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W&L’s Mayock Explores Careers in the Humanities with New Book

A new volume of essays co-edited by Ellen Mayock, the Ernest Williams II Professor of Romance Languages at Washington and Lee University, offers guidance to achieving a career in the humanities in a changed academic landscape. She co-edited “Forging a Rewarding Career in the Humanities: Advice for Academics” (Sense Publishers, 2014) with Karla Zepeda, associate professor of Spanish at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.

As the book’s introduction explains, “Humanities are facing challenging times marked by national debate regarding the importance of the humanities in higher education, program and budget cuts, and an ever-decreasing number of tenure-track jobs.”

Mayock thought that the volume, aimed primarily at graduate students and humanities professionals, would be helpful for humanities programs in the United States and possibly beyond. “It gives a little truth in advertising in terms of what the job landscape looks like, where graduate students might land in their careers and advice on how to achieve a career,” said Mayock. “It could also be useful to some undergraduates in the humanities who are thinking about where they are headed and why.”

Following the financial crisis in 2008, many people began to question the value of graduate education when many of those obtaining higher degrees were unable to find jobs, had enormous debt they were unable to pay off, and saw no promise of a career on the horizon.

One of the book’s essays, by Mónica González García, former assistant professor of Spanish at W&L, relates the fate of humanities in Chile under Augusto Pinochet to the 2008 crisis. When Pinochet came to power, he eliminated humanities departments in public universities. In this cautionary tale, Garcia points out that when the humanities are devalued, so is the critical thinking that enables analysis of government.

In addition, the volume offers practical advice on how to think about careers in the humanities and on how to forge a useful, compelling and productive career.

One example is an essay by Katherine K. O’Sullivan, an English Ph.D. who took a job in the Netherlands working with business students, using her skills in a different organizational framework. She found her new career satisfying and advises people to be open to the world, where one might find more opportunities.

Mayock pointed out that for some graduate students who had hoped to be on the tenure track, the right job never worked out, and they either ended up as part-time faculty or as full-time temporary faculty.

The chapter “Tips for Humanities Professional from Humanities Professionals” contains popular advice. “It’s a unique and interesting chapter for people embarking on new careers or considering changing the direction of their careers,” said Mayock.

Works by local humanities scholars are also included in the volume. Lesley Wheeler, the Henry S. Fox Professor of English at W&L, contributes an essay that gives examples from the ever-evolving trajectory of her own life, as well as practical advice about how graduates and scholars can be attuned to opportunities and how to make wise choices. “Her essay is somewhat metaphorical, certainly creative, and almost lyrical,” said Mayock. “It’s a bit of a primer to graduate students on what this career can look like.”

Paul Hanstedt, a professor at Roanoke College, and Mary Ann Dellinger, a professor at Virginia Military Institute, also contributed. Mayock and the three local contributors will discuss the essays from the volume at Washington and Lee’s Winter Academy in December, aimed at an audience of assistant professors, adjunct professors and maybe some associate professors early in their careers.

The foreword to the volume is by Stephen Kidd, executive director of the National Humanities Alliance. “He is very encouraging about what a broader humanities landscape can look like, that it’s not necessarily just going for a tenure-track job,” said Mayock. “It may well be that you become the executive director of the Smithsonian, or of the National Humanities Alliance or any type of lobbying organization.

“Kidd argues that your reading, writing, critical-thinking skills and, in many cases, your language skills allow you to bring to the table real nimbleness that maybe other pre-professional programs don’t encourage as much,” she continued. “He is truly forward looking and encouraging, and it’s a nice way to frame the volume.”

Mayock is the author of “The ‘Strange Girl’ in Twentieth-Century Spanish Novels Written by Women” (University Press of the South, 2004) and co-editor (with Domnica Radulescu, professor of Romance languages at W&L) of “Feminist Activism in the Academy. Essays on Personal, Political, and Professional Change” (McFarland, 2010).

Her latest co-edited volume is “Toward a Multicultural Configuration of Spain: Local Cities, Global Spaces” (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2014). Mayock has also translated a play, published poetry and written many articles and book chapters. She teaches Spanish language, literature, culture, translation and cinema. She holds a B.A. in Spanish and French from the University of Virginia; an M.A. in Spanish from Middlebury College; and a Ph.D. in Hispanic literature from the University of Texas.
Her latest monogram is “Gender Shrapnel in the Academic Workplace” (forthcoming Palgrave Macmillan).