About

Writing and thinking about higher education and the future of the Ph.D., as well as Nineteenth-Century American Literature and Culture, Religious Writing, Evangelical Fiction, Melville, Hawthorne, Stowe.

Current book project: Leadership and the Imagination

Publications

Book:

Co-editor, (with Leanne Horinko and Jordan Reed): The Reimagined Ph.D. (Rutgers UP, 2021)

Book Chapters

“Academia is an Ecosystem: (Re)Thinking with Quit Lit.” In Leaving the GroveA Quit Lit Reader (Syracuse University Press, 2022.)

What is academia anyway, and why is it persistently imagined as a space in which one can remain or which one must leave completely and utterly? This short essay will argue that our language—beginning with choices as simple as the prepositions we use when discussing doctoral education—reflects and perpetuates many problems with academia’s conception of the means and ends of doctoral preparation.

“In the Service of Humanity”: Public Spheres and the Past, Present, and Future of Graduate Education.” in Humanities and the Public Sphere, Volume Nine of the Culture & Civilization Book Series (Routledge, in progress, expected publication date: Fall, 2022).

If the humanities are to have a resurgence in the public sphere, graduate students can and should lead the charge. If they are to do so, graduate education in the humanities must adapt to our historic moment, by putting public engagement in the center of the training of graduate students, and rewarding work that is public-facing in ways we currently do not. This chapter will look at the ways a variety of humanities departments have already begun this pivot, and points towards steps that still need to be made.”

Articles

Academia is Not a Container.” Nov 2, 2020. Inside Higher Ed.

“Let’s resist simplistic language when describing the careers of people who exist in much more complicated relationships to higher education than our current crop of metaphors allow. Instead of thinking academia as a container, let’s come up with better metaphors. More important, let’s use them to together reimagine the future of the Ph.D.”

“Graduate Students Need to Think Differently About Time.” Sep 9, 2019. Inside Higher Ed.

I am more and more convinced that the ways the brain shifts during Ph.D. training can shift the world. The competencies that emerge out of this crucible equip Ph.D.s for the 21st century in ways unmatched by any other form of training. The Ph.D. clearly has a problem with time, however. Doctoral training shouldn’t take as long as it does, nor should it be as hard as it is to find a job that values the Ph.D.”

From the Basement to the Dome: Navigating a Time of Change in PhD Career and Professional Development.” Apr 29, 2019. Inside Higher Ed.

The national conversation around Ph.D. career preparation in the humanities and social sciences has transformed in the last 10 years — a transformation that has accelerated even more rapidly in the last five years.”

What’s Wrong with English Department Websites.” Oct 9, 2018. Inside Higher Ed.

Clear communication is supposed to be the business of English departments. If you look hard enough — and maybe ask around — you’ll eventually find an English department website that communicates clearly. But you don’t have to look hard for clunkers. Pull up a random English department website and you’ll find sentences that don’t speak to students (or their parents). English departments are putting out website copy that ranges from forgettable to laughable.

How Advisors Can Bolster Their Career Guidance.” June 10, 2018. Inside Higher Ed.

Many graduate advisers who want to help advisees feel ill equipped for the new normal of graduate training. So how might you best approach a task for which you feel under-prepared? Begin by recognizing that advising Ph.D.s today requires teamwork. You’ll never be able to stay abreast of employment trends or master nonacademic cover letters. But you need not — and should not — do this work alone. Good advisers follow the spirit of this passage from the Hippocratic oath: “I will not be ashamed to say ‘I know not,’ nor will I fail to call on my colleagues when the skills of another are needed for a patient’s recovery.”

Needed: A New Graduate Adviser-Advisee Relationship.” November 27, 2017. Inside Higher Ed.

We live in a new normal when it comes to the outcomes for graduate students. That new normal is shaped by the academic job market’s perverse ability to find new levels of woefulness. Charts mapping academic job postings in History and English resemble hills you shouldn’t ski down unless you have great health insurance. The academic job curve has been trending downward for so long that we’ve worn out the word “crisis.” What crisis lasts for two generations? The academic job market isn’t in crisis. It’s simply found a new baseline.”

