Where can a graduate degree from the University of Illinois take you? In this new monthly series, we catch up with one recent Graduate College alum and ask the question: "Where are they now?". Our first interviewee, Nile Blunt completed his PhD in History in 2011. After leaving Illinois, he began work at Phillips Academy, an independent secondary boarding school in Andover, MA. There, he serves as an instructor in history, the curator of the Academy’s Collection of Art and Antiques as well as the Academy’s Geographer at Large.
What was most surprising about your career path? Or, what has surprised you most about your current job?
As a graduate student, I expected, as most of my colleagues did, to enter the professorate after completing my degree. However, I found myself working at a boarding school, teaching students who are much younger than I had initially planned to teach.
In my current job, I was most surprised by my ability to teach and connect with secondary school students while also continuing to focus on my research and writing. When I began my job, given the rigors and time commitments of life at a boarding school, I did not expect to have the time to be able to work on the manuscript for my book project (forthcoming in July 2017).
What is the most interesting, rewarding, and/or challenging aspect of your job?
My dissertation and much of my graduate work focused, in part, on “material culture” as a form of historical inquiry. Here at Phillips Academy, I have been able to work hands on with a collection of rare and historically significant maps, sea charts, and atlases to help introduce students to the importance of historical cartography and the relevance of the physical objects and non-narrative primary sources in the study of history and a number of other disciplines. I have also been working with a large collection of art works and antique decorative objects both in curating small exhibitions as well as using these objects to reveal the connections between material culture and history for students at the secondary level. These experiences have been immensely rewarding.
What has been the most valuable transferable skill you gained from graduate school?
During my time at Illinois, I had the honor of being a Graduate Student Fellow at the Illinois Program in Humanities Research. As an IPRH Fellow, I not only honed my research skills but I also developed ways of taking often esoteric and highly specialized scholarship and making it accessible for students and non-experts. This has been extremely helpful in my teaching at a secondary school in my attempts to introduce students to important trends and methodologies in historical writing and research.
What experiences made an impact on your career choice?
I served as a teaching assistant for four semesters at Illinois. The amazing experiences that I had in the classroom, especially teaching the writing-intensive sections of the History Department’s Western Civilization courses, exposed me to the joys and rewards of teaching. While completing my degree, I chose to accept a job that would allow me to primarily focus on teaching, while also allowing me to continue my research.
What is one piece of advice you would give to graduate students at Illinois?
The very best piece of advice I can hope to offer is to be open-minded when on the job market and while attempting to carve out a career path. When you’re open to various kinds of opportunities both within academia and beyond, you allow yourself the chance to do something unexpected but potentially incredibly rewarding and fulfilling.
This interview is part of a new monthly Grad Life series called "Where Are They Now?" which chronicles the career paths of recent Univeristy of Illinois Graduate College alumni. Interviews are conducted by Laura Spradlin, the Thesis Coordinator at the Graduate College. She is an alumna of the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Illinois and studied English and French at Illinois Wesleyan University. Prior to joining the Graduate College, Laura worked in communications and public libraries. In her spare time, you can find her browsing libraries and used bookstores, writing, knitting, or running (slowly).