My Education and Career


Hi, I’m Dr. Jackson Crawford. I’m an Old Norse specialist teaching at the University of Colorado Boulder, previously UC Berkeley in UCLA. I’m surprised how many people asked me to talk about this, but in this video I’m going to cover a very frequently asked question, which is about the particular form that my education and career path took. Whether or not anyone wants to try to duplicate that path, whether that’s a good idea or not, I don’t know. Whether that’s even possible or not, I don’t know. Because a lot of it is pure chance. But I’ll give you the basic details. So I grew up all over the West although I’ve traditionally regarded Colorado and Wyoming as home — don’t make me choose between them. By high school, I was in Texas and so I went to Texas Tech University, which is not a technical school in spite of the “Tech” in its name; the “Tech” is entirely superficial. (People ask about that.) And I studied Classics, Greek and Latin, that was my major and my minor was linguistics. Now, my thinking in doing this was, I wanted to study historical linguistics in graduate school, and the best way to prepare for that would be to get more of a background in ancient languages, Greek and Latin being what were on offer at Texas Tech. So, that’s what I did. And then I went to the University of Georgia for my master’s degree in linguistics; I specialised in historical linguistics studying under the magnificent Jared Klein there who, I believe, is still there and still teaching. And, he advised me (I don’t think there’s any impropriety in repeating his advice) that either I continue at the Ph.D. level studying linguistics with a specialisation in a particular group of languages, or studying a particular group of languages and specialising in linguistics. In other words, in my case since I was very interested in the history of the Scandinavian languages, be the “Scandinavian guy” in linguistics conferences or be the linguist at Scandinavian conferences. I chose, more or less, the latter, and I applied at departments of Scandinavian studies, of which there are a few offering graduate programs in the United States — Berkeley, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Harvard, and Washington, i.e. Seattle, are, I believe, the programs that exist. Anyway, that’s where I applied and I wound up sitting at the University of Wisconsin Madison, with Kirsten Wolf, and she guided me through my PhD. I spent two years on coursework and then I spent… let me think… four years as a dissertator. One of those years I remained in Madison but then the last three of those years I actually was hired at UCLA as faculty while I was still completing my PhD with the University of Wisconsin, two thousand miles away. Academia is weird. But another thing about how academia is weird is, I was teaching full-time at UCLA those three years, but I was on only one-year contract so I never really knew until the summer whether the job was going to continue. And I was teaching as a replacement for a tenured professor who was no longer teaching. So, you know, we always had to see if he was going to come back or not, to see if I would have a job the next year. Not a particularly stable way to live. Finally, of course, that individual was no longer on leave and so my job ended. And so that summer I went looking for employment. Now, what’s kind of odd about this is that, of course, I’d been teaching for three years at UCLA without a PhD. I was a PhD candidate at the University of Wisconsin, but had not yet defended my dissertation. I actually defended my dissertation at the end of spring in 2014. I went to Wisconsin, defended my dissertation, and I came back to UCLA and found out that I wasn’t going to have that job the next year. So as far as I knew, my academic career actually ended when I got my PhD, rather than began. And, of course, it was late in the year. I was unable to find academic work. Part of what I discovered is that what your terminal degree is in, what your last diploma says you have a degree in, really affects the departments you can work in. Some community colleges and smaller colleges and universities have, actually, rules, apparently, that if you were going to be hired in, say, an English department, even though I had taught, basically, English classes, and literature and composition, You have to have a degree that says “English” on it or “composition” on it and of course my PhD diploma says “Scandinavian studies” with a specialization in philology, which you know, it can be difficult to convince anyone, even in a university setting, what that means, or that it’s relevant to what they need. So, the work I was able to find that year (2014 to ’15) was at a small museum in a wonderful town, in Riverton, Wyoming. I worked there for a year, and then I was hired at UC Berkeley, so another university in the University of California system, on another one-year appointment that was 2015 to ’16 and then that was renewed in 2016 – ’17, and then in February 2017. And, of course, this whole time, you know, beginning in my third year, I think, of being a PhD student at the University of Wisconsin, I’ve been applying for jobs constantly. It’s just part of the academic lifestyle, you’re constantly applying for jobs. And I kept an eye out, of course in Colorado and Wyoming. It was always where I wanted to be but I thought it was unrealistic to think the Old Norse job at the University of Colorado would ever open up for me. I mean, just the random chance wasn’t gonna happen. Oddly enough, it did. So in February 2017 I interviewed for that job, and I got it. So in August 2017, I came to the University of Colorado Boulder. That job is not tenured or tenure-track. Tenure is increasingly rare; of course, part of that probably has to do with how it has been abused, and I’ve seen some serious abuses. Part of it is just, you know, funding. It’s cheaper to pay people who aren’t tenured and so every university competing with every other university has trended away from awarding new tenure lines. So, I don’t know whether to encourage people to try to follow these trains or not, but that is the particular career path that I have followed both in education and then in teaching, and sometimes concurrently because of course, I was a dissertator at the same time that I was teaching at UCLA. Pretty strange situation: student at one school and faculty at another — full-time faculty at another. In fact, most of the money I owe on my student loans I owe for the years I was teaching at UCLA because Wisconsin wouldn’t give me financial aid because I was getting a paycheck from another university. Of course, California is extremely expensive. And while California is beautiful and there are fine people and the students were fantastic, you know, it’s not my… it’s not my country, and I always did want to get back to the Rockies and I’m so glad that I’ve had that opportunity thanks to the University of Colorado. And, of course, it was the necessity of living in such an expensive place in California that got me looking at alternative sources of income — which eventually led me to starting this YouTube channel to try to get people interested in my translations for instance, of the Poetic Edda and the Saga of the Volsungs. And then eventually to start a Patreon account which has been very helpful. My biggest advice to anyone who wants to get into higher education is to have some kind of backup skill, something else you can be hired at, that is easier to explain to an employer in times of economic difficulty. Because even my other skills are not necessarily extremely… career-driven. I mean, like sharpshooting or whatever — it’s cool, but nobody’s gonna pay you for it. You can maybe win a little bit of money in contests. Anyway, I hope that’s been somewhat interesting or informative for some of you, and from beautiful Wyoming, I’m wishing you… all the best.

