An alternative perspective on alt-ac careers
Your ongoing series on alternative academic careers (“Don’t
make me feel ashamed of my career aspirations,” by Erin Clow,
August-September; and “Awakening to alt-ac careers,” by Suzanne
Bowness, October) seems to largely reflect the angst of a particular
subset of scholars in the arts, humanities and social sciences.
In the biophysical sciences, a PhD is considered the entry-level
credential for work as an independent researcher, not just for work
as a tenure-track professor. A preferred career option for many
science PhDs can be to work in industrial labs, government
research arms, or as an independent consultant. While this may not
be an option in all disciplines, I think we also tend to ignore the
most noble of graduate students: those who are motivated to
complete a PhD out of love and commitment to the subject matter,
to complete a life goal much as mountaineers choose to summit
Dr. Burton is a professor of ecosystem science and management at the University of Northern British Columbia and regional chair
of its Northwest Campus.
Fellowships and work
i support the perspective in recent articles in
University Affairs about encouraging graduate students to look outside academia for their future
careers (“What does the future hold for PhD students,” by Martha Crago, October issue). However,
I see one significant barrier to this that I haven’t
heard discussed, which is Canada’s tri-council
policy related to how much other work/money
a student can bring in while they are holding tri-council PhD fellowships. The amount of money
provided in tri-council fellowships is not sufficient
to live on and yet students are restricted to it.
This has the unintended consequence of stu-
dents not prioritizing career-related thinking
and relationships until after they have finished
their doctoral studies. (This policy also discour-
ages students with dependents and other respon-
sibilities, like me, from even applying for tri-
council graduate support.) If governments and
others are really interested in seeing students
look outside academia for postgrad careers,
working while you are studying should be
encouraged rather than restricted.
Ms. Patterson is a PhD candidate in geography at the
University of Victoria.
i’m glad to see this report (by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario) and its thoughtful recommendations get the attention it deserves
(“Study finds a lack of structure and cohesion in
how writing is taught at university,” online at
universityaffairs.ca, Oct. 14). Writing specialists,
whether located in writing centres or writing-across-the-curriculum programs, have an important role to play in supporting disciplinary faculty by directing them to evidence-based teaching
methods such as the importance of providing
students with timely and effective formative
feedback. All too often faculty and TA hours are
squandered making extensive comments on end-of-term papers that languish (unread) in filing
cabinets instead of giving students feedback on
work in progress when it still matters. We know
a great deal about how students learn to write,
but we need to ensure that faculty are given the
support they need to do so.
Dr. Williams is an assistant professor of writing instruction, teaching
stream, and co-ordinator of writing instruction for TAs in the faculty
of arts and science, University of Toronto.