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SLS Brownbag: Demystifying the PhD Job Search

Well, we had another SLS (Second Language Studies) Thursday Lecture Series “Brownbag” on April 28 at UH Manoa. I’m trying to remember, was that my fifth or sixth Brownbag presentation? What a great turnout! That was a lot of fun. I really enjoy organizing professional development sessions.  I shared my experiences in the PhD program and the job market.  Three SLS faculty members, Christina Higgins, Dongping Zheng, and Luca Onnis, also generously offered their time and words of advice. We wanted this to be a good opportunity for students to learn more about the academic job search and have a place to raise various questions and concerns. The discussion could have gone on for a couple more hours! It was great to see so many SLS MA students take part. It shows they’re thinking ahead.

Some of the highlights:

Barbary Cooney (SLS Dept. Graduate Academic Advisor) gave a wonderful introduction! It makes me want to live up to those kind words.

• Not really a “highlight,” but I mispoke and referred to the talk as a “Brownbrag” presentation (cue laughter). Oops!

Graham Crookes encouraged MA students to try to publish their Thesis or Scholarly Paper as a way to get into publishing. It’s great to have professors who encourage students like that! I urge UH students to take his classes on Critical Pedagogy (“Radical Pedagogy” may be more appropriate) and the Philosophy of Education. I wish they were required courses. Stay tuned for his upcoming book.

Christina Higgins, a professor known for her sociolinguistic work on identity, hybridity, and multilingualism, urged students to actively seek out opportunities for growth. She also raised an important concern about junior scholars doing book reviews. Although many cite book reviews as a way for students to get into the academic publishing biz, it is an incredible task for a novice scholar to try to summarize and critique the work of senior scholars. The breadth and depth of knowledge required to provide a professional and well-balanced review is often beyond that of most novice MA and PhD students.

Luca Onnis, professor and director of the Center for Second Language Research, said that when he was a PhD student he got his first taste of grant writing while working with a senior scholar. I hope he and some of the other faculty will offer a workshop for students on grant writing. He also emphasized the importance of having questions prepared for the job search committee. If you’re interested in learning more about how to link cognitive science with language learning and teaching, check out his website.

Dongping Zheng, a professor with expertise in educational technology, made an observation about the importance of young scholars finding a “voice.” She suggested that the Internet can be a powerful platform to become visible and audible–particularly for those who may face challenges due to gender, age, ethnicity, education, and linguistic background. She also reminded us how important it is for students to have good role models (!) and a good online portfolio.

Overall, everyone emphasized the need for students to be proactive in pursuing their career goals and creating opportunities for professional development, to seek out apprenticeship and mentorship, and to get away from the “student” mentality by actively working toward becoming language professionals.

A big thank you to everyone that attended! The PDF is up in the RESOURCES section of this website. I revised it (April 30) a bit by adding some of the comments that came out of Thursday’s Brownbag. I will update it periodically, so suggestions are most welcome.