[GradFUTURES Podcast] Unexpected Career Turns: A Conversation with Ann Kirschner *78

April 15, 2022

The official GradFUTURES podcast launched on April 1, on the final day of the 2022 GradFUTURES Forum. 

Led by Princeton graduate student Hellen Wainaina, the GradFUTURES podcast centers on the futures of PhDs: both those in training at Princeton, and Princeton graduate alums who are in and beyond academia. The podcast tells the professional development stories of graduate students, graduate alums, and those who partner and collaborate with them. 

Currently, the podcast is available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Audible, and Pocket Casts, with more destinations planned for the future. 

In the inaugural episode, Hellen talks to Ann Kirschner *78, University Professor at The City University of New York, author, and entrepreneur. Ann reflects on the unexpected turns her career has taken since earning a Ph.D. in English at Princeton. From working in the early days of cable television to becoming the first digital strategist for the National Football League, where she launched NFL.COM and SUPERBOWL.COM, Ann weighs in on the value of "knowing what you know," understanding the value of graduate education beyond the academy, the adjunct system and the future professoriate, and the dignity of work.

In particular, Ann discusses vital topics in professional development also addressed at the 2022 GradFUTURES Forum and other GradFUTURES events, such as the need for humanities Ph.D.s to apply their knowledge and skills beyond academia. “The world needs Ph.D.s in the humanities,” says Ann. “It just doesn’t need them all in the classroom in tenure-track positions. So, let’s recognize the value of what we teach and what we learn, and let’s find ways to utilize that knowledge in new ways.”

Higher education is undergoing what some call an “adjunctification”, wherein teaching positions at universities are increasingly part-time, non-faculty positions rather than full-time, tenure-track faculty positions with health benefits. In the first episode, Ann comments on the shifts already underway in the academy, as well as what is likely to come.

“If you love teaching above all else and you’re financially secure, [or] you are independently wealthy, then maybe being an adjunct is a great thing. I believe that the future professoriate is going to be defined in a lot of different ways. I don’t think tenure-track and adjunct are going to be the definitions by which we define faculty,” says Ann. “You’re already beginning to see it in faculty who have joint appointments either in industry or in foundations that relate to their work. You’re seeing it in practitioners, particularly in technology, who also want to teach.” 

It is essential, says Ann, that those with advanced degrees in non-STEM fields are involved in cutting edge developments in fields such as technology. 

“When you think about the advances to come, whether it’s in artificial intelligence or quantum computing or algorithmic developments, we want people in those fields to address those questions with deep thought. The world doesn’t need fewer deep thinkers, it needs more deep thinkers. How do we lend that carefulness and that depth that we gain in graduate education to other arenas? We should embrace the connections, not be repelled by them.”

Join the conversation, access the show notes, and discover fantastic resources to empower your professional future at gradfutures.princeton.edu