Xuxu Song is a fifth year Ph.D. candidate in German in the UCI Department of European Languages and Studies where her research focuses on Early German Romanticism. Through the Humanities Out There Fellowship at the UCI Humanities Center, Xuxu has used summer internships that align with her personal interests to explore alternative career paths and develop useful professional skills. She has worked with the World Affairs Council of Orange County and SAGE Scholars at UCI.
Can you describe your PhD research?
The original plan was to work on something related to WWII because that’s my childhood passion, and that’s what got me into German. But then I took a seminar with my current advisor, Dr. John H. Smith, and I developed an interest in German thinking around 1800. The period that I’m working on is called Early German Romanticism and my project focuses on a literary journal called the Athenaeum. I want to see this journal as a work of art of the Early Romantics, to approach it in its own right aesthetically, instead of just a journal.
What kinds of experiences have you had outside of academia?
I got a Master’s in Public Administration at USC before I came to UCI, so I have a relatively diverse educational background and am exploring options.
For summers, I applied to different internships through the Humanities Out There Fellowship. I applied last year to the World Affairs Council of Orange County which focuses on educating the OC community on international affairs. It aligns very well with my personal interests and past experiences outside of my research. For this summer, I again went through the Humanities Out There Fellowship and applied to SAGE Scholars. I developed an interest in higher education not just as a professor but as an alternative in the higher education setting. The SAGE Scholars program is a really amazing and impactful program to help junior and senior UCI students who have significant financial need with leadership training, professional development and graduate school planning.
What has surprised you about your work in these positions?
I think everything so far has been very useful and very different from working as a TA at the university. For example, in the World Affairs Council of Orange County, it sounds like a really big organization but it’s actually a very small non-profit organization even though they have a very long history. The nature of small non-profit organizations is less structured. You have more freedom to develop your skills. You have to be versatile and good at multitasking. At the SAGE Scholars program, it’s a two person team, but their program has a huge impact on the individual lives of these undergraduate students. It’s not like a task gets assigned to you and you accomplish the task and that’s it. You have to make sense of the relationship between all the ongoing projects there.
Did you find your PhD skills and internship skills mutually useful?
I think it’s really important that humanities graduate students can work outside of academia. Being a TA is like project management work, so I got those skills from teaching. My grant writing experience really helped me a lot with these two internships because both of them involved fundraising. For the World Affairs Council of Orange County, I had to write the letters of intent to find prospective donors and funding opportunities. I think that is very similar to the process that I went through when I was applying for a grant from a German institution. This year with the SAGE Scholars, we are also doing a ZotFunder campaign which I helped with. I also had to put together a narrative synthesizing and describing the whole curriculum and goals of the SAGE Scholars program.
What advice would you offer readers?
The first thing is you need to know yourself and do a self-assessment. What are you interested in and what are you good at? What skills do you have? You have to pay attention to the opportunities out there, because it’s not always a problem of a lack of opportunities. You have to pay attention to them. You have to know what you want to do and then give it a try. I think with that in mind, you can explore different options -- especially one that has something that is appealing to you that aligns with your personal interest. Keep an open mind and explore. Especially over the summer for PhD students in the early years, internships are a great time to do that career exploration.
Why is work experience outside of academia important to you?
It’s especially important for humanities graduate students because we are less connected to industry and to other sectors. People tend to take for granted that humanities students should work in academia, but actually there are a lot of choices. It gives us a chance to apply the theoretical knowledge that you have gained and to use the skills that you think only apply to academia and to connect to the world in various ways. Because of the nature of the humanities, it’s not connected to any specific industry like chemistry or biology. It’s more broad. Working outside of academia can really help you explore the world and apply what you have been doing throughout your Ph.D. years in the real world setting.