How to maximize jobs with an obscure MA?
November 29, 2009 5:40 AM   Subscribe

Starting fall 2010, I'll be going to grad school (Master's) in a pretty esoteric field (studying texts from late antiquity, written in an obscure language). If I decide not to go on to the PhD, what can I do now and during my Master's to maximize my job opportunities when I get out? Are there any skills you would really strongly recommend that I pick up?

If it helps, I'll be in Ottawa, Canada. My program can withdraw your funding if it finds out you're working more than 10 hours/week, and most of those 10 hours are taking up with your TA work.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (13 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
How obscure? Are we talking Latin or old English? Could make a difference. You can always teach high school Latin. Old English - not so much.
posted by IndigoJones at 7:00 AM on November 29, 2009

Very obscure -- ancient Ethiopic.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 7:38 AM on November 29, 2009

That said, I'll be picking up Greek and Hebrew on the way, so those will be useful.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 7:39 AM on November 29, 2009

I'd look into opportunities at local museums or archives that deal with late antiquities, particularly the Ethiopic, of course, but the Latin & Greek too. Surely there are places you can be useful at the U of Ottawa museum?
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 7:50 AM on November 29, 2009

Teaching seems like the most obvious choice--even if you're studying ancient Ethiopic. You'd probably have to be flexible (i.e., be willing to teach basic high school world religions or world history, rather than expecting to teach only your specific subject) and you might need additional certification (I have no idea what this process is in Canada). I know a few people who did Masters degrees in an area of personal interest like history, English, or political science and then taught high school.

Otherwise, start talking to advanced grad students in your field now: they'll know people who dropped out or just did their Masters and will be able to tell you what those people are doing now.
posted by Meg_Murry at 7:50 AM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Grant writing. Even if your program offers some coursework or practice in this area...take every opportunity to learn how to research and write strong grant proposals. Take every workshop and class you can find. Being able to request, receive and manage funding to help pay your salary is an incredibly desirable skill.
posted by pluckysparrow at 8:04 AM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Assuming that, as is likely, there are no openings to teach ancient literature in general, or Ethiopic literature in particular, you'll need to find other work. The university teaching field is impossible difficult to get into. Thus, like my wife, who has a Ph.D. in musicology, you'll need to find work outside the scholarly world.

She discovered a talent for computers and parlayed it into an eventual vice president's job at a large bank. She did it by emphasizing what she and you already have -- the ability to work over a long period to master a complex subject. At IBM, for example, the largest percentage of employees have degrees in computer science, but the second most common degree is in music.

That's because, beyond the elementary courses, there's no such thing as "music theory appreciation" or "music history appreciation," any more than there is "calculus appreciation." Just so, there's no easy way to learn ancient Ethiopic, and your hard work will put you well ahead of most job applicants in any field.

That's the natural lead in your resume, covering letters and interviews: "I know how to work long and hard, and I'll bring that to your business."

Get in wherever you can. You'll need to know the whole business eventually, and it matters little where you start. Once you prove yourself, you'll move up.
posted by KRS at 8:10 AM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

It really depends on what your personality is like. Try taking a Myers-Briggs assessment at your campus career centre.

Getting things done is always valued.

Project management is a core job in many different contexts that you could "fall back on". Project managers work in IT, software development, government, film, marketing and communications and any industry where there is some sort of project happening.

Beware that if you call yourself a project manager some people will expect you to have a PMP designation. However, in the media/creative field a project manager is also called a "producer" or even "account executive" (they always inflate titles in the creative sector.

My point is, you have developed a number of marketable skills already, and the most marketable skill is getting things done (it's not a common skill).

But take some personality tests and figure out what you are best suited for.

Don't worry about having an obscure degree, although it would be nice to use it some day.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:42 AM on November 29, 2009

Learn from my mistake and try your best to get something published.
posted by pick_the_flowers at 8:51 AM on November 29, 2009

pluckysparrow is 100% right - grant writing. I'm in a slightly-less obscure field than yours, but still not the most applicable one in the world. We had someone leave our program last year and walk almost straight into a grant writing job, and he's now making pretty good money and seems very happy. It makes sense, even in a bad economy - people are always looking for money, and grant writers will always be needed. Also, fields like ours require the basic skill set for this kind of thing - critical thinking, communication, a good grasp of syntax & grammar, etc.
posted by AthenaPolias at 10:11 AM on November 29, 2009

I don't have any advice, I just wanted to say that that is an amazing field of study.
posted by biochemist at 10:55 AM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

There are a lot of issues having to do with international/multilingual text on computers that you're going to get a little exposure to if you're typing papers where you cite text in Ge'ez or polytonic Greek or whatever. If you take the opportunity to go all the way, really wrap your brain around Unicode and legacy font encodings and all the ways they can make a person's life complicated, I suspect there will be jobs later where that could be a useful skill. Software internationalization, maybe?

Related: a good friend's job description for a few years at our college library was "Hey, if you read Greek, are you any good with Cyrillic? We've got all these Russian books we bought and we need them catalogued. Yeah? Okay, how about Mongolian, can you learn the Mongolian alphabet?" He didn't speak any of the languages, but he wasn't afraid of foreign scripts, and he was happy to learn whatever Romanization scheme the library used and spend a few weeks getting the catalogue for that language shaped up.

(It's a frustrating fact of life for us language nerds that most of the demand in the tech world is for script nerds. I guess what I'm saying is, see if you can embrace it?)
posted by nebulawindphone at 1:41 PM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Thanks flibbertigibbet for this question; that's pretty much my life right now, except I'm a year into my PhD in sociolinguistics in texts from Roman Egypt.
And thanks everyone else for your responses! MeFi is a wise place.
posted by liss at 1:36 AM on November 30, 2009

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