Blue-Collar Ph.D: A Conversation About Class and the Professoriate.” August 10, 2017. Inside Higher Ed.

We’re all familiar with a version of the academic placement truism that “universities don’t hire down.” Highly ranked programs hire their own, those aspiring to be highly ranked hire from the ranks of those already on top and so on. But academe’s prestige problem isn’t just about reifying the top 40 Ph.D. programs in a particular field. In fact, we’re still unpacking the ways that prestige chasing connects with a classed professoriate.”

How to Pick a Great Graduate Adviser.” December 5, 2016. Inside Higher Ed.

Academe’s prestige economy and the twin beasts of self-deprecation and the humble brag aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. And unless we intentionally work to counteract our own experiences as students and mentees, we tend to mentor and teach the way we were taught and mentored. It’s important that we recognize that affirmation isn’t incidental to good mentoring.

The Importance of a Coherent Public Profile for Graduate Students.” August 15, 2016. Inside Higher Ed.

The “continuing grassroots recalibration of graduate education means that today’s graduate students are in a kind of limbo, between an older model that rewarded insularity and a developing model that increasingly values engagement (i.e., by rewarding it during hiring and promotion). So, in this interregnum period, what is a graduate student to do? My advice: establish a public profile for yourself and don’t let that profile drift.”

It Takes a Village: The Importance of Reaching out for Support When Job Searching as a Graduate Student.” June 2016. Inside Higher Ed.

The odds of securing a tenure-track job are worse than the odds of beating the rigged claw game at the arcade. And while it’s encouraging that Ph.D.s do find work beyond the tenure track (surveys show nearly universal employment for those with Ph.D.s), as Gary McDowell points out in Science and Melissa Dalgleish underscores with characteristic insightfulness, it is reasonable to assume that some, if not many, Ph.D.s find themselves settling for less-than-ideal careers. In light of those grim realities, my headline’s claim — that it takes a village to find a job — might come across as a hopelessly idealistic platitude. But it’s stone-cold pragmatism.”

Career Preparation and the Graduate Adviser-Advisee Relationship.” May 2, 2016. Inside Higher Ed.

“[T]he best advisers cultivate adviser-advisee relationships that evolve into a partnership of equals. In a study of counseling psychology faculty members, one mentor described her advisee as “ideal” because the student was “able to use the adviser’s strengths without being dependent.” This sounds like a good formula for the adviser-advisee relationship. Rather than being shaped by your adviser’s strengths, look to form a partnership that leverages the strengths you both possess.”

Collaborate: An Imperative for Graduate Students.” February 26, 2016. Inside Higher Ed.

“[A]s you move toward a robust job search, try to collaborate with people who share your passions and goals. Keeping your ear to the ground will mean that you will be more likely to slide into a position that isn’t listed on the usual job sites. As you’ve probably heard, a significant percentage (some people would say an overwhelming majority) of jobs aren’t posted. They are gotten through connections, word of mouth and being in the right place at the right time. When you collaborate with others, you’ll be the evidence that Ph.D.s are worth hiring not only for the specialized knowledge they acquire and create but also for the abilities, passion and ambitions they share. When you avoid low-risk, low-stakes activities within academe and instead forge new paths, you’ll be the evidence that counteracts another stereotype Basalla and Debelius cite: “Academics aren’t risk takers.”

Graduate Students, Entrepreneurialism, and Career Preparation.” January 25, 2016. Inside Higher Ed.

Graduate students need to apply to their career preparation the same entrepreneurial spirit they apply to their academic research. By thinking more like an entrepreneur (or a professional, CEO or revolutionary) and less like an apprentice, graduate students can better prepare themselves for a range of fulfilling and meaningful careers...When trying to picture your career, you should see the Northern Lights — not placement in a track. It’s not all or nothing. It’s not academe or bust. The idea of careers inside, outside or even beyond higher education may not make sense when you’re in the middle of your career.

Grad Student: You Are Your Own Spokesperson.” November 16, 2015. Inside Higher Ed.

