After the PhD: Exploring Career Paths in the Humanities
After the PhD: Teaching at a Community College with Dr. Brian Malone
At H-Grad, we have made a concerted effort this year to better utilize our network and its members to compile useful resources for our community. (Be sure to check out our ever-expanding list of weblinks, especially those pertaining to teaching and TA resources! https://networks.h-net.org/node/11634/pages/179387/teaching-ta-resources)
Kara (currently on the job market and in her last year of her PhD program) and Katie (experiencing her first year of post-grad life as an assistant professor) have spent a lot of time thinking about what happens after the PhD is conferred. We know that worrying about the future causes a lot of anxiety, and we also know that it helps us to hear success stories from those who have ended up in a position that they love (whether this be inside or outside of the traditional tenure-track job.)
In this blog series, we interview newly minted PhDs to learn about the process by which they found their niche. We wanted to begin such a series for several reasons:
- First, we do not hear enough about what these folks do without it being oversaturated by an atmosphere of “success” in academia or an atmosphere of job market depression. We wanted these interviews to be candid and honest.
- Second, we wanted to feature stories on new PhDs who have not only braved the job market, but who have diverse pedagogical experience because we believe they have a lot of know-how and advice to share.
- Third, we wanted to showcase our appreciation for the deep and abiding commitment many of these folks have to their teaching, research, and service, whether in academia, or outside of it.
Find our first post in the series below! →
Focus on: Teaching at a Community College with Brian Malone
The first post in our series “After the PhD” features Dr. Brian Malone, who graduated from the University of California, Santa Cruz and currently teaches at De Anza College.
In this blog post interview, we focus on building a career in teaching at a community college.
INTERVIEW PREVIEW, HIGHLIGHTS, AND RESOURCES:
Is a career at a community college right for you?
One of the things that Dr. Malone highlights is that tenure-track community college careers are a different genre from 4-year university jobs; when you search for jobs, you should set your goals realistically.
As multiple articles point out, we should not expect to transition easily from jobs at a community college into a position at a four-year university, or vice versa. Each type of institution has a different set of goals for their faculty, and distinct ideas about the ideal skill set each professor should bring to the table:
Many of these articles highlight the fact that there is a stigma attached to teaching at a community college in the world of academia, which Dr. Malone asks us to consider. He urges us to take a community college career and the institution itself seriously.
Community college jobs might also not be for you, and that’s alright too, as this author points out: (https://chroniclevitae.com/news/1183-community-colleges-might-not-be-for-you).
An important criteria for community college jobs is a deep and long-lasting dedication to teaching, as Dr. Malone shows us, and teaching may not be your thing (see in particular the MLA’s “Preparing for a Career at a Community College” webpage, link above). However, if it is, you want to carefully consider the mission of the community college and the pedagogical tools with which you will eventually equip your students. Reflection and learning are permanent factors in teaching.
Experiencing community college from the tenure-track position
We thank Dr. Malone for his refreshingly insightful and uplifting take on where PhD careers can go. As you read the interview, we hope that it can lend some insight as to whether or not teaching at this type of institution might be a good fit for you!
KH & KT: What is your job title and where do you work (could you specify your position, such as adjunct or tenure-track, etc.)?
DR. M: I am a full-time Instructor in English at De Anza College, a community college in Cupertino, California. My position is tenure-track and I’m in my second year of a four-year tenure process.
KH & KT: What are your main responsibilities (such as, how many classes do you teach per academic year, how big are your classes, do you serve on other committees or do service work for your institution)?
DR. M: My regular load is 3-3-2 (De Anza is on the quarter system). These are mostly composition classes, which are capped at 25-30 students depending on the level. I also occasionally teach literature courses (which are often slightly larger). In addition to my teaching, I am expected to participate in committee/service work. I am not required to publish, but it is expected that I will engage consistently in professional growth activities (conferences, workshops, trainings, and additional classes).
