Classics at a Private University (feat. Allannah Karas)
Alumni Aloud Episode 36
Allannah Karas earned her PhD in Classics from the Graduate Center. She is an Assistant Professor at Valparaiso University in Indiana.
In this episode of Alumni Aloud, Allannah talks about her position at Valparaiso and the benefits of working in a small private university. She also lays out some of her strategies from the job search and her tips for networking as a new junior faculty member.
Listen to the episode below, download it, or stream it in Apple Podcasts (or your preferred podcast player).
VOICE OVER: This is Alumni Aloud, a podcast by Graduate Center students for Graduate Center students. In each episode we talk with a GC graduate about their career path, the ins and outs of their current position, and the career advice they have for students. This series is sponsored by the Graduate Center’s Office of Career Planning & Professional Development.
ABBIE TURNER, HOST: I’m Abbie Turner, a PhD candidate in Educational Psychology at The Graduate Center. I work in the Office of Career Planning and Professional Development and I interviewed Allannah, who earned her PhD in Classics at The Graduate Center. She is now an Assistant Professor of Foreign Languages and Literatures at Valparaiso University. Today I’m on the phone with Allannah Karas! And she got her PhD in Classics from The Graduate Center and she is now an Assistant Professor at Valparaiso University in Indiana. So she’s going to work us through her professional journey and how she ended up as an Assistant Professor at Valparaiso. And she’ll talk a little bit about what she does and also hopefully give us some tips for the job search for faculty positions. Hi Allannah!
ALLANNAH KARAS, GUEST: Hello, how are you?
TURNER: Good, thanks for joining us. Why don’t you start off giving us some background going through graduate school? I know you also have a Master’s degree. Walk us through that and then your professional experience after leaving The Graduate Center.
KARAS: I ended up going a small liberal arts school myself. I did not major in Classics, however. Until after I realized, ok, maybe I should try out a teaching career path. So then I went to the University of Dallas to get my Master’s in Humanities. But I went there primarily to learn Greek and work a little more on my Latin in preparation for PhD applications. So I went to University of Dallas, which was a phenomenal program for Greek, and Latin for that matter. And then from there, applied to CUNY and other places for my PhD program. Was very glad to get into The Graduate Center. And then I did the program at CUNY and I have to say, I really, really enjoyed it because of the great diversity of people in my program and also the opportunity for Classics. To take courses from other universities as well. So we took classes from NYU, from Fordham, and from CUNY. At least, I took from those three places. And then just in the larger community of classicists in New York City.
TURNER: Were you working at all while you were finishing your PhD?
KARAS: Ah, yes definitely. I taught for quite a bit, primarily at Hunter College. And then my last year I took about three different jobs and five different universities.
TURNER: Oh wow!
KARAS: Just to you know, finish off everything and pay the bills while I was finishing my dissertation and applying to jobs. I worked a little bit at Macaulay Honors College as like a writing mentor. I worked at the Schwartz Communication Institute down at Baruch and also I taught at Hunter and I also taught a course at the College of New Rochelle, because I was living out there. So I had a ton of teaching experience. And also I had started teaching Latin actually in my Master’s program. So I had quite a bit of language teaching and some other course teaching experience by the time I went on the job market.
TURNER: So where did you go first when you left the GC?
KARAS: Well, I actually went first to this job. I know it’s a rarity *laughs* you know, it’s a very rare circumstance. And I applied to whatever jobs were available and worked with my personal situation. And I got two interviews, both back in the Midwest, where I’m from. And I got this position at Valparaiso University. So it was kind of a non-traditional set-up. But what’s really interesting is that when I interviewed for this job… I think they told me later that they weren’t originally going to interview me because they were like “oh she’s from New York, she won’t come to northwest Indiana.” And then as soon as I spoke to them in-person during my interview,
I mentioned something about the weather in Chicago or something only a Midwesterner would know and they’re like, “Are you from here?” And I was like “Yeah, I’m actually from Chicago.” And they’re like “Oh great!” It changed the whole tone of the interview. *laughs* And they were thrilled about that component because I’d be able to understand the students here and perhaps have a higher likelihood of wanting to stay here because I’m from here. So it was kind of a surprise that I got a tenure-track job right out. It’s very rare. People ask, “How did that happen?” And in all seriousness, you know, I’ll be like “well my mom was praying that I get back to the Midwest. And it worked!” The only two interviews I had were back in the Midwest. So there you have it. *laughs*
TURNER: Well what was the availability of jobs in Classics when you were looking for teaching positions?
KARAS: I couldn’t exactly tell you the numbers. I think I only applied to I think about, all told 11-15 jobs. Because of what was available to me, what would fit my description and what would match my personal commitments. But I think maybe there were 30-something jobs. Not that many.
