Note, 4/3/2016: Most of the work described below has migrated to the website for the UNC-Chapel Hill Altac Project, of which I am the co-organizer. Go there to see how Altac work at UNC-Chapel Hill has evolved.


I’m very involved, both at UNC and nationally, in the multiple, overlapping conversations about so-called “alternative” or “non-faculty” career paths for people with Ph.D.s.   I’ve compiled some resources related to that work at various places (referenced below), but here I want to highlight materials related specifically to the emerging discourse around “altac” careers–that is, as I define them, non-faculty careers within or around the university or cultural heritage organizations that are especially well suited for, and increasingly filled by, people with Ph.D.s

At UNC, a group of us began in 2012 having regular #altac coffee chats to discuss how our university might create a more friendly environment for the growing contingent of #altac professionals here.  In the fall of 2013, Dr. Donna Bickford and I created the formal UNC Altac Working Group, sponsored by the UNC Institute for Arts and Humanities.  The two documents below describe what we’re up to there:

Some other good stuff to read:

  • #Alt-academy: A MediaCommons Project  (Edited collection of essays from #altacs that discuss many elements of our work).  Edited by Bethany Nowviskie at UVA.
  • Building a Corps of Administrator-Scholars,” Chronicle of Higher Education, 14 October 2010.  (Column that Donna Bickford and I wrote putting forth some ideas about how universities might create spaces to better support (and benefit from) the research, teaching, and service capabilities of their Ph.D.-prepared administrative staff.  It was a shortened version of a longer proposal we presented to the committee developing UNC’s Academic Plan that year.  That longer proposal is below.
  • Donna Bickford and Anne Mitchell Whisnant, “Carolina Administrator-Scholar Corps,” Proposal for Academic Plan Steering Committee (UNC-Chapel Hill), 6 May 2010.
  • UNC Academic Plan, 2011.  As you can see, the only piece of our Corps proposal that made it into the Academic Plan is a reference in Theme 5, Recommendation 1-c, to “Recognize and reward the staff’s contributions to engagement. Much of the engaged work at UNC-Chapel Hill is generated and/or supported by our Centers and Institutes, the University libraries, and their professional staffs. EPA non-faculty who are academically prepared and professionally disposed to contribute to engaged scholarship and activities should be encouraged, recognized and supported.”
  • We refer in our “Administrator-Scholar Corps” proposal to the 2009 Report of the UNC Task Force on Future Promotion and Tenure Policies and Practices, which advocated for expanded definitions of scholarship to be incorporated into UNC’s tenure policies.  Many #altac staff are already doing scholarship very much like that described here.
  • My own emerging understanding of the issues in and around #altac is reflected in a 2005 article I wrote (under a pseudonym) for the Chronicle of Higher Education titled “A Nonacademic Career in Academe.”  That article nearly got me fired at Duke, a situation I describe in my article for #Alt-academy, linked above.
  • Meanwhile, the insights in the CHE piece owed much to my participation since around 2002 in a larger online discussion of “alternative careers” for Ph.D.s in the community that now lives as Versatile Ph.D.
  • And, more recently, a new resource has emerged to provide career advice specific to those seeking to move into #altac positions.  Alt/Academix provides “concrete advice on how graduate students and those transitioning from teaching positions can make themselves marketable for academic administrative positions. Our services include workshops, job letter and cv/resume editing, and career transition consulting.”

There are many connections between the #altac conversation and other discussions about careers beyond the faculty for people in many specific disciplines.  I list some resources for historians here, and, with others, developed materials in the spring of 2012 for a UNC History Department workshop on Historians and Our Publics: Engaging Communities Beyond Academia.

There are also many connections between the #altac conversation, the “digital humanities” conversation, and the “public history” and “engaged scholarship” conversations.  There is also considerable overlap between the set of issues we are concerned with and other efforts to address concerns of “contingent” or “adjunct” faculty, “fixed-term” faculty, and other sub-groups of scholars who work off the tenure track.  At UNC, the work of the Fixed-Term Faculty Committee (a subcommittee of the Faculty Council) may be instructive for us.

General Ph.D. Career Resources

Here are some links back to my other work on the larger question of considering multiple possible career options for people with Ph.D.s in the humanities and social sciences.  My “Resources” page includes a number of job-finding-related links.