Monday, February 25, 2013

A Brief, Working History of the Alt-Ac and Post-Academic Movements

This timeline originally appeared on my blog, Mama Nervosa, on 12.27.2012. This version includes a few additions to the first version of the timeline.

As the humanities unravel, as alt-ac gains steam as "the future of the academy," as our stat counter registers more and more hits from folks distressed, disillusioned, and desperate in their post-academic lives, I've felt like there's more need to articulate the relationship of our website, or more accurately, of the post-academic movement with the rest of the crisis in higher ed. I've been putting together a timeline that I think traces the roots and chronology of the modern "post-academic movement." Currer and I are working on a post that more fully fleshes out what it means to be post-academic (versus alt-academic, or whatever) because we feel like being "post-ac" is it's own thing, it's own branch on this baobab tree of higher ed, grad school, culture, time, history, etc.

I believe that "post-academic" can be used an umbrella term that indicates the counter-academic movement within and without institutions broadly: critiques of academia from within (institutional critiques, etc), including concerns about labor structure, grad student exploitation/experience/professionalization, and the contingent faculty movements that have sprung up; and the proliferation of post-academic, ex-academic, and anti-academic blogs and advice books outside the academy. Not that these are equivalent in terms of impact, but more that they're concurrent. I'm connecting dots here. I believe alt-ac and post-ac share the same roots, but are now diverging in key ways (that Currer and I will get to shortly). But this timeline traces those shared roots and tries to highlight key events/moments/ideas. Please feel free to submit additions in the comments or via email (



  • Doctor of Arts programs established -- programs briefly flourish, then precipitously fade in the early 90s (seems related because it is a reformed doctoral degree focusing on teaching and application of research).


  • Process theory gains momentum in composition classrooms. This is significant, IMO, in that it generates some serious cognitive dissonance in the academy, and those effects are borne out through the practices of graduate students.

  • Foucault. Come on.


  • The Wyoming Conference Resolution opposing unfair employment/pay practices for post-secondary English teachers (that is, comp instructors and TAs).


  • Susan Miller writes Textual Carnivals: The Politics of Composition, which is significant IMO because it (a) uses cultural studies to study the institution itself (b) furthers a conversation about hierarchies and exploitation within institutions and departments and (c) talks about how grad students/teachers are complicit in their own exploitation. (There are many other important publications like this. This is the one I could remember off the top of my head.)



  • Cary Nelson and Michael Berube write "Graduate Education is Losing Its Moral Base," which stated that grad programs had largely become labor mills to teach undergrads, and pointed out the perilous job market for PhDs.



  • MLA President Elaine Showalter promotes alt-ac careers at that year's conference and is met with some serious backlash from the grad student caucus at the time, led by Marc Bousquet and William Pannapacker. Michael Berube writes, "Both, in different ways, have come to regard the enterprise as a shell game, and both, 15 years ago, construed Showalter's call as a disingenuous suggestion that people who had trained for a decade to be humanists could suddenly switch gears and become secretaries and screenwriters."


  • Paula Chambers founds the WRK4US listserv, which served humanities and social science graduate students in career changes. (See 2010 below.)

  • founded


  • Re-envisioning the PhD project founded with goals of improving transparency, suggesting reform, and revamping doctoral education in the US.

  • The Responsive PhD project founded to enhance transparency, improve public engagement, and promote diversity in doctoral education. Concluded 2006 with "goals achieved."


  • Composition starts to come into its own right as a discipline by becoming everything it hates (ok, that's an exaggeration). But still, comp starts to feel its own cognitive dissonance as it gains institutional prestige and all the markings of legitimacy (departments! offices! tenure lines! a zillion conferences and journals with parentheses and slashes in the titles!) but continues to focus on vexing issues of racism, sexism, class, oppression, and exploitation in institutionalized practices and hidden pedagogy.

  • Marc Bousquet presents "The Excrement Theory of Graduate Education" at MLA (later published as "The Waste Product of Graduate Education" in 2002), which argued that degree-holding graduate students are the waste product of higher education.





Is there a chance that the alternative-careers movement (which in many ways I laud and admire) has unwittingly sold humanities Ph.D.'s yet another professional pipe dream? Could it be that all of us -- both those still "in" academe (that is, in the professoriate) and those in the nonacademic realm -- still share a misguided optimism about the marketability of a humanities Ph.D.?






  • M. Berube sums up the crisis in "Humanities Unraveled," remarking that the alt-ac challenge is a good place to start with grad program reform, but also worrying that programs at the forefront of reform are also most vulnerable as investment in humanities programs drops more and more.

 Other bloggers or armchair institutional historians, please chime in with your start dates or other significant contributions. Crowdsource this, people!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Medicaid/Medical Assistance Plan Links, By State

Below, you can find a set of links that will take you to information about medical assistance programs for each state (Medicaid, S-CHIP, or other programs).

Most states, unfortunately, do not offer traditional Medicaid coverage for able-bodied, working-aged adults without children. However, several states do offer other types of medical assistance for working-aged adults, so you should be careful to explore all programs in your state before concluding that you can't qualify for anything.