TURNER: Before we get into the details of your job search, tell me a little bit about what it’s like in Valparaiso. It’s a small, private, religious-affiliated Lutheran university is it?
TURNER: So what’s it like being at that kind of university? You know, in comparison to the big public ones. I’m sure it’s totally different from CUNY.
KARAS: I was at first, wondering a little what the Lutheran connection would mean. And I found out that it really has to do more with an understanding of education of the whole person and education for life and kind of the liberal arts backbone to education. So what’s kind of interesting to me is that you don’t have to be Lutheran to teach here so they’re very open to many different people with different backgrounds. So I found that a relief to me. And I found it a very welcoming and warm place. I know a lot of people, I’m on first-name basis with the provost. I know people from many different majors, many different programs. And I kind of like that. That component of knowing many different people and being able to work in an interdisciplinary way.
One of the main differences coming here from New York City was the corn fields and the kind of small-town component. You know, you go into town with your friends to get a beer or something and you might see students. So that was definitely a new phenomenon to me. But you kind of figure out how to work around that. The other component was the student body. It’s very different in terms of ethnic diversity. But the nice thing is that northwest Indiana is close enough to Chicago that you do get some diversity. What I found is a larger quantity of the diversity is socioeconomic diversity, cultural diversity in terms of just exposure. Whether students are more sheltered or not. But students are students I think. They’re kind of all in the same boat. There’s less ethnic diversity but on the other hand, they’re students. They’re eager. They’re kind of like an average CUNY student in that sense. Some very, very eager students, very, very intelligent students, and then students who had a disadvantage in terms of the way they were educated in elementary school and high school. So you get the whole gambit here.
I think one of the biggest differences here is that you can really make an impact in university community because it’s so small. Whereas at a larger place, people might not know you or there might be more bureaucracy to pass through in order to accomplish something or make changes in the culture of the place or in the culture of your program. But here, I mean, first semester they needed someone to kind of revive things. And I didn’t quite know what I was getting into but I was able as a first-semester assistant professor, to revise the Classics curriculum into something that is more updated and more attractive to students.
TURNER: Updating classics? *laughs*
KARAS: *laughs* Yes, exactly. Because the way it’s taught now and the different components of how it does have an impact on so many things in our current day culture. And anybody from any political spectrum always goes back to citing the Greeks and the Romans. So bringing this forward to students now so they can see the relevance of it, is an important mission of Classics at any institution. So I was able to network with a lot of university professors from other universities or other small colleges and see how they’ve updated their curricula. And I was able to change the program now to Greek and Roman Studies. It’s geared toward a much more global audience. And it’s kind of gotten rid of some of the more stale infrastructure.
TURNER: And on that note, why don’t you tell us about your responsibilities as an Assistant Professor. What kind of hours are you keeping? Your interactions with students, your teaching load, stuff like that.
KARAS: One thing that’s really nice about this institution as well is that the culture here is faculty go home around 5 or 4:30 everyday. And they do not email you on the weekends. And that to me, coming from New York, was a huge relief. Because then you can have some sort of appropriate work-life balance. You can have your family, you can have some sort of social life to whatever extent you can as pre-tenure. But there’s allowance for that. And they expect you, on the weekends to relax a little bit. They expect you, during the summer, to relax a little bit. That’s a basis which is wonderful. My particular situation unfortunately has been very challenging unfortunately. In the sense that, you learn so much on the job whether it be marketing or curriculum proposals or assessments or all these different things that you didn’t have to do as a graduate student that you learn on the job.
So I think I received a lot of responsibility really fast but on the other hand, I’ve learned a whole ton. So that’s been really incredible. So what are my particular responsibilities? Right now, we’re in an unusual situation where there were originally classicists here, full-time classicist professors. And right now I am the only full-time professor of Classics. I’m in the foreign language department so we have French, German, Spanish, Chinese and Japanese. And Greek and Latin. So I teach Greek and Latin and all the culture courses, whether it be archaeology, mythology, Greek civilization, Roman civilization, Classics courses, Greek and Latin roots. You name it, I in the past two years prepared fourteen completely different preps.
TURNER: Wow! Ok.
KARAS: And delivered them. So it’s definitely been a challenge in that sense because of those 14 preps, 13 were completely new to me. Two of them were independent studies, but still they’re independent studies on new topics. And also part of the reason why I’ve had such an immense load is because I created a new curriculum to kind of re-start the Classics program which was kind of dying. But because there’s a new curriculum, now I have to help some students transition from the old curriculum and graduate from the old curriculum which has more demands. And at the same time jump-starting this new curriculum which has more focus on the culture courses and it enables to double-major a little bit more easily.
