Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Blog CXLV (145): Success Stories

Today's posting represents the start of a new series for the In the Service of Clio blog.  This series "Success Stories" is an attempt to share what some new scholars have done to beat the odds and find steady employment.  This series will not dominate for a year, the way the "Eight Questions" series did and a number of other pieces will appear in between postings that are part of this undertaking.

The first contribution in this series comes from Heather Dichter.  She is an assistant professor in the Department of Sport Management and Media at Ithaca College.  She has previously taught at Franklin College Switzerland, York College of Pennsylvania, and the University of Toronto.  She received her Ph.D. from the University of Toronto with a dissertation entitled "Sporting Democracy: The Western Allies’ Reconstruction of Germany Through Sport, 1944-1952," for which she received several research grants by organizations such as the Society for Historians for American Foreign Relations, the George Marshall Foundation, the International Society for Olympic Historians, and the Norway-America Association.  She has a forthcoming article in History of Education, has had her work appear in Stadion, and co-edited a special issue of Sport in Society on the Olympic Reform process in the aftermath of the Salt Lake City bidding scandal.  She is currently co-editing with Andrew Johns an anthology on sport and foreign relations after 1945, as well as working on a monograph on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the bidding process for the 1968 Olympic Games. Here is her essay:
The process by which I came to work in a pre-professional program at a comprehensive college with a history Ph.D. seems, at first glance, an strange fit – yet, the nature of my historical research and my extracurricular experiences outside of graduate school provided me with the qualities which my current department desired in its faculty. 
My interest in sport history began as an undergraduate at the University of Michigan, almost always selecting a sport topic when I had a free choice for the research papers in my history classes.  I continued to pursue this aspect within my graduate studies, writing on sport in Germany during the occupation and Cold War.  While I was in graduate school, in addition to any teaching assistant or research assistant positions I held, I also continued to work in athletic media relations.  I had first worked in this field while a senior at the University of Michigan, volunteering in the Athletic Media Relations department.  When I moved to Chapel Hill to attend the University of North Carolina, I worked in their Athletic Communications office.  I took a year off between my M.A. and Ph.D., returning to Ann Arbor to work full-time as an intern in the Athletic Media Relations office – and also presenting two conference papers so as not to be completely away from academia.  It didn’t hurt being in a town with such great libraries, either.  With USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program also located in Ann Arbor, I was able to gain some experience working at an international sporting event.  During the course of my doctoral studies at the University of Toronto, I also spent two and a half seasons working with the American Hockey League teams in Toronto (first the Road Runners, then the Marlies). 
The project I chose for my dissertation not only used traditional archival materials, but I wanted to use sport organization records.  Unlike other scholars who have not been successful in gaining access to these types of files, my experiences working in sport enabled me to conduct research in the records of several national and international sport federations in Europe.  I also volunteered with the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Cologne, working in the evenings and weekends when the archives were closed. 
The University of Toronto had provided me with the opportunity to develop a course on Sport and Globalization, which I taught twice there and, later, at Franklin College in Lugano, Switzerland.  However, I completed my Ph.D. in 2008, right as the prospects for academic history jobs became grim.  I realized, with my experience working in sport and my contacts across the U.S. as well as the globe, I could apply for jobs in both history departments as well as sport management departments. 
Sport management is a growing field which many universities and colleges are adding to their curriculum because they recognize the interest in sport among students as well as the size of the industry.  Because it is such a young field, there are few people who have received a Ph.D. in sport management.  Thus, these departments are largely staffed by people who have industry experience alongside advanced education: MBA, J.D., Ed.D., or Ph.D. in another area but with a focus on sport.  This aspect worked in my favor. 
The Department of Sport Management and Media at Ithaca College hired me in 2012 to teach courses in two of their three majors: sport media and sport studies.  This interdisciplinary department offers three majors: B.S. in sport management, B.S. in sport media, and B.A. in sport studies (a liberal arts combination of history, sociology, and philosophy).  During this first year I am teaching courses in the history of sport, the evolution of sport media (an historical examination of the intersection of sport and media), and an introductory course on sport media.  Whereas in a history department I might only have an opportunity to teach a course on sport once every few years, or include the occasional sport example in a course, teaching in a sport management department allows all of the courses I teach to be about the topic which I find most interesting: sport. 
Introductory courses in a pre-professional program provide an overview of the industry, introducing the various aspects of the industry and types of positions available within the field to the students.  Unlike teaching an introductory course such as western civilization, which many students often take only because it fulfills a general education requirement and do not have much interest in the course, my Introduction to Sport Media course has been an exciting adventure in terms of creating the course and opening students’ eyes to the many possibilities of working in sport – and that being a journalist or broadcaster are not the only opportunities in sport and media.  The course includes media theory, historical content, practical experiences, and writing assignments that provide opportunities to practice writing industry-specific pieces as well as critical thinking papers more in line with a liberal arts discipline. 
My contacts from having worked in sport, as well as the contacts I made throughout the course of my doctoral research, have provided excellent resources for my role as a faculty member in the Department of Sport Management and Media.  My students greatly enjoy the guest talks (often via skype) that these industry professionals have done with the class.  My industry contacts are also useful as I advise students and help them locate opportunities for the two internships required for the sport media major.  Advising is an important part of my position, and one reason why many students choose to enroll in the program at Ithaca College is because of the strong alumni network and the loyalty which the Department of Sport Management and Media alumni have for the program.  My contacts in Europe at the national and international sport federations have also been useful as I plan a short-term study abroad course for students to experience sport cultures that are different than the professional and college sports which dominate the American sport landscape.  My students will not only experience several other sport cultures, but also have an opportunity to work an international sport event. 
I spent four years on the job market, and while I am not in a history department, I am not far from my history roots.  Teaching in an interdisciplinary pre-professional program enables me to focus on the academic area that interests me the most – sport – as well work closely with students throughout their four years as they develop in both their intellectual and professional capacities.  When I first started graduate school I thought of my work in sport and my academic work as two separate parts of my life; as a faculty member in the Department of Sport Management and Media at Ithaca College, I am able to bring all of these experiences together. 
When others bemoaned the lack of job openings in their field of history, I did not share their sentiments because I was busy applying to history jobs as well as openings in other fields.  Many graduate students develop their research interests as an outgrowth of personal experiences and interests, and I encourage those students to think about ways in which these areas can work together in an academic capacity.  Look for other programs and departments which, on the surface might not appear to be a natural fit for someone with a Ph.D. in history but which coincide with aspects of one’s research and extracurricular activities. 

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