New Grad Student Coordinator Aware of Tough Job Market, Makes Plans for Professionalization

The UF Religion graduate program is designed to prepare students for careers in academia, public service, non-governmental organizations, and various forms of advocacy work. With students in five tracks — Buddhist Traditions, Global Islam, Hindu Traditions, Religion in the Americas and Religion and Nature — this work requires broad experience, a commitment to collaboration, and a vision for cooperation between faculty and students.

Dr. A. Whitney Sanford, a core faculty member focusing on  Religion and Nature and Religions of Asia, brings these qualities to the table as the newly appointed Graduate Student Coordinator for the Department.

On Tuesday, January 23, 2018, she met with graduate students across the five tracks to discuss hopes, expectations, and pertinent issues impacting graduate education and future job prospects in the field of religion.

Although fresh on the job, Sanford was enthusiastic about bringing her wide array of experiences and interests to her new position. Specifically, Sanford and the gathered graduate students discussed possibilities for more emphasis on professionalization, collaboration, and teaching/pedagogy.

In the area of professionalization, Sanford underlined the necessity of preparing students not only for jobs in academia, but non-teaching or research-related work with museums, businesses, libraries, and other institutions not usually considered “academic” in nature.

She said that part of her job will be helping graduate students — and the department — adjust to the “general difficulty across the humanities with declining enrollments.”

Sanford said, “all of that comes into play when making decisions for graduate students and what their needs are.”

With that said, the graduate students also voiced a desire for more varied and in-depth teaching experiences and opportunities to expand their pedagogical tool-kit. Recognizing that the job market is tight students are seeking an edge when it comes to their teaching repertoire. Sanford agreed that diverse teaching experiences should be sought. Furthermore, she suggested mentoring and the possibility of more practical workshops on designing teaching statements, preparing courses, or developing best pedagogical practices.

Throughout, Sanford highlighted the need for collaboration both within the department and with partners across the university, the community of Gainesville, and the wider academic field. She said, “we will have to collaborate with each other to make all this happen and be successful.”

“we will have to collaborate with each other to make all this happen and be successful.”

“Not only will we need more collaboration within the department, but also other parts of UF and beyond,” Sanford reiterated.

Sanford works regularly with the Center for the Humanities and the Public Sphere and the Digital Humanities Working Group and has teamed up with local museums, non-profits, and other academics for projects in the past. Her current work is collaborative in nature as it lies at the intersection of religion, Florida waterways, and social equity.

All in all, Sanford is looking forward to working with graduate students as they plan their program of study and prepare for work beyond UF. In that spirit, she closed the meeting and said she will make herself readily available in the future to “answer questions and provide support for graduate students.”