That has definitely been a challenge. My first year, I was really unable to get much publication or writing in. And then the second year, this year, I’ve been able to get something out. But it’s been a challenge in that sense. And then technically I’m the section head in terms of all the administrative work whether it be advising, helping students with study abroad, coming to meetings, making decisions about the program as one of the section heads and all those other administrative things that I really had no idea about. Those are the other kind of responsibilities a section head has. That’s kind of the gambit of what I do here and it’s been an interesting experience.
TURNER: What does your personal scholarship look like in this work environment? How much writing and publishing have you been doing? I think you mentioned you got something out this year.
KARAS: Yes. So my first year, I really tried to write a little bit but I didn’t publish anything except for a book review or two. I was able to publish a performance review so I brought a group of students to Chicago to watch a Greek play and then I did a performance review based on that play. So I tried to make the teaching extracurricular opportunity actually work in favor of publishing something. That was a good opportunity. A lot of people here tend to do their research in the summers. It’s part of the culture in one sense. But research is very valued here and they have this ideal of the teacher-scholar that they try to promote. This year, I joined a writing circle. So I was able to share my work with other faculty from around the campus and that was really helpful.
And then I found a professor emeritus who could help me with some of my research goals and just talk about my research with him. Even though he’s not in Classics, he has some background in ancient Greek and Roman things in general. So I was able to talk with him. And then this past semester I kind of committed myself to writing 45 minutes everyday in the morning from 9-10am, Monday through Friday. And I was able to get an article out that way. So now I think I have three reviews and an article out, another article that’s on the way. And what’s really neat, some people that I know started a Chicago region workshop for junior faculty in Classics.
And this is a phenomenal thing with faculty from the University of Chicago and Wheaton College who started this. Where we will get together once a semester beforehand, circulate some papers, some people respond. And let’s say there’s just 15 of us from Northwestern, University of Illinois, Indiana University, UW-Madison, etc. And we get together and discuss our papers together and it’s a really great opportunity to share your research but also to support each other in trying to figure out being a junior faculty member and also getting things published and how to juggle everything. So that’s been really a terrific network that’s helped me along as well.
TURNER: That sounds really helpful. I like the idea of this. How might you look for something like that in a different discipline or even a different part of the country?
KARAS: [inaudible] reached out to me. One professor at Wheaton College was also feeling a little bit isolated and he made a connection with my friend who was at the University of Chicago and they basically looked up all the junior faculty in the general area and contacted us directly. So I do find that responding to invited lectures is a really helpful way to get to know people. Going to your regional conference, it’s a really helpful way because then you can meet people at nearby universities. I know a lot of the people at Notre Dame so I’ll go there and do research. I went and gave a lecture up in Michigan. So I think, especially if you’re at a smaller institution, any opportunity to meet people outside the institution who are in your field can open up opportunities like this. Because then you learn about different conferences or workshop groups, etc.
TURNER: Or if it doesn’t exist and you’re in a small group like Classics, you could just start your own, right?
TURNER: So let’s go back to some job search info. So you said you maybe applied to 10-15 positions I think you said. What was your prep like? What did you do for your documents, you know? What did you have to include in your applications?
KARAS: I did a dry-run a year before I was ready to go on the job market, just in case. And I think I only applied to three jobs. But because of that dry-run I had letters of recommendation lined up, I had my research statement, my teaching philosophy, my writing sample. I had all that lined up so that helped immensely when the following year, when I really was about to finish. I was really on the job market. Because then I just took from those materials and updated them or advised them. And I worked a lot with the career center, I worked a lot with you all. And you guys were wonderful and really helpful! We also had a course in the Classics program where we spent the entire semester just looking, I think it was like a 1-credit course, I don’t remember exactly. Where we just worked on the professionalization of our profile and these materials and documents. And I found that immensely helpful as well. The other thing that I did do which is kind of tangential to the actual job search is that I would go to the career center and make plan B, C, D, E, F and G in case I didn’t get an academic job.
So that was one thing that actually I found very, very helpful and I still do because I realized I could do many different things. I took all the different tests and whatever. And I explored other opportunities and made some connections and networks with different people whether they were working in academic administration or in high school teaching or in think tanks or in non-profits. So I had a lot of connections going into the job search, and that really boosted my morale going into the job search because I realized, you know what, I’ll try for this and if it doesn’t happen or it’s just not going to work, I’ll do something else for a year. Or I had my teaching kind of lined up that I could teach enough courses within the CUNY system to make things work and move along. So I have to say, that was an integral part of my job search preparation; was just looking at other avenues for the future and not feeling like I would be stuck if I didn’t get my ideal academic job or an academic job at all right off. So I would say that was probably one of the most important things.
