Packin’ Up and Movin’ On

In 2006, the Spectrum Scholars’ Leadership Institute hosted a panel discussion on earning a PhD in LIS.  One of the panelists was Alana Kumbier who was then a PhD student at Ohio State University.  (She completed her PhD in the spring of 2009, and now works as a research and instruction librarian at the Wellesley College Library.)  Alana was my favorite speaker.  During her talk, she circulated a document, “Path to the PhD: Things to Consider” (PDF).

Alana Kumbier
Alana Kumbier

In her work, Alana suggests you ask a prospective program, and yourself, questions in different areas such as:

  • Support: How will the department support you financially and intellectually, as a student of color, as a parent?  Will the course offerings support your project?  How does advising work in the department?
  • Cohort: What students are currently in the department and what are their projects?  Do you want to be a part of that cohort?
  • Teaching & Research Assistantships: Are these courses interesting to you?  Are they relevant to your research and professional development?
  • Future Prospects:  Will the department foster your professional development?  Will advisors  support your interests?
  • Quality of Life: What will important people in your life be doing while you’re in the program?  How will these relationships change?  What will you gain from this program, and what might you have to sacrifice?

These are all brilliant questions and, yes I have been considering a PhD, but…BUT, this document has value and applicability for those who are on the market, searching for that first job, or maybe just a different job; not just for the potential Dr. HorsePigCow.  How?  Just rephrase the questions in terms of the workplace:

  • Support: How will the department support you financially and intellectually, as a student of color, as a parent? How will the employer support you financially and intellectually, as a student of color, as a parent? Will the course offerings support your project? Will the roles and responsibilities of the job support your professional interests? How does advising work in the department? Will there be advisors, trainers, and mentors available to guide me through transition?
  • Cohort: What students are currently in the department and what are their projects? What are other people in the department working on?  What kind of service and scholarship activities do they participate in? Do you want to be a part of that cohort? Do you want to be a part of that department?
  • Teaching & Research Assistantships: Are these courses interesting to you?  Are they relevant to your research and professional development? Are these service and scholarship activities relevant and of interest to you?
  • Future ProspectsWill the department foster your professional development? Will the department offer resources for your own continuing education and professional development? Will advisors  support your interests? Are your coworkers interested in your work and will they collaborate with you on research projects?
  • Quality of Life: What will important people in your life be doing while you’re in the program? How far away from family and friends will you be while you are in this new position? Is that acceptable?  Does the surrounding community support your personal and private needs? How will these relationships change?  (a fine question in both situations.) What will you gain from this program, and what might you have to sacrifice? How does this job contribute to your long-term career aspirations?  Is it a part of your vision for yourself?

There is a second page to this document that offers suggestions for developing networks of support and advocacy while in your program.  Some of the tips include joining student organizations, forming reading and writing groups, connecting with faculty, taking advantage of workshops offered by the graduate school, going to dissertation writing workshops, researching local health and counseling services, and developing friendships outside of the program.

I was a graduate student when I first read this.  I found it to be invaluable information.  I also, however, thought it had other applications beyond preparing new doctoral students.  My first thought was that it that should be incorporated into the very foundation of orientation programs at all levels.  Graduate students at all levels can benefit from these tips.  It may need to be scaled down in some areas.  For example, instead of going to dissertation writing workshops, masters students may wish to create and/or attend masters paper writing workshops if the program requires a thesis or capstone paper.  I know I could have used one of those when I was writing my paper.

Now that I’ve been in the post-graduate workforce for a couple of years, I see that these tips can also be scaled up and adapted to the full-time work environment.   Try joining faculty organizations.  Form research groups and communities of learning and practice (CoPs) within your library.  Take advantage of training and continuing ed opportunities offered by the campus community.  Attend lectures and special events with colleagues in order to create a shared learning experience.  Be aware of the support services available to you on campus and through your benefits program; and keep in touch with your friends and family, and colleagues from other institutions.

“Having relationships with people who are not in your program, or (better yet) who are not in school, is worth the investment of your time and energy.”

Thanks, props, gifts and gratitudes can be sent to:

Alana Kumbier, Ph.D.
Research and Instruction Librarian, Wellesley College
Clapp Library, Rm. 244
781.283.3372
akumbier [at] wellesley [dot] edu
meebo: alana.kumbier

(have other tips, comments, suggestions?  we’d love to hear about them in the comments box.)

2 thoughts on “Packin’ Up and Movin’ On

  1. Kiyomi says:

    I would add that some jobs provide excellent opportunity for growth but do not provide much in the way of mentoring. This is why it is important to grow your personal network of friends, colleagues, and mentors so that you can take a job based on what you want to do and succeed through outside collaboration, even if there is not much direct support from your organization.

  2. Megan says:

    I couldn’t agree more. I have some ideas for mentoring that I gathered from the nursing literature. I talked about it a bit at last year’s National Diversity in Libraries Conference. I think that will be my next post, after someone’s Member of the Week, of course. 🙂

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