The Diversified Pedagogical Portfolio and the Market
Hello fellow ASECS grad students! This is my first post in the history of posting and I am eager to share with you a genuine concern that I have about the….job market (cue the shadows, fear, and stark feelings of ineptitude).
What is the benefit of having what has been generously named the “diversified pedagogical portfolio?” This is what happens when you, dedicated grad student, are teaching or TAing in a field that is not your own. For example, I teach business writing in the Business School, but I happen to study eighteenth-century transatlantic literature. This is even true if you are studying History and you teach Rhetoric and Composition—close but not quite.
So, what is the benefit? In the end, does teaching outside your field hinder or benefit you when you go on the market? What is the verdict?
The fact of the matter is, from what I have heard from a number of reputably and recently tenured-tracked professors, is that it is up to you and how you spin it in your cover letter once you go on the market. Below is a list of benefits and consequences (for lack of more eloquent phrasing) to consider when teaching as a graduate student outside of your field and will be getting a job once you’re PhDone.
- The Alt-Ac Career
Those who espouse the diverse pedagogical portfolio will argue that it may be considered a great way to move into an alt-ac career, as mentioned in this post by Inside Higher Ed. When you are teaching a topic that is outside of your field, you now have the doubled opportunity to discuss the broad scope of both your hard skills (software programs, Excel) and soft skills (team player).
- Teaching Experience
Even though you are teaching or TAing outside of your field, you’re still teaching! There are some graduate students who go throughout their entire graduate career without having that opportunity. When you go on the market, you will undoubtedly be asked about your teaching experience. A weird thing happens when teaching outside of your field. It enables you to really look at teaching as an art and practice. Because you are truly outside of the content, the focus then becomes how you can really hone in on your pedagogy. You may even argue that it makes you a better educator.[i] And that’s something you can say during your job interview!
- Getting that Job through the Back Door
One of the benefits of having teaching experience in another discipline is that, should you get hired for a tenure-track/adjunct position based upon your teaching experience, you may be able to slip into that course that you’ve desperately wanted to teach since your first year of coursework. So, if you do get hired as an instructor for Rhetoric and Composition, you may just be able to ask if there is anyone teaching a course on “Empire and The Novel.”
- You’re more Likely to get a Job. Period. And You Could Love it.
The Chronicle released an article about the fringe benefits of having the “Plan B” when a graduate student in the academy. They recommend that being an “entrepreneur” outside of your discipline may actually make you more competitive—maybe just not in the Humanities. This link has a number of tips of the trade of graduate student entrepreneurship.
- The Competition
One of the questions that you may get asked is: “Why haven’t you taught any classes in [your discipline]? And since you haven’t, what makes you think that you can teach them now?” This fryer-pan-to-the-face question may seem unanswerable in the moment when you have an interview group staring at you with raised eyebrows. It could also be the case that the person interviewing after you does have that experience in your field. The competition is going to be tough.
- Not having that Specific Experience
Each class that we, as grad students, have the pleasure of teaching is unique in its own way. The “Writing in the Sciences” composition course is vastly different from the “English 101” course designed for first-year students. Even though you have gained essential knowledge in teaching courses from outside your discipline, it’s simply not the same. There is a kind of specificity required for teaching each of your courses related to content, assignments, writing activities and the like. Though some skills are transferable across the academy, a lot are not.
The Bottom Line (for me):
This is just my opinion, but after thinking through this blog post, I genuinely feel much better about teaching in the Business School. However, I still think that in order for me to be market-competitive, I will NEED to teach in my discipline. The market is this foggy, frightening, and chilling place (at least that is how it’s presented by many other bewildered grad students I bump into down the hallways of different conference venues). We must all be as ready as possible, for winter (aka the job hunt) is coming.
If you want to be market-competitive:
- If you’re not teaching something, find an opportunity to do so.
- If you’re teaching outside your field, talk with your DGS about having one semester in your department.
- If you’re teaching inside your field, develop your pedagogy and flexibility by switching with another grad student who is teaching outside your field (win/win for everyone).
We are a wonderful and vibrant community of well-educated scholars. We should all be given the opportunity to teach both in and out of what we study.
Victoria Barnett-Woods is a graduate student at The George Washington University. The post is expressly her opinion, and does not represent the views of ASECS, nor The George Washington University.
[i] Thanks to Erin Vander Wall for brainstorming with me on this great thought.