By Sarah Mellors
Mentoring relationships in graduate school—be it a master’s or a doctoral program—are critical for success and yet are often difficult to navigate. While we’ve all heard horror stories about “bad” advisers, students have more agency than they realize. During my five years as a doctoral student at the University of California, Irvine, I’ve developed mentoring relationships that have not only enabled me to overcome myriad obstacles, but that will also guide me in the coming years as I transition into a faculty position.
The blue books are all graded. If you’re in the coursework zone, your own assignments are in. The sun is out; green is returning to the land. Now, for most of us history grads, it’s time to spend a large portion of our summer in windowless rooms around the globe. Archive season is here!
It’s early April, and many of us history grads are learning the outcomes of jobs, fellowships, and various other academic competitions we applied for. Sometimes the news is good, but more often, we open our inboxes to the dreaded “thank you for your interest . . .” e-mail. And even though the rejection notes try to soothe us with platitudes about the limited number of opportunities and the high number of applicants, it’s difficult to receive one of these e-mails and not believe that the rejections are indicative of our worth and the quality of our work.
Congratulations! Right about now, you are basking in the afterglow of acceptance(s) to graduate school. Maybe you’ve been invited for a campus visit or two. Now that you’ve made this commitment to become a graduate student, take a long moment to think carefully about what is being offered to you and what is being asked of you. What do you want from your MA or PhD in history? What can you do—from day one—to make the degree what you want it to be?
Welcome to the new AHA Today series on graduate life! The Graduate aims to provide a platform for students to discuss the issues they face, reflect on the unique experiences of pursuing a graduate degree in history (trials and triumphs alike), and make proposals for how we—as students, professionals, and as a discipline—can come together to address the challenges of graduate education.
Working at the American Historical Association for the past two years has made it impossible to shield myself from the uglier truths about pursuing a graduate degree in history—from the imbalance between the number of graduate degrees conferred and jobs available in the professoriate to the increasingly precarious nature of employment in higher education. Taken alone, these challenges might have convinced me (or any rational person) to run in the other direction. Instead, two years after getting my bachelor’s degree, I’m starting a history PhD program in the fall.
Several months ago, the AHA released “Where Historians Work,” a series of interactive visualizations created as part of our ongoing effort to collect measurable data about the career paths of history PhDs. Since then, thousands of people have used the visualizations to get a sense of the rich variety of jobs that historians find after completing their doctoral education.
By Kristina Markman and Michael A. Ryan
Last year, we participated in a panel on “Career Diversity for the Medievalist” at the 51st annual meeting of the International Congress on Medieval Studies (ICMS). The ICMS is a premier academic conference in the field of medieval studies that draws over 3,000 specialists in all aspects of the medieval past from around the world to bucolic Kalamazoo for four days of scholarship and conviviality. As we both come from institutions whose history departments received the AHA’s Career Diversity for Historians Departmental Grants to reevaluate the training of historians for a variety of careers within and outside of academia, we intended to center this panel on the question of how medievalists can use their specific skill sets for many careers.