69 thoughts on “My Education and Career”

  1. I suppose people are just interested in how someone gets the idea to get into your field (let's be honest – it is rather specific).

  2. Its true what you say: it makes sense to have other skills as a backup when you try to survive in the academic business. It's the same story here in Germany. That's exactly why I finished my Master of Education before starting my phD. Nevertheless I earn good money here working as a university teacher while writing my phD thesis. Over here you struggle financially as a student not as an academic with a degree (the subject doesn't matter).

  3. thank you Dr Crawford – it sounds like a rambling, but ultimately fulfilling path – and it is very distinctively your own 😉 – it's win-win having this channel – so wonderful you sharing your knowledge and expertise with us – very much valued and appreciated – as well as providing that extra support & revenue for you 🙂

  4. Thank you so much for creating this video. My youngest is an English major at CU Boulder entering her junior year and is thinking about her career path after graduation. Unlike her older sister who obtained an Engineering degree at Mines, she will have to work harder to define a path that will help pay off those out-of-state tuition loans. It's very fascinating and gratifying to learn how others in academia have found a way to study what they love and make a living. All the best to you for the 2018-19 academic year!

  5. Academia can definitely be quite a pain in the ass. Especially when it gets to non-tenure track positions, or, God forbid, adjucts.

    If you see this Dr. Crawford, I do have a question: I'm planning on getting a linguistics degree (with a focus on Germanic languages) from a university that has a program once I complete my current double major, and I've always planned on going to UW Seattle, because I loved that city when I visited, but I don't want to attend a program that won't work for what I'm doing.

    Is Seattle a good option for what I'm interested in, or should I look towards other universities?

  6. Tought and difficult beginning, yet you did it and you are consider as a popular and well-knowledged person and also you are my favourite person to watch on youtube ! I wish I had you as a teacher at my university. You would make my studies even better and filled with old norse knowledge! Take care Doc. !

  7. You are amazing. You have such great knowledge and a superb way of putting it over, making something that could be quite dry into a wonderfully entertaining and interesting thing.

  8. Excellent. I'm a CU alumnus, watching from Shanghai! It's cool to hear about your path to it, and it makes me kind of wish you'd been teaching at CU when I was there but a handful of years ago.

  9. Great story. This is why I didn't go into for an academic career in the end. Nevertheless, I love reading academic literature in the subjects that interest me.

