Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Career Consultants

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Career Consultants

Article excerpt


Assistant Professor of Latin American History Barnard College, Columbia University NewYork, NY

A few years ago, if someone had told me that I would have a career teaching history in a university classroom, I might have responded that they were crazy. I was on the fast track to law school as an undergraduate. Even at the start of my graduate studies, pursuing a Ph.D. meant opening up opportunities in the private sector and government. Lucrative consulting possibilities were alluring, as well as staff positions in a D.C. think tank. I even entertained the option of combining the rigorous preparation of a higher academic degree with legal training, leading to employment in the world of international law and contracts.

Graduate school itself helped change my mind. The joy of research, particularly conducting a year of dissertation fieldwork on Black soldiers in Mexico, led me to understand the liberating independence of scholarly life. The projects I worked on were truly my own and completed on my own clock. More importantly, the material and its implications for modern society excited me. Undoubtedly, among the numerous lessons I learned in graduate school, one of the best was a simple one about life: When you are genuinely happy and productive, maintain that career path for future success and fulfillment.

Sure, much more money can be made elsewhere, but at what price? Indeed, this was a question I found myself asking upon graduation. As my adviser explained, the flexibility of an academic schedule offers many professors a lifestyle comparable to that of law firm partners or senior business executives, without having to put in the grinding corporate years beforehand.

Then there is teaching. Admittedly, this aspect of the job was still somewhat unknown to me, even as I filled out my employment applications. Yet, as I quickly learned upon the job, teaching is literally an extension of one's research passions while offering a live, interactive forum for sharing information and shaping new ideas. In short, I found that the panoply of positive emotions that I had experienced in graduate school were easily transferable into the venues of university teaching. As for in another occupation, I could not be so sure.

In a highly competitive job market where most budding historians find it difficult to enter the academy, I received some offers. I weighed my options, deliberating whether to leave academe for more money, or to stay in for the intellectual passion. …

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