Sarah Beth GableJune 22, 2023 

Anna Valcour | Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

History PhD student Sarah Beth Gable was awarded a higher education administrative internship with the Office of the Provost and the Office of Institutional Research for the 2021-2022 academic year. She provided assistance to academic departments to improve their curriculums, learning goals, and assessments. Looking back, she reflects on her experience with the Connected PhD program. Currently, she is ​​the program assistant for BUGS (Brandeis Undergraduate Group Study).

How did you hear about the Connected PhD internship and why did you apply?

I had started talking with Jonathan Anjaria the year before when I was one of the Professional Development Career Fellows. He had come into several classes (via Zoom) to talk about the Connected PhD. During this time, we were in the depths of the pandemic and  I started to realize that tenure-track was not going to happen. Honestly, I was close to quitting. I thought, “Well, if I’m not going to do a tenure-track job, then what am I going to do?” It was out of that despair that I started talking to Jonathan and became really passionate about career diversity. He suggested I check out the newest crop of Connected PhD higher ed administrative internships and there were two that really interested me: the Brandeis University Press and the Office of the Provost. I was interested in working with the Brandeis University Press because I want to continue working with words and be in a community of scholarship. The Office of the Provost interested me because I wanted more contact with the undergraduate population, undergraduate learning, and thinking about pedagogy. As a PhD student, teaching is not necessarily prioritized. We kind of get thrown into the fire rather than being encouraged to think about how students learn. So, I applied to both and got the internship with the Office of the Provost.

How did the project enhance your skills or demonstrate your ability beyond academia?

I spent the year compiling Course Maps for every single undergraduate major offered at Brandeis. I looked at the major learning goals and compared them to every class the major offered to see how the individual classes lined up with the major’s stated learning goals. I analyzed where the deficiencies were and found that there's minimal intentionality put into writing learning goals. Without clear direction of what students are supposed to be learning, it’s harder for them to figure out the goal posts. Thus, learning goals are an integral part of the curriculum on a course level and the major level itself. Learning goals for departments tend to be a thing that they must do rather than a thing that leads the direction of the department. It was fun and interesting to go into meetings with department chairs, faculty, and Undergraduate Departmental Representatives (UDRs) and talk to them about reorienting their curriculums to be about the students. This experience enhanced my skills in research, communication, data analysis, and gave me the confidence to speak to authority figures on it. It made me think about learning in a way that expanded beyond the courses that I put together, TA for, or even the course I’m teaching this semester (Fall 2022). Now, I consider the compendium of how a major contributes to the development and well-roundedness of a student’s education and their journeys.

Were departments and faculties receptive to your advice and did they implement changes to their major/minor requirements?

Many yes, some no. The ones that were really interested asked me follow-up questions, continued developing their curriculum base, and kept the conversations going afterward. I’m going into one department and doing a tutorial on how to write good learning goals for your course and how to put learning goals at the forefront of how you construct a course. It’s super gratifying to have people from outside my department – who have no idea who I am or a reason to listen to me – engage with my work and enact concrete changes.

Did you have a favorite part of your experience?

One of the most fascinating parts of this experience was seeing how the puzzle of undergraduate education fits together. As a PhD student, we do not get many opportunities to be involved in the undergraduate world here. I really wanted that experience because I want to teach undergraduates. Through this internship, I got to see more about their experiences here – what their general requirements are, why there are so many double majors here, etc. The accessibility and popularity of double majoring at Brandeis is important information for faculty to know and think about in terms of constructing their own courses.

In what ways does this internship influence your future goals of professional development?

I talk to a lot of people about the Connected PhD experience, and one thing that I try to give space to is my experience in the realization that the tenure-track line may not happen for me. Truly, it was a mourning process. Did I really leave this whole other life as a project manager to get a PhD and then not become a professor? Through the higher education internship, I realized I could merge the two (my project management background and my current academic life interests) on a meta-level. Someday, I would love to work in student learning, curriculum development, or student assessment. Before this Connected PhD experience, I didn’t really realize how much I enjoy it and that I have things to offer that world. Now, it’s what I’m looking for as I apply for jobs.

What advice would you give to PhD students interested in professional development?

Start early! The day you get here, call Jonathan Anjaria! If you’ve come straight from your undergrad into graduate school, and you have no professional working experience, the worst thing you can do is wait until your fifth year (when you’re about to be out of funding and your dissertation needs more time) to think about professional development. It’s not a Plan B, either. I know none of us have time, but try things out and build up your resume and CV. Think about what you’d like out of your career, what makes you happy, and where your interests take you.