As the fall semester of 1846 approached, Ralph Waldo Emerson scribbled in his journal that a “college professor should be elected by setting all the candidates loose on a miscellaneous gang of young men taken at large from the street. He who could get the ear of these youths after a certain number of hours … should be professor. Let him see if he could interest these rowdy boys in the meaning of a list of words.” Lurking in Emerson’s tongue-in-cheek proposal is a key point that we should keep in mind when preparing to speak to a group: it’s more about them than it is about us. If you don’t think about your audience members, prepare with them in mind and deliver your remarks with an enthusiasm designed to keep their attention, chances are you wouldn’t pass Emerson’s test.”

Give Us a Voice in Our Own Future: How Academe Can Open up Debate about the Future of Doctoral Education to Graduate Students.” August 15, 2015. The Chronicle of Higher Education.

This type of professionalization — not just discipline-specific training — needs to be woven into the fabric of graduate education. No academic job is limited to what you can learn in graduate seminars. We need to equip graduate students for conversations that will shape the future of higher education, and to create institutional and national platforms that provide those students with real chances to join those conversations. All of us — mentors, department chairs, deans, graduate students — need to be involved in this necessary task. A large part of professionalization consists … of exposure to how universities work. Graduate students need to study the idea of what a university is and what it does.”

The Federal Option: PhDs and Careers in Government.” August 10, 2015. Inside Higher Ed.

One way for graduate students to test the waters of civil service would be to apply for one of the many internships available for master’s and Ph.D. students. To give just one example: an excellent point of entry is the Presidential Management Fellows Program. And jobs in the federal government aren’t just a good option for graduate students. Adjuncts and tenure track professors looking for a change might consider this career path as well.

Attitude Adjustment: What I Wish I Knew When I Started My PhD Program.” June 1, 2015. Inside Higher Ed.

Learn what an informational interview is and conduct at least two a semester. Learn to talk about your work in a positive, upbeat manner. Share your enthusiasm for your own work and that of others. Network with professors at colleges without graduate programs, or at institutions that have special collections and libraries with holdings in your subject matter, but no graduate students to claim the attention of archivists, librarians and other administrators. In other words, be strategic about your networking and set yourself up for success stories early in your graduate career. These smaller victories will set up larger successes down the road.

Peer-Reviewed Scholarship, Book Reviews, & Articles on Pedagogy

Benito Cereno and the Impossibility of Civility.” September, 2015. New England Quarterly.

“In Benito Cereno, which Putnam’s serialized in three monthly installments from October through December 1855, Melville invited the magazine’s readers to test their own assumptions about the political implications of interpersonal relations…Amasa Delano fails to understand that codes of conduct designed to uphold the supremacy of elite Anglo-Americans can be mastered by clever individuals of any class or ethnicity and used to subvert the very power structures the codes scaffold. Babo capitalizes on Delano’s weakness for hierarchical sociality and his attendant racism to construct a charade that allays the captain’s suspicions about the San Dominick’s black denizens, if not his concerns about their sullen captain.”

When the Author Isn’t Dead: Teaching the Work of Living Poets.” March 21, 2016. Pedagogy and American Literary Studies.

As a nineteenth-century scholar, I’m more at ease teaching Walt Whitman or Emily Dickinson, than I am teaching Robert Creeley. But I’m infinitely more nervous to teach the work of a living poet like Clare Pollard. So I decided to sit down with a living poet, and chat about the difficulties (and opportunities) connected with teaching the work of writers who aren’t dead.”

“The Year in Conferences: Modern Language Association,” co-written with Eric Morel, Alexandra Reznik, and Valerie Sirenko. ESQ: A Journal of the American Renaissance 63.1 (2017): 148-67.

“The Year in Conferences: American Literature Association,” co-written with Lucas Dietrich and Michael Weisenburg. ESQ: A Journal of the American Renaissance 62.1 (2016): 157-82.

Review of The Altar at Home: Sentimental Literature and Nineteenth-Century American Religion, by Claudia Stokes, Journal of the Midwest Modern Language Association 49.1 (Spring, 2016): 167-172.

Review of Re-Writing Jesus: Christ in 20th-Century Fiction and Film, by Graham Holderness, Religion and Literature 48.3 (Summer, 2017).

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James M. Van Wyck

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