Department of English

Spotlights on Alumni: Christine Baumgarthuber

Each day I discover something new, and I have the intellectual agency to pursue new ideas.

C_BaumgarthuberChristine Baumgarthuber

PhD, 2012
Senior Learning Designer
Digital Learning & Design, Brown University


What did you think you wanted to do post-graduation when you began the English PhD program here at Brown? Did that change during your time in the program, and if so, how?

When I began the program, I wanted to secure a traditional, tenure-track faculty position at a R1 university. But, during my graduate program, I began working summers for the Continuing Education department, and I found that I really liked working for a university in an administrative capacity. Also, by the time I graduated, the Great Recession had wiped out many, if not most, tenure-track jobs in my field. And so I relied on the skills I learned during my time working for Continuing Education to get short-term jobs (the only jobs available, alas) and stay afloat. One of these jobs led to a salaried position and a subsequent career in learning design, and the rest is history!

How would you describe your PhD project? Who was on your committee? If you went on the academic job market, what fields (including but not limited to those in English) did you apply under (ie. 20th Century Studies, Gender Studies, Poetics, etc.)?

My PhD project concerned the history of the social sciences and Victorian literature. My advisor was Kevin McLaughlin. I never went on the job market.

What kind of work are you doing now? Can you tell us about your path to this career? How did you get started?

I am currently a Senior Learning Designer here at Brown. The path to this career was quite tortuous, and I had to take positions all over the country. After my first year of graduate school, I took a job working summers at the Continuing Education department (now the School of Professional Studies), and I really enjoyed working there. I also enjoyed my studies, but the recession wiped out many, if not most, tenure-track jobs. And so when a contract job designing hybrid courses at the University of Arizona was offered to me upon receiving my doctorate, I took it. I liked that I could use my teaching and research skills in an administrative capacity. Also, despite there being a recession, there were still learning design jobs, and I managed to secure a salaried position in Maine a few years after taking the contract job. This salaried position then gave me the skills that allowed me to apply for my current job at Brown.

What is your favorite part of this work? What has been the biggest surprise?

I love that I still get to work at a university. And I love that I get to employ my teaching and research skills. Also, I love that the field of learning design is growing, and that there are many positions available across the country. (After living through the recession, and watching so many jobs disappear, it is so nice to be in a relatively stable field.) Finally, I love working with faculty and learning new things about their fields. Each day I discover something new, and I have the intellectual agency to pursue new ideas. And that has been the biggest surprise: that I find my administrative job as interesting and fulfilling as my graduate studies. My colleagues and supervisors are fantastic, my department is innovative yet nurturing, and I look forward to coming to work each day.

And I haven’t abandoned my own studies: I have published numerous articles, as well as a book. Doing this while working a full-time job wasn’t easy (I had to spend my vacation days and weekends writing) but it can be done.

Which resources (at Brown and beyond) were most helpful to you in your specific career path?

The English department’s pedagogy seminar was invaluable in giving me the teaching skills I needed for my current position. Also, being able to work summers and, to a more limited extent, during the fall and spring semesters at Continuing Education allowed me to cultivate a professional resume that found purchase outside of academia.

What advice do you have for students currently enrolled in this program, as they plan for their futures? 

I’d say it is very important to get a diverse array of experience. Yes, your studies should be your main concern, but also find time to get a part-time job during the summer somewhere on campus (or off campus). It will allow you to learn more about how a university (or a business) works while helping you cultivate the skills (and lines on a resume) that will give you more options upon graduation.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

If you do decide to pursue a job outside of the traditional, tenure-track path, don’t stop researching and writing! You got into Brown because you are brilliant and motivated, and you should continue to write and share your knowledge with the world. Despite not being a traditional academic, you can still publish books and articles and contribute to the general intellect.