By William McCarthy | VSPA News Team | July 5, 2022
When Nicoletta Montaner went to college, her career goal was to compose music for films.
“My research interests really started with aesthetics and then went to how inequality has been conceived of so differently by serious thinkers,” Montaner said.
Growing up in Tampa, Florida, Montaner had attended a vocational high school and earned a Florida Bright Future Scholarship to attend the University of South Florida. Although she started as a music student, she ultimately switched majors and graduated with a B.A. in philosophy from the Honors College. Still, when Montaner later enrolled in graduate school, she didn’t feel institutionally prepared. Ultimately, it was that experience that sparked her interest in educational inequality and the different ways that students, postdocs, and researchers travel the academic pathway.
As an ACLS/Mellon postdoctoral fellow at UC Berkeley, Montaner has turned those questions into a one credit course available to students in the Arts and Humanities Division. The colloquium course, called “Practicing the Humanities”, is intended to help graduate students think through the ways they can promote their research and teaching experiences to non-academic audiences and explore what life might be like off the tenure track.
“It’s sitting down with students and asking, what do you really want to do with your life? Montaner said. “The tenure track is harder than it was even 10 years ago.”
In Montaner’s view, the opportunity to consider alternative paths other than academia is incredibly important, especially in an era of perpetual crisis. Academic work is increasingly contract based, lower paid, and more precarious. Montaner says the students she works with are immensely talented, but still graduate students struggle to consider other options beyond academia.
“Students at Berkeley have been working so hard on academic achievement that there hasn’t been a lot of time for other experiences.”
Montaner is asking herself some of the same questions about what’s next. She’s worked as a professional photographer for years, and for a time worked in finance – both which served as examples of how career diversity can contribute to academic work and vice versa. When Montaner’s position at Berkeley ends in August, she’ll be applying for positions in academia and beyond, aiming to in some form continue her research into the historical conceptions of social inequality.
“It’s all about thinking about how research can make an impact in unexpected ways,” Montaner said.