  10. All the best to you too Dr. Jackson Crawford!! You're my most reliable source for Ancient norse Myths and Culture, thank you very much for sharing your expertise with everybody, i consider all the knowledge that i learned from you as important 🙂 when i graduate and finally have an income i'll be a patron

  11. This scares me because this is similar to the education/career path that I plan on going on in the next few years, though I’m more into West Germanic languages. I was planning on majoring in linguistics with a minor in probably German, but is this still a good idea since I would like to end up in historical linguistics? Or should I major in Greek/Latin like you did? How much do you think that helped or hurt you?

  12. Publish a link to your dissertation please. Philology? Oh pulleeeeze. I actually studied philology at universities in Bogotá. Harder to get a job in this country in philology than linguistics. LOL. Actually, the course was a good one on signs and symbols.

  13. What was your favorite restaurant in Berkeley? I lived there until recently. Cheese Board Pizzeria was fun because of the unusual toppings.

  14. One other thing: There's a big misconception that someone with a degree like mine teaches only tiny, specialized classes. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact at CU Boulder my contract requires me to teach at least one class with 150 or more students every semester, and typically Norse Mythology, Icelandic Sagas, or Vikings will fill that much in one day of enrollments. Most of my students are taking one of these classes to fulfill a credit for Literature or History; vanishingly few have ever been majors in Nordic/ Scandinavian Studies.

  15. In an alternate universe I always wanted to study something like Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic at Cambridge, with a love of linguistics and philology (blame it on Tolkien). I have a love-from-afar for academia, though I’m sure the reality of that world is more like you said, it’s weird. A lot of politics involved. Thanks for sharing your story!

  16. Dear Dr.Jackson Crawford I just want to say on behalf of the Norse/Germanic Pagan communities, we are very lucky to have you giving public information the way that you do , please never stop, as coincidental as your occupation may seem, many of us don't believe in accidents.. you are meant to be a guide in the process , and one of the highest of note.. from all of us that support you.

    Fond Regards and utmost respect.

    Mikel Porter

  17. Interesting twists and turns, but I'm betting you'll eventually have a showdown with Arnold Schwarzenegger for the same voice over job.

  18. Man!! Your vids are getting better and better in terms of effects.. like that nice fade at the end 👌🏼 content is always on point! Thanks Dr. !!!

  19. I understand this so well. I work two jobs, one in academia, one in retail. I work mostly in online education. So many classes, especially at the intro level, are now being taught online in order to maximise profit margins for colleges. Plenty more butts in e-seats, the same tuition but very little overhead. I do not, however, earn enough to support myself so I had to take on a second job as a part-time shop assistant. The college I work for is in California, but I live in the UK as it's cheaper and I enjoy the quieter, more relaxed pace of life.

  20. This is so relateble for me, especially the constsntly applying for jobs. I'm an archaeologist from Sweden that's been working on an excevation in the UK for 6 months. In the end of this month the excevation is over and I will be unemployed.

  21. Good stuff. And yeah Jared Klein is still teaching there. I got my MA there in 2015, around that time, he was finally making the plunge into using the whiteboard instead of just chalk (never quite got the hang of putting the tops back on the markers though).

  22. thank you 🙂 your advice is really valuable to me, especially just as i'm going into college aiming for a linguistics degree.

  23. I appreciate your candor. As a fellow educator, I find that the sacrifice that is made to become and maintain status as an accredited educator is quite often ignored. I have enjoyed your channel and your Poetic Edda. Keep it up! You have a unique channel!

  24. I plan to apply to some Scandinavian Studies graduate programs this year at places you mentioned (Berkeley, Washington and Wisconsin)! I am also currently reading your translation of the Poetic Edda!

  25. In the Netherlands there is a separate high school branch (gymnasium) you can take that includes the classical languages as major subjects. Is there something like that in the US?

    In my high school specifically I could to go to gymnasium in the second year, if your grades were above 7 on average and after the second year you got the choice between Latin or Greek (Or both if you really wanted to). I didn't continue because I found math quite the challenge, even though I really liked Latin and Greek and the teacher we had made it a lot of fun. But it kind of fueled my interest for conlanging and the historical languages, including the historical Germanic ones, and I started doing some "research" as a sort of hobby. Dutch in high school only glanced over old Dutch and middle Dutch in literature, but a deeper look in how the language changed we never really got.