TURNER: How did you prep for the interviews?
KARAS: Well we had some mock interviews through this 1-credit course I was telling you about. That was very helpful because I was able to practice Skype interviewing. That was really helpful. And then I did mock interviews once I knew I had interviews with professors or with institutions, I practiced again with a colleague or a friend and had a series of questions that were on the website. Joy Connelly wrote this guide for Classics people going on the job market so I looked at her questions and wrote little blurbs about what I would say. But also when I did the on-campus interviews or even the in-person interview, I made a point to like read everything about the institution but particularly the Classics department inside and out. And see just the kinds of courses that they offer and see what courses I would like to offer, what courses I could offer, what courses they might want but I might not be able to offer. Like for example, even for this job, I kind of…
One of the very specific things they asked for, for this job was that someone could teach archaeology. And I really know very little about archaeology and I’m a literature person. But I was like, “Well I’ll try.” And when I looked a little deeper I realized that they’re really looking for a generalist, someone who could teach many different things. So what I did to prepare for the in-person interview, is I particularly thought about the archaeology course because they had mentioned it. And I was like “well how could I teach that?” What kind of experience could I bring into it? So one thing that I did is I applied for a program to do the summer between graduation and the fall at the American Academy in Rome so that I could have some experience looking at archaeological artifacts on site and bring that into my archaeology and also bring that to the interview, saying “I don’t have a ton of experience in archaeology but I’m going to this program that’s six weeks long at the American Academy in Rome and I’m going to gain a lot of insight from there. You know, I do a little bit of work on this in my dissertation so I was able to present a case for that course in the interview that was helpful and as it is I just taught that course this past semester and it works!
TURNER: Right and I think you’re speaking really well on why we encourage students to be specific with their job materials. Like you did research on that university, found out exactly courses they needed for their program to run and then you explained to them how you could fit in their very easily. That’s really great that it worked for you, that was such a good idea. So what other advice would you have for current graduate students who are looking to get that additional professionalization, maybe expand their network?
KARAS: So one other thing that I found very helpful being a junior faculty in a smaller institution is that I am on a committee in our National Society. I’m in the Society for Classical Studies. One thing that fell into my lap in graduate school was an opportunity to be on the graduate advisory committee. Or it was really a graduate advisory group at the time. I was working at the [inaudible] with Joy Connelly before she was the Provost at CUNY and what was interesting is that this was like on a small, unofficial group of graduate students who were thinking of proposing ideas to the SCS for the betterment of graduate students, etc. And it now has become an actual committee within the SCS.
So because I was on the previous one, I’m also part of the actual committee and because now I have graduated and am Assistant Professor, I’m the chair by default. During our national meetings it has uniquely positioned me to meet a lot of people in my field who are kind of the movers and the shakers of the national organization. Have gained a greater knowledge of people in my field who make things happen on a national level. And I found that a very enriching opportunity but also great for professional development. So I found it really helpful to not only go to conferences and present at conferences but also if there are small opportunities, sometimes these service opportunities in professional organizations can be a helpful tool for networking and your professional advancement later.
TURNER: And they’re national so you now probably know classicists from all over the country now.
KARAS: Yes, definitely.
TURNER: Is there any last bits of advice that you want to give to current graduate students? Maybe particularly classicists but maybe not.
KARAS: I think that the most important thing for going on the job market or for going anywhere in one sense in an academic field is to know yourself and be able to have a work-life balance and know how to create boundaries about how much you want to work, how much you think your work is worth to a certain extent and that’s why I also really strongly encourage any graduate student to explore other career options, not just the traditional professor route. Just because it is very empowering to know that with a PhD you can do many different things. And they’ll all of completely equal worth and you’re bringing all of your expertise and the skills you gain to the table. So I found that preparing in that way has really helped me on the job market and it also provided me certain security now as well. Knowing that I can do anything.
TURNER: Yeah, yeah, I thought that was a really good advice to explore all your options so that you know you can go many different ways after graduate school.
TURNER: Then we can wrap up and I want to thank you so much for taking time out of your morning and talking to us. Thank you so much!
KARAS: You’re welcome, it was a pleasure!
TURNER, VOICE-OVER: Thanks again to Allannah, for spending time with us to talk about her job search and her work at Valparaiso. If you’d like to make an appointment with one of our career advisors like Allanah did, visit our website at cuny.is/careerplan and you can follow us on Twitter @CareerPlanGC. Thanks for listening!
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