#alt-ac with a research agenda: what that means, what we want, how to get it

As Kimon pointed out, a lot of us DH-ers are “alternate academics”: we’re trained as academics and are still in the orbit of the academy, but we’re not in conventional tenure-track roles. Our hires were accompanied by fanfare about hybridity and new models of scholarship — and we care passionately about our jobs and our new profession.

However, it also seems clear to me that certain #alt-ac problems need some direct attention. I’m thinking specifically here about the issue of our scholarly research. The substance of this research looks different for all of us, and it may also look quite different from the work that earned us our degrees: perhaps it’s collaborative work, or technical work, or design work.

Whatever this scholarship looks like, it’s important: important if we’re really planning to challenge conventional models of scholarly production, important if we want to be conversant with our traditional academic colleagues, and important to us personally.

But we need certain resources in order to accomplish this research alongside the rest of our work. Chiefly time, but also money to attend conferences, library privileges, funds to purchase research equipment. My experience suggests that employers are not averse to providing us with these resources, but do need specific guidance about what we need.

In the spirit of hacking rather than yacking, I’d like to use this session to build a list of reasonable, specific guidelines to provide employers about what an #alt-ac needs in order to be, truly, a hybrid academic with an active research agenda.

A few links and sources of inspiration:



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  1. Shane Landrum

    I love this session idea and am excited to read more of what you come up with.

    I’d be particularly excited to see a primer for employers about navigating the institutional barriers which define positions as “staff” or “faculty” with separate hiring processes. In many universities, the “staff” job classification itself stands in for “can’t be a PI on grants, can’t apply for university travel funding or research leave, must list oneself as ‘independent scholar’.” One element of this document, I’d hope, would explais to employers (hiring managers and their superiors, up to the dean and provost level) not only the practical details of how to support alt-ac employees, but why to do so when they’ve been getting by for years without giving such support to (e.g.) Ph.D. librarians.

    Another possible element of this document might be about how staff-classified hiring managers can build bridges to department chairs before the job description is written, so that there’s already a mechanism in place for generating a research-faculty appointment when someone’s hired.

  2. Brian Croxall

    Something that I learned at the Off the Tracks workshop is that different institutions can have very different rules for the names / classifications of positions and that these classifications can often be set by legislatures who know nothing about the functioning of the school. In that sense, then, it can be very difficult to tell schools what such and such a person should do. Many simply aren’t allowed to change. Which doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t change, but I don’t know if it’s worth making demands. “Guidelines” becomes the better phrase, then.

    As Miriam puts it, alt-ac people are hired to do hybrid work, and the sponsoring organization is normally not an academic department. What we could add to the conversation, then, is to make it clear to the parties involved (the sponsoring organization and the alt-ac person) what each might expect from the relationship. For example, a person who has been a scholar might reasonably expect that she would have some professional support for attending conferences that she chose for herself. The sponsoring organization might reasonably expect that the alt-ac person work from 8:30-5:00pm every day, 12 months a year. But the other party might not know about the other’s expectation in either case. If we prepare a list of things that recent scholars and that organizations like libraries, NGOs, foundations, and the like expect, it could help people better define the terms as they are beginning their work.

  3. lcc.gatech.edu/~rwhitson3/wordpress

    Very interesting idea! I’d love to be a part of this.

  4. Erin McLeary

    Brian, I really like your idea of a list–I just went through the process of negotiating terms for a new job (as an alt-ac) at an institution with no history of hiring PhDs and it was really challenging to try to explain how giving me just a couple more personal days so I could go to conferences would yield them benefits!

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