Guest blogger Grant Gearhart posts on his own experience with the “PhD + 1” phenomenon as a grad student and job candidate.
The toughest question I faced on the academic job market was “how does your research influence your teaching?” Job seekers—especially in the Humanities—should handle this fairly common question with ease. But what if your teaching and research are, for lack of opportunities to teach in your field, seemingly divergent? I ran into this problem, and turned it into an advantage during interviews.
Compared to other sub-disciplines in Spanish, my research specialization—Medieval and Renaissance literature—typically has fewer job postings than, say, contemporary Latin American literature or linguistics. Once, I met a prominent scholar in my field who was very encouraged by the six positions that were advertised that year. Six! In the whole country!
To compound the low number of job prospects for medievalists, I had limited opportunities to teach upper-level medieval and renaissance courses at UNC-Chapel Hill, where full-time Ph.D. faculty take these classes.
One semester, as a graduate research consultant for students taking Medieval Spanish Literature, I learned how to organize and teach a course in my field for undergraduate majors; but this apprenticeship—invaluable as it was—lacked the rigor of full-time teaching. If I wanted to work independently with advanced students I was going to have to branch out.
I jumped at the chance to get involved in UNC’s Spanish Minor for the Professions after having completed a year abroad as a lecturer at the University of Seville. Finally, my chance to pull out my undergraduate Economics degree and put it to work in my teaching! And because of my experiences teaching English conversation for Engineers and Computer Scientists in Seville, I had become enticed about teaching professional subject matter in a foreign language.
During my first year working in the minor I had a 2-2 teaching load: two courses in the minor plus two sections of a Language Across the Curriculum (LAC) recitation for Introduction to Environment and Society. In other words, I had a calendar full of teaching specific subject matter in Spanish.
Additionally, in the spring of that year I taught my all-time favorite course: Venture Creation in the Spanish-speaking World, where students study and evaluate entrepreneurial skills in order to build a business geared towards serving a particular Spanish-speaking country. My enthusiasm for teaching shined that year, and my students nominated me for a teaching award.
Delivering these courses while researching and writing my dissertation allowed me to explore both new instructional practices and fresh scholarly interests simultaneously, and I found that one invigorated the other.
The following year I again worked in the minor, teaching two sections of a capstone community service-learning course, where I learned about the growing field of “service-learning” and its distinct pedagogy. Throughout, teaching outside my “field of expertise” never interrupted my scholarship (I published an article that year and made significant progress on the dissertation).
As I prepared for the upcoming job market, I realized that I was not only becoming an expert in my field of academic research, but also a master teacher in unique, high-demand courses for language departments.
Which brings us back to the original question: “how does your research influence your teaching?” Below is a sample response I gave during interviews.
“My research explores how the chivalric world assesses and confronts change, specifically the ways new styles of war alter knighthood [here I would add one or two very specific examples from my dissertation]. I tell students that we face similar problems today that were present 500+ years ago: globalization, immigration, economic insecurity, gender issues, etc.
Just like we can examine gender roles in the Latin American or U.S. Latino economic marketplace, we can also analyze how different gender roles affected the patriarchal society of medieval Iberia at both an economic and social level. Or, we can examine issues of conflict and immigration and how different social classes interacted, or did not, and why. Once I contextualize the medieval/renaissance literature for students and get them hooked with these problem sets, I believe that they find a familiarity with the older texts and interact with them in more meaningful ways.
The same is true if it’s a service-learning course: the students approach their respective roles in the community differently after having been exposed to the issues and concerns of the Latino population. My experiences teaching advanced courses like Introduction to Spanish for Professionals, Venture Creation in the Spanish-speaking World, Spanish for Professional and Community Engagement, as well as being a graduate research consultant for Medieval Spanish Literature, have trained me to prepare rigorous upper-level courses and to connect with students pursuing a major or minor in Spanish.”
When the dust settled, I had three good job opportunities this go-round (one full-time Lecturer, two Tenure-Track): one was exclusively for my work with community-based service learning; another (TT) for my research specialization, but with great interest in my ability to create new, professionally-inclined courses; and the one I accepted (TT) was for a mixture of everything from language teaching to developing service learning and special purposes courses, but also for courses grounded in my research field. In the end, my versatility as a teacher and scholar played a key role in my success on the job market last year.
Grant Gearhart has a PhD in Romance Studies from UNC-Chapel Hill and is an Assistant Professor at Armstrong State University in Savannah, Georgia.