out.

Good luck!

Wise and worldly readers – what do you think?

Have a question? Ask the Administrator at ccdean (at) myway (dot) com.

I would just second DD's suggestion that you have "Writing Center Director" all over you. It's writing, it's teaching, it's working closely with a wide variety of students, and it's administrative. If you go that way, R&C makes the most sense. I am also seeing a trend among liberal arts schools toward integrating writing, speaking, and research skills into more comprehensive "centers." If you really want to get yourself on the cutting edge of the writing center world, I would suggest a program that gives you exposure to multiple modes of communication and their integration (Rhet and Comm programs will do this).

You should also think about working with teaching and learning centers so that you have both the "student services" and "faculty development" ends of the work. With that background, you might be quite marketable.
I agree that you sound like a potential "Writing Center Director." Here are some other ideas.
Check the MLA and 4Cs job listings online (here's the link to the 4Cs job section View job stats and job listings to see where the jobs are, what the jobs are in, and what type of grad degree the employers are looking for. Proceed with your grad decisions accordingly and with confidence, courage and hope. They're needed.

I had no one to tell me to do this and, as a grad of a snooty liberal arts college (like you!) who had no one to even tell her that there were opportunities to get a Ph.D. in Rhet/Comp, I went the English route which worked out peachy. Why? Because by dumb luck I ended up in an English program that had friendly-ish relations with the grad school of education (in which the Rhet/Comp Ph.D. program was housed) and because the administrator of the university's campus writing program took a heroic interest in mentoring bewildered, lost, and confused English grad students who were utterly clueless about the job market in any way shape or form. Due to that mentorship I was able to pursue my dreams of academic research in literature while still getting the skills to market myself as a comp diva. Long story short, if you end up going for a Ph.D. in English find yourself a program where you can take classes in Education and Rhet/Comp if you want to diversify and meet the players in the Rhet/Comp field at your school as they can be a huge help on the job market. However, feel out the climate of the school before mentioning the possibility of graduate diversification to anyone in an English program. Some English programs actively foster a divide between Rhet/Comp and English (this is the subject for a whole 'nother post), others are more pragmatic and recognize that its good for grads to actually have the skills to get a job as many jobs on the MLA list call for at least some comp teaching.

Good luck!
Great question, and I won't disagree with the previous responses that emphasize the Rhet/Comp route for a Ph.D.. You'd be far more marketable that way. And emphasizing the comprehensive communication skills - writing and speaking -- will put you in a strong position.

I do, however, want to add that I'm not so sure you need a Ph.D.. The MFA in creative writing will be considered a terminal degree in writing areas for most colleges and universities. Do you really want to earn a Ph.D.? Then go, with blessings. But maybe it would be a good idea to spend some time as a faculty member, tenure track or lecturer, and spend some time figuring out what you really want to do.

You have options.
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