This past 11 April, the Center for Medieval Studies hosted its annual “Compatible Careers” event. Each year, the Center asks alumni to share their experiences of finding jobs after their graduations that go beyond the traditional academic/tenure-tracked path. The perennial question for graduate students nearing their graduations is: “what next?” To study what you love is a joy, but the fact of the matter is that, eventually, one needs to realize what one wants to do for a living. This question haunts many a student at night, especially those who would elect a non-academic path. The purpose of this annual workshop is to show students that taking alternate paths is not only possible, but it may even result in finding a better fit for them. This year’s speakers represent a wide array of careers that show promise and reward the creative medievalist willing to look beyond the usual choices presented to them.
Gilbert Stack, who works now as Fordham’s Director of Assessment and Accreditation and fiction writer, relayed that, if you have the opportunity, getting a PhD in a field you love is never, under any circumstances, a bad idea. Stack called the PhD a “green card” for work in academic institutions, including work in administration. One can pursue the terminal degree without setting down the path to university teaching, if one does not want to. He also suggested students consider careers in academic administration, noting that such positions will be expanding to accommodate new regulations and student needs.
The next speaker was Joanne Overty, the owner of DeMontfort Books. She related that she graduated with a BA in Economics and, after entering into the world of investment banking, realized how much she hated working as a banker. A medieval art history class she took as an undergraduate changed her perspective, and awoke in her a desire to study manuscripts. She and her husband (a curator) inherited the extensive manuscript collection of her employer. After selling much of the collection to collectors and institutions and sending the rest to the Morgan Library and Museum, she went through Fordham for an MA in Medieval Studies and PhD focusing on manuscript studies. She and her husband now own their own book selling business, combining their love of manuscripts with her economics training and business experience. Overty’s main point of advice was for students to be flexible if they intend to enter into book selling or archival work.
The next speaker was David Smith, the Director of Marketing and Publishing for the Library of America. Saying that publishing has always been a good career choice for people with humanities degrees, Smith related that publishing now has a greater need than ever for experienced writers and researchers. Smith runs the Library of America’s social media presence, monitoring and maintaining relations between the company and its consumer base and spreading the word about upcoming book releases. He also runs his own blog, where he posts researched stores, biographies, and histories using upcoming publications from the Library of America. As of this past April, he has surpassed 10 million views. Smith related that publishers need younger people who know how social media works in order to publicize their latest releases in an intelligent and well-mannered way.
Allison Alberts, the final speaker, presented her experiences as an upper school English teacher at Sacred Heart in Greenwich. Having taught at both the college and primary school levels, Alberts provided a valuable reflection upon her experiences teaching students at a myriad of ages and levels. After her PhD, Alberts looked for a position for around three years before she heard of the position at Sacred Heart. She related that she did not even think of being a high school teacher as a career option, having just left the university environment and having taught undergraduate classes as per the requirements of the doctoral program. She said that she is happier now than when she was teaching undergraduate students. Being able to teach a single class of students over the course of a full academic year allows her to see the students grow, mature, and develop intellectually and emotionally in ways that the twice-a-week encounters with undergrads lasting only a few months does not. High school teaching also allows Alberts to engage in teaching strategies that take advantage of the greater period of time she has to introduce and discuss themes in medieval history and literature. Teaching younger students also provides her with opportunities to present themes and ideas in more creative ways than a college classroom environment usually allows: such as teaching The Wife’s Lament as a break-up story to ninth-graders, and joyfully seeing how easily they follow along with the deceptively complicated discussion that follows.
The Center would like to thank these alumni for their contributions and for sharing their invaluable advice and anecdotes to students eager to explore their options in the coming years.