I work for a nonprofit organization that produces curricular materials for K-12 teachers. I started there as a writer shortly before completing my dissertation and stayed on while I applied for faculty positions. In contrast with the quickly diminishing returns from my academic search, I flourished in my nonprofit job. I became a lead editor, and we soon determined that we needed to hire additional writers. We were looking for candidates who excelled at research skills, who could self-manage, and most important, who had the ability to see the academic potential of popular music and culture.
In other words, we wanted someone with graduate-level training in the humanities. I was certain that a scholarly conference would be a good place to look.
Doubt began creeping in, however, soon after the conference schedule was posted online. Scanning panel after panel of immensely specific, jargon-filled paper presentations, it suddenly dawned on me: I had no way to gauge where to begin looking for Ph.D.s who might fit our organization. In imagining my ideal candidate, I’d omitted a crucial quality: We needed someone who could translate research for a wide range of readers — and not just their fellow academics — in understandable and engaging ways.
Scholars are quite capable of doing that; they are teachers, after all. But reading the meeting’s agenda, I realized — embarrassingly, for the first time — that the quality we most needed was not one regularly prioritized at scholarly conferences.
It was too late to back out now. I had already bought my plane tickets and registered for the conference. So I packed my bags and highlighted the relatively few panels that focused on professional development and teaching, figuring that they would be the best places to find people curious about careers outside of academe.
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