Fordham GSAS: Grad. Life: Alt-Ac Tracks

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Alt-Ac Tracks

Hi Grad.Life Readers!
      Today I am featuring an article on our very own Fordham website, about what is becoming known as the "alt-ac" track. See the article here.
      The write-up, entitled "Elusive Tenure Track Inspires New Careers," discusses ways of thinking about alternatives to the traditional, tenure-track faculty jobs that have been slowly dwindling over the last few decades. "Alt-Ac" track, which is short for, obviously, "alternative academic" track, refers to any career path for Masters and Phd holders that veers away from a tenure track faculty position at a University or a college and instead turns toward a career path down the pipelines of administration, library sciences, and labs within the university setting, or think-tanks, non-profits, NGOs, museums, and even private sector jobs outside the academy.
     To me, having a name for this alternative pathway is a good start to making this choice more viable and accepted among departments and grad students themselves. Having a shared way to refer to this path will help it become a more discussed, written-about, statistics-worthy option for graduate students and departments. Coming to terms with this option, defining it and including it in our discussion about the graduate school and professionalization experience, will allow students to plan their post-grad school careers in a more productive and realistic way, and to declare early on that this is his or her chosen path, rather than being forced into it by a lack of job openings.

     But I have to say, I don't like the name much! I mean it is not terrible or anything and I'm not offended by it, but I think there may be room for improvement! The term "alt-ac" seems to implies its own marginality, as it seems to be centered around the traditional academic job. But, the traditional academic job is clearly not going to be an option for the majority of current graduate students. So, although it is good to begin to name the "alternate" path, to identify it, and discuss it proudly and productively, the term "Alt-ac" itself seems a bit marginalizing and alienating.
    In fact, for an analogy, it makes me think back to my days as an undergraduate, when the majority of students at my college were pledging a Greek sorority or fraternity. Mostly because of time and budget issues, I didn't rush or pledge a sorority, and what I noticed after a while was that a lot of the administrators referred to anyone who was not in the Greek system as "unaffiliated." We "unaffiliated" folks didn't like that description much; not that I didn't like or appreciate the Greek system -- a ton of my friends were involved, and it created a fun atmosphere on campus -- but we just wanted a label or name that didn't describe us in relationship to the fraternities and sororities. It was as if everyone's identity was organized around and defined by what Greek club he or she belonged to, and we were the cast offs. It was "affiliated" or "unaffiliated" -- we didn't like the fundamentally negative element of the term, preferring instead to be referred to as "Independent." The term "independent" erased the negative or Greek-centric connotation of "unaffiliated."

    To me, the Alt-Ac name has similar undercurrents to it; one is either academic or alternative to academic? What about referring to the pathways as taking either the "Academic" path or the "Independent" route? Maybe this takes it too far or is not the right image; what if we talked about it in terms of "academic" or "applied" pathways, in which traditional academic jobs retain the label "academic" and other applications of the degree are described as "applied academic" routes? This way, any tenure-track centric connotations are erased, and grad students can take pride in their degree no matter what path it leads them down.
   What do you all think? Let me know if you have any comments or brain storms! Until next time, Liza

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