Alumni reaches beyond academic careers with creativity

Alumni reaches beyond academic careers with creativity

UCLA alumnus and receiver of two CNES fellowships William Geibel talks about the creative career opportunities available to area studies specialists beyond tenure track.

The Center for Near Eastern Studies has for many years supported both undergraduate and graduate education in order to help students become specialists in the study of the MENA region. Oftentimes, area studies specialists seek to pursue a PhD with the goal of securing a tenure-track position in an institution of higher education. The center’s initiatives at UCLA are designed to support students with these goals in mind. However, with the academic job market becoming an increasingly difficult landscape, CNES has sought in recent years to promote the diverse opportunities available to area studies specialists in the private and public sectors as well. These opportunities include careers with the state department, think tanks, library collections, museum collections, and strategic advising positions. In addition, there are opportunities for careers in higher education that reflect a changing academic environment and a professional culture within the university.

William Geibel is a UCLA alumnus who not only exemplifies this reality but provides motivation for students interested in ‘thinking outside the box.’ Geibel, who currently serves as the Associate Director of Experiential Learning at the University of California, San Diego’s Sixth College, received numerous awards while studying at UCLA including a Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship (FLAS) and a Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need (GAANN) Fellowship in Middle East and North Africa Studies both from CNES. When he received these awards, Geibel says that his career interest “was to employ the power of education to help improve cultural understanding around the world, particularly between the US and Middle East” and to use this training “to develop courses and learning opportunities that would equip US students to become both global citizens and citizen diplomats that would have the awareness and critical thinking skills to effectively engage with people from other countries and cultures.” His career path serves as an example of the ways the specialist track is not limited to niche fields nor is it necessarily the road to ‘generalist’ positions. In fact, Geibel’s experience demonstrates that, with a bit of flexibility, there is room to pursue interests pertaining to area studies while engaging broader trends within the university setting such as “global citizenship” and “experiential learning.”

Geibel describes his position at UCSD as a mixture of teaching and developing experiential learning opportunities for students. He says: “As part of the College's leadership team, I am broadly responsible for developing and enhancing experiential learning opportunities within the College, including study abroad, internship, community engagement, and research-based courses. In addition to developing these opportunities, I also teach various writing, communication, and experiential learning courses within the College.” Within his capacity as Associate Director of Experiential Learning, Giebel has been able to utilize the training he received at UCLA to design programs that leverage such training and relate to his interests but also serve the broader community. For example, Giebel has designed a study abroad program for students to obtain academic credit studying in Dublin while learning about the concept of globalization and the principles of global citizenship. Within the local context, he is currently designing a course in which students can engage with local non-profits to understand first-hand the experiences of refugees and forced migrants in San Diego.

When asked about his thoughts on the current academic job market, Giebel had the following advice: “We have all heard, repeatedly, that the academic job market is terrible. And there is certainly truth to such a statement. But instead of despairing, my advice for current students is to think beyond the 'tenure-track' or nothing mentality. Instead of being dead set on landing one of the dwindling tenure track positions in your field, explore the many other types of academic roles available at universities. For example, there are a growing number of hybrid roles, like mine, that combine teaching responsibilities with administrative ones. So, if you are a current student, I would recommend you widen your gaze to include the many fulfilling, intellectually stimulating, and well respected 'non'-tenure track positions and if you do, I think you will find that the job market is not nearly as unfavorable as it seems.” Indeed, this timely advice might serve students at many different levels and with many different professional goals. In the meantime, CNES continues to offer diverse resources for students as they work towards these goals and is available to support students in the process.

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Published: Wednesday, October 12, 2022