My Education and Career

My Education and Career

September 12, 2019 69 By Ronny Jaskolski


Hi, I’m Dr. Jackson Crawford. I’m an Old Norse specialist teaching at the University of Colorado Boulder, previously UC Berkeley in UCLA. I’m surprised how many people asked me to talk about this, but in this video I’m going to cover a very frequently asked question, which is about the particular form that my education and career path took. Whether or not anyone wants to try to duplicate that path, whether that’s a good idea or not, I don’t know. Whether that’s even possible or not, I don’t know. Because a lot of it is pure chance. But I’ll give you the basic details. So I grew up all over the West although I’ve traditionally regarded Colorado and Wyoming as home — don’t make me choose between them. By high school, I was in Texas and so I went to Texas Tech University, which is not a technical school in spite of the “Tech” in its name; the “Tech” is entirely superficial. (People ask about that.) And I studied Classics, Greek and Latin, that was my major and my minor was linguistics. Now, my thinking in doing this was, I wanted to study historical linguistics in graduate school, and the best way to prepare for that would be to get more of a background in ancient languages, Greek and Latin being what were on offer at Texas Tech. So, that’s what I did. And then I went to the University of Georgia for my master’s degree in linguistics; I specialised in historical linguistics studying under the magnificent Jared Klein there who, I believe, is still there and still teaching. And, he advised me (I don’t think there’s any impropriety in repeating his advice) that either I continue at the Ph.D. level studying linguistics with a specialisation in a particular group of languages, or studying a particular group of languages and specialising in linguistics. In other words, in my case since I was very interested in the history of the Scandinavian languages, be the “Scandinavian guy” in linguistics conferences or be the linguist at Scandinavian conferences. I chose, more or less, the latter, and I applied at departments of Scandinavian studies, of which there are a few offering graduate programs in the United States — Berkeley, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Harvard, and Washington, i.e. Seattle, are, I believe, the programs that exist. Anyway, that’s where I applied and I wound up sitting at the University of Wisconsin Madison, with Kirsten Wolf, and she guided me through my PhD. I spent two years on coursework and then I spent… let me think… four years as a dissertator. One of those years I remained in Madison but then the last three of those years I actually was hired at UCLA as faculty while I was still completing my PhD with the University of Wisconsin, two thousand miles away. Academia is weird. But another thing about how academia is weird is, I was teaching full-time at UCLA those three years, but I was on only one-year contract so I never really knew until the summer whether the job was going to continue. And I was teaching as a replacement for a tenured professor who was no longer teaching. So, you know, we always had to see if he was going to come back or not, to see if I would have a job the next year. Not a particularly stable way to live. Finally, of course, that individual was no longer on leave and so my job ended. And so that summer I went looking for employment. Now, what’s kind of odd about this is that, of course, I’d been teaching for three years at UCLA without a PhD. I was a PhD candidate at the University of Wisconsin, but had not yet defended my dissertation. I actually defended my dissertation at the end of spring in 2014. I went to Wisconsin, defended my dissertation, and I came back to UCLA and found out that I wasn’t going to have that job the next year. So as far as I knew, my academic career actually ended when I got my PhD, rather than began. And, of course, it was late in the year. I was unable to find academic work. Part of what I discovered is that what your terminal degree is in, what your last diploma says you have a degree in, really affects the departments you can work in. Some community colleges and smaller colleges and universities have, actually, rules, apparently, that if you were going to be hired in, say, an English department, even though I had taught, basically, English classes, and literature and composition, You have to have a degree that says “English” on it or “composition” on it and of course my PhD diploma says “Scandinavian studies” with a specialization in philology, which you know, it can be difficult to convince anyone, even in a university setting, what that means, or that it’s relevant to what they need. So, the work I was able to find that year (2014 to ’15) was at a small museum in a wonderful town, in Riverton, Wyoming. I worked there for a year, and then I was hired at UC Berkeley, so another university in the University of California system, on another one-year appointment that was 2015 to ’16 and then that was renewed in 2016 – ’17, and then in February 2017. And, of course, this whole time, you know, beginning in my third year, I think, of being a PhD student at the University of Wisconsin, I’ve been applying for jobs constantly. It’s just part of the academic lifestyle, you’re constantly applying for jobs. And I kept an eye out, of course in Colorado and Wyoming. It was always where I wanted to be but I thought it was unrealistic to think the Old Norse job at the University of Colorado would ever open up for me. I mean, just the random chance wasn’t gonna happen. Oddly enough, it did. So in February 2017 I interviewed for that job, and I got it. So in August 2017, I came to the University of Colorado Boulder. That job is not tenured or tenure-track. Tenure is increasingly rare; of course, part of that probably has to do with how it has been abused, and I’ve seen some serious abuses. Part of it is just, you know, funding. It’s cheaper to pay people who aren’t tenured and so every university competing with every other university has trended away from awarding new tenure lines. So, I don’t know whether to encourage people to try to follow these trains or not, but that is the particular career path that I have followed both in education and then in teaching, and sometimes concurrently because of course, I was a dissertator at the same time that I was teaching at UCLA. Pretty strange situation: student at one school and faculty at another — full-time faculty at another. In fact, most of the money I owe on my student loans I owe for the years I was teaching at UCLA because Wisconsin wouldn’t give me financial aid because I was getting a paycheck from another university. Of course, California is extremely expensive. And while California is beautiful and there are fine people and the students were fantastic, you know, it’s not my… it’s not my country, and I always did want to get back to the Rockies and I’m so glad that I’ve had that opportunity thanks to the University of Colorado. And, of course, it was the necessity of living in such an expensive place in California that got me looking at alternative sources of income — which eventually led me to starting this YouTube channel to try to get people interested in my translations for instance, of the Poetic Edda and the Saga of the Volsungs. And then eventually to start a Patreon account which has been very helpful. My biggest advice to anyone who wants to get into higher education is to have some kind of backup skill, something else you can be hired at, that is easier to explain to an employer in times of economic difficulty. Because even my other skills are not necessarily extremely… career-driven. I mean, like sharpshooting or whatever — it’s cool, but nobody’s gonna pay you for it. You can maybe win a little bit of money in contests. Anyway, I hope that’s been somewhat interesting or informative for some of you, and from beautiful Wyoming, I’m wishing you… all the best.