Meet Camille Burge
Camille Burge entered Vanderbilt with an idea of using her degree for work in politics–not the academy. After really enjoying her teaching experiences, she switched her career plans. Though the academic job market is a scary place, she learned that preparation is the best tool at your disposal. Below she shares her perspective on how to survive graduate school and the academic job market with your sanity intact.
Jessica Parks-Piatt: How did your degree and other experiences at Vanderbilt help prepare you for your career?
Camille Burge: The political science program has a really good professionalization series. Once a month each semester, there is a new topic presented, such as making the most of your RA/TA assignment, mastering conference papers or the job market. In regards to the job market, our department held workshops where certain things like your CV or teaching statement was posted to Blackboard before time for others to critique. After that, you start presenting your job talk. I rehearsed my job talk at least four times before my first interview and that was very helpful.
JP-P: What are three key tips that you have for students early in their grad programs?
CB: Run for your life. Kidding! The most important thing that I learned in graduate school was to just be yourself, personality-wise but also in regards to how you approach the material. For instance, if you need to read things and sit with them for a while, then trust that process even though others might not have the same process; do what works well for you and don’t feel bad about that.
Second, make sure you have a positive attitude regardless of how you actually feel; you’ll breakdown at some point. I would see other friends that were not in graduate school that seemed to be succeeding more in life while I have been driving the same car that I’ve had since high school. It was frustrating and starting to get to me. I had to take a step back to get some perspective. I’m getting paid to read, write, and produce knowledge and that’s really cool. It’s easy to lose sight of the great position you’re in while going through grad school. It seems like hell while you’re going through it, but just try to keep a positive attitude.
Third, find an outlet –something that is not related to your degree program that you can do on your own that brings you peace, joy, and comfort. If that’s church, then it’s church. If it’s happy hour, then it’s happy hour. Time away from your books and away from people in your program is necessary. It can be all-consuming if the only people you’re around are in your cohort. My outlet was church and live concerts, with or without people in my program. The sooner you find your outlet the happier you’ll be.
JP-P: What are three key tips for students at the end of their graduate programs?
CB: Be mindful of your internet presence. I deactivated all my accounts, not because I thought that would change the way potential employers/colleagues viewed me, but as a matter of separation between my personal and professional life. If you don’t want to deactivate, at least make things private.
Practice your job talk as much as you possibly can. You should get to the point where you can do it in your bed laying down without a script. Be aware of and prepared for the questions people will ask you about the flaws in your research. When you are prepared for these questions, don’t answer with “That’s a wonderful question…” each time, but also not “Well, I’ve thought about that and….” My strategy was to say “Interesting” and then provide the practiced answer. It sounds more engaging without being overly rehearsed.
When you’re on the job market, try to remain calm. It seems impossible, but, again, having an outlet helps. The job market is a treacherous, treacherous place. For the academic job market, most of the openings start in late July and end in late October. That means that you submit all your documents in August and then hear nothing. And that silence is deafening. Remain calm and don’t conflate your research with who you are. Even if you don’t get the job or the publication, you’re still a good person.
JP-P: What were some of the challenges that you faced in preparing for your job search and career? How did you overcome them?
CB: The biggest challenge I faced was overcoming the imposter syndrome. I would ask myself, Am I really ready to go teach? Do I know that much information to be able to put several courses together? Am I actually prepared? On top of these questions, I am teaching both undergraduate and master’s students that are older than I am. I just had to trust that I know more about these topics than my students. After all, I am the one with the PhD, and because of that training, I know how to reason through any questions students might ask. If I need a little time to gather my thoughts before answering, I throw the question at the class and let other students engage. Sometimes I don’t know the answer and that is okay. I look into it and follow up with the class later. This is just a strategy that has worked well for me. I received very good student evaluations for my first year of teaching.
JP-P: Did you take advantage of any services or workshops provided by Graduate School Career Development?
CB: I went to a few workshops on careers in academia. The most helpful was the “Interview with the Deans.” It really clarified what kinds of questions I could anticipate and what kinds of questions I should be asking while in those brief meetings. Also, I met directly with Ruth to talk about being on the job market and she was extremely helpful.
Camille’s Fun Facts!
Current city: Villanova, PA
Current position: Assistant Professor of Political Science, Villanova University
Degree program: Political Science
Dissertation advisor: Dr. Cindy Kam
Favorite Nashville restaurant: Jamaicaway, but for happy hour, 1808 Grill at the Hutton Hotel
Thesis: Fired Up, Ready To Go: The Effects of Group-based and Intergroup Emotions in Politics
If you would like to learn more about Camille and her work, send her an email.
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