If you are pregnant or have children, it is far more likely that you will be able to find state coverage. Medicaid eligibility is far less stringent for pregnant women or children under 18, so even if you or a partner don't qualify for benefits on your own, your children (born or unborn) will very likely qualify for coverage if you don't make much money. In fact, graduate student couples in many states have been able to cover their children on state Medicaid programs, because their family income (via graduate stipends) is so low.

So if you're leaving academia with kids and don't have a new job lined up, you should definitely explore whether your kids (at least) may qualify for state coverage.

For each state, I tried to pull a link that provides a gateway to all of the Medicaid eligibility information (and applications) for each state. However, each state offers multiple assistance programs and has complex eligibility requirements for each, so be sure to spend some time looking around your specific site – there may be more information/programs out there than are covered on the linked pages.

District of Columbia:
New Hampshire:
New Jersey:
New Mexico:
New York:
North Carolina:
North Dakota:
Rhode Island:
South Carolina:
South Dakota:
West Virginia:

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Grad School Quittas with Happy Endings

Sometimes it's easy to get bogged down in the depressing reality of grad school. Even the act of quitting can be a drag when you think about how much struggle people go through, how hard it is to find work, how much uncertainty there is. But here are a few stories from quitters who went on to be really, really happy with their decisions.

This Italian scientist did a post-doc at Cambridge before bailing on academia and "getting a life." Includes this extremely lovely infographic:

He was particularly disillusioned by the toxic, competitive culture in his graduate experience. He ends up stumbling into a developing position in a software company.


This Mom bailed on her MFA when she got pregnant and says it's the best decision she's ever made. I love this line:
... honestly, I’ve probably done more for my career by getting out there and just writing instead of sitting in a stuffy room with a bunch of hipsters talking about writing. I can’t say that having a baby is a one-way street to maturity for everyone, but for me, that’s a pretty accurate description.

Speaking of mother-writers, Barbara Kingsolver is a grad school quitta, too. Before she ever published a novel, she was deep into graduate work in ecology and evolutionary biology. She spent some time doing science writing before turning to fiction.

So chin up. What seems like endless darkness may turn out to be a blip on the radar of life, you know?

Friday, February 15, 2013

Discovering a world of post-academic possibilities: How to benefit from informational interviewing

This guest post was written by Liza Shoenfeld, a blogger who studied neuroscience at Bowdoin College before working as a research technician, and is now a second year grad student funded by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. By day I research how Lou Gehrig’s disease slowly obliterates muscle control, but by night she explores the many career options open to graduate students in the sciences.

When I decided not to pursue academic science, I suddenly confronted, as I’m sure many of you have, the enormous task of trying to choose between all of the other careers that there are. Worse, I had no clear idea of what these possibilities even were – only that there lay a vast, hazy world of jobs out there that did not involve test tubes or spectrometers or grant applications.

I came to this decision during my first year of grad school, already embedded in an institution so divorced from the reality of its trainees’ futures that it seems to hold a restraining order against the grim statistical evidence that fewer than 15% of PhDs in the biological sciences go on to attain a tenure-track position within 6 years of graduating. Yet this was precisely the career for which we were trained. There was little room for – or even interest in – a discussion of more realistic career options.

So I embarked on a project to meet with people who had left grad school to pursue careers in a variety of different fields. I wanted to learn from these people: How did you get where you are today? Which skills have you carried with you from grad school, and what have you learned since then? What do you find most meaningful in your work now? What is your advice for someone in my position?

I met with people in consulting, insurance, policy-making, competitive intelligence, teaching, grantmaking, project management, freelance writing, technology transfer, human resources, communications, university administration, and more. Some had quit grad school and found fulfillment elsewhere. Some had come from academia, some from other graduate
backgrounds, and I also spoke with some who had found success without ever stepping foot in the fluorescently lit halls of graduate school.

I learned that this type of conversation is generally called an “informational interview,” and aside from its obvious networking benefits, I found the process enormously inspiring for two reasons: One, it opened my eyes to a world of fulfilling and successful careers outside of academia. And two, each conversation taught me something new about how I might find my place in that world.

My interviewing project, now in its second year, was born out of my frustration that my graduate program is training me for a career that I’ve come to view as both unrealistic and undesirable. By talking with so many people outside of my graduate school bubble, I’ve learned how to branch out from the narrow path of the academic pipeline.

For those who have not yet benefitted from informational interviewing, I highly recommend it. I knew little about the process when I started, but in the last year have conducted over 2 dozen of these conversations. I have since created a website called, called “branching points”, designed to give graduate students ideas and resources for careers outside of academia. While much of the site is
targeted to students in the sciences, there are a number of resources that I hope are helpful to people of any background. You can find my beginner’s guide to informational interviews, which includes how to find people to interview, how to ask for an interview, 10 tips for informational interview success, and 10 questions you should ask. Also included are profiles of nearly a dozen “alternative” careers. Q&A’s with recent grad-school-grads, resource guides, and my thoughts on branching out from academia.