Friday, June 24, 2011

Blog LXXXV (85): A Session for All Conferences

It should be fairly obvious to most observers of the history profession that the majority of new Ph.D.s are not going to get tenure track jobs in history department, at least not at first. Realizing that the Society for Military History—the main scholarly organization in the field—held a special session at its 2011 meeting for those seeking employment outside of a traditional history department. The session was entitled “Careers for Military Historians: The Federal Government (A Discussion for Graduate Students and Others in the Job Market).” The session was held on June 10, the first day of the conference in the third time slot. The speakers included:
  • Stephen A. Bourque , School of Advanced Military Studies, United States Army Command and General Staff College
  • Janet Valentine, Department of Military History, Command and General Staff College
  • Clayton Laurie, Central Intelligence Agency
  • Timothy Nenninger, National Archives and Record Administration
  • Geoffrey P. Megargee, U. S. Holocaust Memorial Museum
  • Mike Pavkovic, U.S. Naval War College
  • James Herson, U. S. Special Operations Command
A lot of people at the conference were looking for jobs. The career paths that these speakers represented were quite varied. None of them were in a traditional tenure track position in a history department, but some of them hold positions that are quite close like the teaching jobs that Bourque, Valentine and Pavkovic have at their schools. Others ranged from being historians for specific agencies and commands (Laurie and Herson), which basically require that the historian compile and preserve historically significant documents and conduct oral histories to museum work (Megargee) and archivists (Nenninger).

The session was a hit. Every chair in the room was full and there were many people lining the walls. The question and answer session went well past the scheduled end of the session and at least some panelists were sought out by eager job candidates thoughout the remainder of the conference with questions. My session at the AHA back in June had similar results.

Some of the important points that came out of this session
  • look for internships, even if unpaid, if you can do it—they get your foot in the door
  • many positions require security clearances
  • you may not get to work on exactly what you'd like to do, but the work will be interesting, and the pay and benefits are good
  • it can take a long time (up to a year, in some cases) for a hiring decision to be made
  • every agency is different; read the job description carefully and learn all you can from other sources
  • once you have a Federal job, it can be a lot easier to switch over laterally to one you like better
I want to urge the people reading this blog to organize other sessions like these at the annual meetings of other learned societies like the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic, or the Society for Historians of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era to name just three. It is time that we beginning thinking as a profession of other forms of employment for the history Ph.D. Show this entry to historians in other sub-fields or your mentoring professors to get them thinking about how to deal with the huge surplus of historians.

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