Looking Farther Afield Leads to a Tenure-Track Job at UC San Diego

May 4, 2023

Anthony Harb, about to receive his Ph.D. from the LAILAC program, “felt strange” applying for a job in a different type of department, but it turned out to be a perfect match.

Anthony Harb headshot
Anthony Harb starts as an assistant professor at UC San Diego this fall. (Photo courtesy of Anthony Harb)

A few months after Anthony Harb, a Ph.D. candidate in the Latin American, Iberian, and Latino Cultures (LAILAC) program, defends his dissertation this summer, he will start his new job as a tenure-track assistant professor in the UC San Diego’s Department of Communication. Harb, a Palestinian-American who specializes in language and Latinx Studies, was drawn to the interdisciplinary nature of his new department — but never would have heard about it, he says, if he hadn’t signed up for academic job alerts that flooded his inbox on a daily basis this past year.

Learn More About the Ph.D. Program in Latin American, Iberian, and Latino Cultures

Harb recently spoke to the Graduate Center about his research, which focuses on a Spanish-language community radio program based in rural Minnesota, and shared his advice for navigating the academic job market.

The Graduate Center: How did you become interested in Spanish-language community radio?

Harb: I started studying Spanish and Latino Studies because in college, when I went to the Arabic department to see if I could start learning a little bit more Arabic, I was told that the class was designed for people who are learning Arabic as a new language, not for people who have some sort of history in the language.

So I ended up being discouraged from going into that program. I saw the same issue with Latino students in my Spanish classes, which is something I write about in my dissertation — how Spanish language education programs are really designed more for foreign language students than for people who claim cultural belonging to those languages and cultures.

When I started grad school, I wanted to tailor my interest more towards the U.S. Radio has been a subversive sort of form of media production for immigrant communities, starting with immigrant farmworkers in California and then stretching across the country. Latinos listen to far more hours of radio on average than their Anglo counterparts. And the uniqueness of Spanish-language radio in the U.S. really caught my eye as a form of social justice activism through language.

GC: You’re starting a position in a communication department, but you studied in the sociolinguistics track of the LAILAC program. Do you consider this to be somewhat of a switch in your field?

Harb: Every point in my academic career has been a little bit of a switch in my field. My interest in language was largely a self-study until I decided to pursue this Ph.D. The sociolinguistics track of the LAILAC program is really interdisciplinary — we’re highly inspired by sociolinguistics but also linguistic anthropology and sociology of language and glottopolitical studies, which looks at the intersection of language and politics.

And the department I’m joining is very interdisciplinary. The position is a language and social justice position within a communication department. It felt strange even to be applying for that job, but the way the job posting was structured really invited interdisciplinary training. And what was interesting to me about that is its ability to sort of expand my research to my own identity as a Palestinian, immigrant-origin person who was born and grew up in the U.S. That was also part why I’ve chosen to go that way.

GC: What advice do you have for Ph.D. students who are planning to go onto the academic job market?

Harb: I used the Writing Center a ton. I’m a first-generation college student, so understanding all of the different layers of genre in academia has always been a feat. At every new stage, there’s a new genre you have to learn — what is a cover letter, what are these statements, how to organize them. The Writing Center has events that give you templates that are helpful structures to get started. And then also the sessions with them — you’re working on such short pieces of writing in the applications, and they need to be really polished. Having as many eyes as possible was helpful.

Also, my really close relationship with my adviser, Ariana Mangual Figueroa, and her very clear forms of mentoring, demystified the process — going to the interviews, and how to prepare for the types of questions that people are going to ask, and making sure that you have responses to all these things that you’re not thinking about because you’re trying to finish your dissertation. It’s a lot of juggling, so having good people to talk with and to just guide me through that process was crucial.

I learned that writing a job talk, for example, was helpful. You’re so deep in your dissertation and thinking about all the specifics, so taking a moment to really think about the big picture and see the arc of your dissertation and your research and narrate that in that talk — coming back to my dissertation after that, I could see it in a new way. And I think that really pushed me to finish it.

I really advise everybody to sign up for those Inside Higher Ed jobs and the Chronicle of Higher Education daily notifications. I would have never found this job otherwise, because I wasn’t looking at communication departments at all. Especially if you’re an interdisciplinary scholar, it’s really helpful to read a lot of job posts. And to start doing that early, because the process starts earlier than you think. It’s as crucial as they say to prepare your documents in the summer so you can hit the ground running in the fall application cycle.

GC: Is there anything you wish you’d known when you were just starting the Ph.D. program?

Harb: I think I spent a lot of time trying to fit into a discipline because I was socialized into this idea that the more disciplinary you are, the more potential you have on the job market. And I spent a lot of time trying to argue my fit in sociolinguistics or in a Spanish department or linguistic anthropology. And during the interview process for this job that I ultimately got, one of my now-future colleagues told me, “Don’t worry about trying to explain what discipline you belong to, because that’s not what’s important to us. We’re taking interdisciplinarity as the starting point.”

You might be discouraged from exploring interdisciplinarity, even if that’s what your project requires or that’s what your impulse is. I would say, feel more empowered to lean into that, because I have been able to find a place where that’s celebrated, and so I imagine that others can as well.

Published by the Office of Communications and Marketing