Transition Q & A: Brenda Bethman

Brenda Bethman earned her PhD in modern German studies from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2009. She’s now the director of the Women’s Center and the Women’s & Gender Studies Program at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, where she is also affiliated faculty in German in the Department of Foreign Languages & Literatures. Find her online at BrendaBethman.com and follow her @brendabethman.

What did you hope for in terms of employment as you completed your PhD?

This is complicated by the fact that I was still ABD when I was first job searching. (I finished my PhD in 2009 after I had moved to UMKC and well after I started. Working full-time slows down dissertation writing.) My husband, who is an academic, got a job at Texas A&M, and I needed employment as well. I had already decided that I didn’t want to go the traditional tenure-track route and that I wanted some type of administrative position. A&M just happened to be opening their women’s center at the same time we were moving there. I applied and got the job, despite having almost no idea what university women’s centers did.

What was your first post-PhD job?

Program Coordinator of the Texas A&M University Women’s Center. I was also a Lecturer in the Department of European & Classical Languages & Cultures and the Women’s Studies Program.

What do you do now?

Currently, I direct the Women’s Center and the Women’s & Gender Studies Program at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, where I also teach German and Women’s & Gender Studies courses.

Around a year ago, my friend and colleague, Shaun Longstreet, and I co-founded Alt Academix, which provides advice on how graduate students and those transitioning from teaching positions can make themselves marketable for academic administrative positions. We offer workshops, job letter and cv/resume editing, and career transition consulting. Shaun and I also co-author “The Alt-Ac Track” career advice column on Inside Higher Ed.

What kind of tasks do you do on a daily and weekly basis?

As director of a Women’s Center located in Student Affairs and an academic WGS program, I do a little bit of everything. My days are filled with supervising staff, scheduling courses, overseeing budgets, updating websites and social media sites, advising students, planning and attending programs and campus/community events, fundraising, grant writing, and LOTS of meetings and email. During the academic year, I also teach two classes per semester (one German, one WGS).

What most surprises you about your job?

It’s the individual tasks that are sometimes surprising, like the time I found myself helping to develop a policy on housing transgender hurricane evacuees. There is nothing about getting a PhD in German literature that prepares you to think that is something you may do some day.

What are your favourite parts of your job?

Some favorite things about my job are that it is never boring as I get to do a variety of things, and working with a fabulous community of supporters. Kansas City is blessed with an amazing community of women and men who support feminist issues and the UMKC Women’s Center is lucky enough to enjoy their support. Every day I work with a great group of students, faculty, staff, and community members to advance women’s equity—it’s something I would do even if it weren’t my job, so I feel privileged that I get to spend my days getting paid to do something I love and that is important to me.

What would you change about it if you could?

More faculty, more staff, more money (in other words, what almost every administrator in higher education wants). Due to shrinking state budgets, we continue to do a lot with fewer resources. We could do even more with more resources.

What’s next for you, career-wise?

Not sure—but I’m working on figuring that out.

What advice or thoughts do you have for post-PhDs in transition now?

Remember that moving into a non-TT job does not mean you are a failure. The notion that there is “one true path” for PhDs is simply not true. There are lots of jobs out there and interesting things to do, so don’t let those ideas hold you back from doing them.

2 Replies to “Transition Q & A: Brenda Bethman”

  1. I find it fascinating that some alt-ac folks teach as much as some folks in TT jobs while also managing a boatload of other duties. (And I’m not talking R1 here – I know a 2-2 load is very rare anywhere non-R1, especially in the Humanities, but it *does* exist.) Perhaps such multifaceted roles as coordinator, director, and the like attract people who can handle and enjoy a lot more people time (teaching load + heavy meeting and one-on-one load).

    1. Thanks for the comment, Maggie. At my school, 2-2 is a full load for TT folk, so they all think I’m crazy. But I love all the different things I do and don’t want to give any up, so I squeeze them in. It helps that I have Avery supportive spouse.

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