KH & KT: Very teaching focused, which is not quite what we’re used to at an R1 university with the “publish or die” mentality. How did you end up finding this job?
DR. M: After I finished my degree at UC Santa Cruz, I immediately transitioned to teaching writing there as an adjunct. I loved teaching at UCSC and I assumed that I would probably build a career there as a lecturer. But, at first, it was hard to get enough classes there to support myself. So, like most other adjuncts, I had to find an additional school. A good friend from graduate school had recently started on the tenure track at De Anza and she suggested that I pick up some courses there as an adjunct. I hadn’t really considered community college as a career option, but my friend thought I would be a really good fit at De Anza. She was right. After I was at De Anza a year, my department conducted a tenure-track search and I was extraordinarily lucky to be hired.
KH & KT: That’s amazing! We’re glad that things ended up working out for you. We’ve always known you to be an excellent teacher who connects with people. We’re interested in what being a tenure-track community college instructor is like. What are the benefits of having your position? What are some of the so-called “highs and lows” of the job?
DR. M: The best thing about my job is working with my students! They have a remarkable range of life experiences and backgrounds and I am constantly learning from them. They are sharp, determined, and (almost always!) excited to be here.
In addition to the amazing students, I appreciate how much pedagogical freedom I have at De Anza. I can approach my composition classes from so many directions and this allows me both to follow my own developing interests and to design courses that speak to my students’ lives. For example, in just the past three years, I’ve centered composition courses around immigration, gentrification, urban geography, Harry Potter, US treatment of indigenous people, fake news, and the Hamilton musical. And because a key component of De Anza’s mission statement is to teach civic engagement in the service of social justice, my political commitments can inform my pedagogy, as I help students to make connections between the classroom and our broader community.
I wouldn’t call it a “low” of my job, but I do find it challenging—both pedagogically and emotionally—to provide enough support to students who have significant material barriers to their success. Silicon Valley is an incredibly rich area, but it is also brutally unequal—socially, economically, racially. Many of our students are pursuing degrees despite food insecurity, homelessness, histories of incarceration, PTSD. We have many undocumented students on campus, and this is obviously a very difficult time for them. De Anza provides a great deal of support and resources for all of our students, but challenges remain for many of them. And that requires faculty to show great creativity, patience, and care, both in and out of the classroom.
KH & KT: We love that you have such pedagogical freedom and the ability to explore important topics with your students. Community colleges also provide really great foundations for writing and critical thinking, especially in smaller, student-centered classrooms than ones we’ve experienced at larger universities with lecture halls. You’ve already anticipated our next question: What are the students like at your institution?
DR. M: Our student body is incredibly diverse. Our college district includes the wealthy cities of Cupertino and Sunnyvale, but the majority of our students commute (sometimes for more than an hour) from outside the district and often from much poorer areas. We draw heavily from the east side of San Jose and from other cities in the South and East Bay. We also enroll significant numbers of international students who are drawn to De Anza because of our strong reputation for transfer. This means that our classrooms are some of the most diverse public spaces in Silicon Valley and I encourage our students to celebrate this.
Our students tend to be focused, motivated, and eager. The vast majority of our students plan to transfer to a four-year school. Many of our students want to serve their communities and they are drawn to De Anza because of our social justice mission. All of our students bring skills, talents, and useful bodies of knowledge to the classroom, even if they don’t realize it. Part of my job is to help our amazing students recognize we all have things to teach each other.
KH & KT: Wouldn’t have ever realized De Anza’s draw for international students! To continue our discussion about pedagogy and students, what are some pedagogical strategies that you regularly employ and why do you find them effective? (Brian, we know that you have students create comic strips, sometimes for really philosophical questions. How do you facilitate these comic strips?)
DR. M: I frequently ask my composition students to create maps. I assign them to map some aspect of a neighborhood that they know well. I like this assignment because it asks them to look analytically at the world around them and then to synthesize and communicate clearly the information that they collect.