The Career Discernment Class: Reading List

A few people asked me to share the reading list for the career discernment + professional formation + introduction to the public-facing humanities course. Well, friends, in total honesty, the reading list for this class was one of the most challenging parts of course prep. What is considered “content” in a formation class? What readings would speak to the main text of this course, the students’ lived experiences?

Because this class is also a public-facing humanities course, my first inclination was to start with public-facing humanities theory, models, and guides. These readings were good for the academic part of the class, but something was missing — they lacked discussion about the personal experiences relationships that lead students to academia. Without that larger context, reading about theory and models would be rudderless journeys.

I wanted students to learn about their own decision-making processes, embodied wisdom, and values, all of which informed their choice to go to graduate school. Most of the texts I found related to public-facing humanities were focused on disciplines without attention to the personal. So, I turned to books I read in spiritual direction training program and continuing professional development with an eye toward how these texts could work in a writing-intensive graduate class. What follows is the course reading list, a collection of books, articles, websites, and podcasts.

The Books

Let Your Life Speak, Parker Palmer

This short book is an introduction into career discernment. Part memoir, part model, Palmer writes honestly about his own career journey, which included graduate school and academic positions. He integrates his experience with depression and how his mental health guided his professional formation. My hope for this book was to show students how mental health is an essential component to our discernment and to show them how academics can create careers outside of academia.

Befriending Our Desires, Philip Sheldrake

An introduction to discernment, this book articulates how values, desires, and love can speak to where we are being led. This book is grounded in the Christian/Catholic tradition, and that concerned me a bit — I was worried that Biblical references and Christian language would be challenging for students, for various reasons. I still assigned it, though, because of its clear overview of discernment and use of value and desire as a framework for discernment. Some students shared that they struggled with the Christian themes, yet they still found value in it.

Sheldrake’s chapter, “Desire and Sexuality,” was paired with “Queer and Now” in Eve Sedgwick’s Tendencies. Although students were invited to make their own connections, this pairing suggested how human sexuality can inform academic work. Class discussion was guided by the student-raised question, “How do our sexual identities inform our own discernment process?”

Putting the Humanities PhD to Work, Katina Rogers

Thanks to my colleague Gerry Canavan, this book came across my radar this summer. It’s an honest look at the state of academic careers and graduate education in the humanities, and ultimately calls readers to re-consider what it means to be a humanities graduate student. We read this book in the middle of the semester once students began their own personal work answering questions like, “Why English? What is my own discernment process?” Then, they read this book with an eye to what resonated with them: “How does Rogers’s description of tenure-track jobs resonate with you? If you are going to write a dissertation that isn’t a full-length book project, what would you make? How does that align with the values and desires you identified in the first few weeks of class?”

Spark Change: 108 Provocative Questions for Spiritual Evolution, Jennie Lee

We begin almost every class meeting with a prompt and four-minute free write from this book. Each student and I take turns choosing a prompt; sometimes it’s an intentional choice, other times it’s not. The leader reads the question and the corresponding prompt, and then we all (yes, me, too) journal for 4 minutes. At the end, we each share one word or phrase that captures a key learning from our free write, knowing we always have the option to say “pass.” This four-minute free write gives our brains and spirits time to fully arrive to class and invites us to attune to our inner selves before we begin our class meeting.

What’s Your Story? A Journal for Everyday Evolution, Rebecca Walker and Lily Diamond

This workbook-journal is a game changer, and it aligns with course’s goals: “Transformational writing prompts for personal and global change.” Organized into categories that reflect different parts of our lives, such as “At Work,” “In Your Body,” and “With People,” the prompts are designed to elicit discomfort, challenge, and freedom. In our course, students complete three prompts of their choosing every Friday. Instead of coming to class synchronously, students use our 50-minute Friday class time to complete three prompts. Then, they summarize key learnings in 100-150 words on D2L, sharing as much or as little as they feel comfortable. I respond to each post as a reply, offering observations and questions for further consideration.

The Online Resources

A Typology of the Publicly Engaged Humanities

The Hows and Whys of Public Humanities

Why the Humanities Need to Go Public, and the Ways in Which They Already Are

Build Your Own Professional Utopia & Advice for Making the Most Out of Informational Interviews — Students complete informational interviews with 3-5 people who have backgrounds in the humanities and careers that interest them. This reading shows students how to conduct information interviews

The Core of Belonging, Rev. angel Kyodo Williams on Insights at the Edge with Tami Simon

Practical Steps to Follow Your Heart and Generate Self-love, Vishen Lakhiani on Mayim Bialik’s Breakdown

The Resources from Our Guest Speakers

We have three guest speakers (Max Gray, Dr. Theresa Tobin, and Dr. Dan Bergen) visit class during the semester to share their own academic and career journey in the humanities. I asked them to share publications that spoke to it, and they shared the following:

The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action, Audre Lorde

Sunsets and Solidarity: Overcoming Sacramental Shame in Conservative Christian Churches to Forge a Queer Vision of Love and Justice, Moone and Tobin

Faith and Community Engagement at Anchor Institutions, Green, Stewart, Bergen, and Nayve

Considering the Anchor Mission Strategy within Competing “Regimes” of Higher Education Community Engagement, Bergen and Sladek

The Student-Generated Reading List

Next month, students will share readings that speak to their own discernment journeys and career interests, and they will lead class discussion about it. If the students agree to it, I’ll share their readings in another post.

Have any resources you would add to this list? Leave a comment.

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