This time around, I happily spent my time at panels and workshops on graduate reform/professional development/careers, which the MLA convention arguably does better than it does literary studies. (It is, at times, painfully obvious that many of the non-job seeking presenters write their papers on the plane, or are too busy catching up with old friends to contribute much to the intellectual success of the conference.) While the AHA is arguably doing the best job of addressing these issues head on ("No More Plan B," anyone?), the issues facing graduate students (and post-docs, and adjuncts) were front and centre at the MLA, as was the acknowledgement that pretending everything is hunky dory just doesn't cut it. Some examples:
- Russell Berman's panel on PhD reform was alternately heartening and disappointing, with some programs doing exciting things with comp structure, others creating new PhD programs that sound like the same old.
- The report on the AHA's post-PhD tracking data means that we now better know where PhDs are ending up, and therefore what they might need as students, and we have a sense of the wide alumni networks that we need to figure out how to access.
- Conversely, the continued drive to open new PhD programs (and the refusal to reduce enrollment targets, either on the part of universities, or in the case of my province, on the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities) means that the vast gap between number of PhDs graduating and the number of academic jobs isn't closing anytime soon. The debate over this issue was one of the most interesting of the conference.
- The advice provided to PhDs interested in post- and alt-ac career options was sage, practical, and heartening. (The session didn't get its own hashtag, but Katina Rogers' tweets from January 10 provide a nice summary. [Update: the panel Storify can be found here.]) And I'm at a point where I'm okay with going up to people and telling them that they should talk to me about being a speaker at their next event. MLA 2015, anyone?
- The panel that I spoke on and that my friend Daniel organized about dissertations beyond the proto-monograph was really well attended, particularly for a grad student only panel. And despite some of us saying fairly radical things (Let's write comic books instead of dissertations! Let's scrap the dissertation altogether!), those in attendance--which included members of the MLA task-force on doctoral reform--were willing to entertain all sorts of suggestions in the name of making the dissertation useful beyond the tenure-track and more adaptable to the vagaries of our individual projects.