    I chose a higher education in pharmacy at the University of Groningen, and love what I do, but language (especially working on my conlang, based heavily on Proto-Indo-European) is still big hobby of mine.

    When I found this channel I subbed instantly, And I got to thank you for your awesome content, Dr. Crawford.

  26. Thank you so much for your story and advice, Dr. Crawford! I'd like to think that you made this video because you noticed my comment on your last one 😉 You've been a great help and inspiration to me, and I'll definitely keep your advice in mind as I embark upon this path. If ever you think of anything else to expand on from this video, or any other miscellaneous related thoughts please do let us all know!

  27. You have an absolute passion for your subject. I don’t know what else to say except… it is what it is and you excell and… it shows. Thankyou Jackson.

  28. If I were back at University; despite the fact that I majored in Chemistry and Physics, I would take your course for many reasons.

  29. I had no idea it was such a struggle like that. I always thought you chose a path, specialized in it then moved on to either teach or a larger career. A very honest view of what a college graduate in any path can typically expect. To veer totally off subject. I follow a dude that is deep into history and does really good fact checking, or he at least tries to be as accurate as possible. Is it true the vikings ever spoke of Atlantis? Going by timelines it seems unlikely they encountered them. But it seems they have heard of them. If so by whom?

  30. I was a Sanskritist as an undergraduate, but I went on in anthropology for graduate school because I thought it was nobler to study modern people because it might help give them a voice (I started college really young, so this was a decision I made maybe around age 17). If I were to go back, I know I’m a heartbeat what I would study. I’d go into Ancient Near Eastern Studies (your department may vary) and do comparative work on theoxeny (guests as gods) and it’s parallels with god-worship (the concept of gods as guests versus temples as the home of a god) in and across early societies across that entire trading area. I also have a longstanding interest in the poetics of Truth and the way it compels action (from Acts of Truth in ‘Sanskritland’ to the more geas-like formations you see in Celtic and Germanic stories. Philology is my one true love. I don’t meet others like me very often (though I know Masha), and it’s always an incredible sense of unburdening to know that people still arrive at this beautiful crossroads, despite the segregation it’s suffered at the hands of academic compartmentalization (¿departmentalization?). Sorry for the over-effusive language, but your story makes me feel less alone.

  31. Part of why tenure is becoming so rare is that tenure gives you freedom of speech- the culture at American universities is very opposed to people having the ability to think and study freely. It didn’t used to be this way, but it looks like the Frankfurt school won. If you find that your research or thoughts are not in line with Party doctrine, keep your head down and tow the line! Maybe this cycle will pass someday

  32. Excellent stuff! I have found, in my almost 50 years on this planet, that being flexible is the best skill of all. Yes, my degrees are in food science, human physiology, biochemistry, entomology, and botany. BUT… I can run a cash register with the best of them. I can manage a retail store. I can landscape and maintain yards. I can run a pest and disease prevention protocol in agricultural crops (both organic and conventional). I have done all of these things at one point or another in my life – because the bills need to be paid and I like having food in the kitchen.

    Dr. Crawford, I really enjoy your channel. Thank you.

  33. I think we were in the same Old High German class with Joe Salmons in Spring 2010. I ended up not following the academic path (not a lot of jobs and not a lot of money), but it's cool to see you've made a go of it. Love your videos too, by the way

  34. I'm surprised to hear you haven't spent any amount of time in Scandinavia during your studies. In Iceland for example. Isn't that relevant to a specialist in old norse myths, literature and language?

  35. I'm quite impressed with your channel (being a Dane myself, your subject has a natural interest) – and I really like this video about your academic background, especially how that is never quite as linear as one might expect. I, myself is a hybrid molecular biologist/software engineer who has been back and fourth between academia and industry several times for the past 20 years I can relate a lot to what you say. Cheers.

  36. Definitely true that academic types should have a backup…I have an MFA, but after 2 years of adjuncting, I had to give up on teaching and return to the corporate world as a programmer. I hope you make your way to a secure position, though. Your work and knowledge is amazing.

  37. Texas Tech University used to be Texas Technological College when it was founded in 1923. I don’t remember when the change occurred. Source: I graduated from TTU in the mid-2000s.

  38. Dr Crawford, you ROCK! I was born and raised in Boulder, but dragged away by the army to California during Vietnam. Linguistics and sharp shooting … What a combo!

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