Fellowships at ITHAKA
An Interview with Colette Johnson
Established in 2018, the ITHAKA fellowship program offers a unique opportunity to early career researchers seeking to gain real-world experience and further their careers by working with one of ITHAKA’s services: Ithaka S+R, Reveal Digital, JSTOR Daily, or JSTOR Labs.
We spoke with Colette Johnson, director of strategy and operations at Ithaka S+R, who established the fellowship program, to learn about the inspiration behind the program and goals for future development.
What inspired you to start a fellowship program at ITHAKA?
Advanced training in research—whether through a formal masters or PhD program, or a nontraditional pathway—could take years. Forgoing years of traditional work experience in lieu of specialized education or training often leaves people who pursue this type of career path in a gray zone: they may be starting off their professional career as a researcher but have skills or subject-matter expertise equivalent to mid-career experience. I saw a gap in professional development offerings for people who were pursuing an advanced research degree or had otherwise made a commitment to having a career in research. My goal with starting this fellowship program was to provide early career researchers with an opportunity to get real-world experience on their resumes and to allow them to gain confidence in the ways their skills are valuable to a wide range of career paths.
What is the public value of a PhD?
First, not all of ITHAKA’s fellows are pursuing a PhD. We welcome anyone to apply who has the skills and experience to conduct research and has a passion for ITHAKA’s mission. People with a background in research have highly-developed skills, a powerful work ethic, and passion for what they do, but the transferable experience isn’t always well understood in non-academic industries. What has been most important to me in designing and evolving the program is that it serves highly-motivated, highly-trained individuals who represent a selection of our society’s next generation of thought leaders. It’s incredibly important that we find ways to harness that talent to solve some of the most intractable problems facing democracy, civic participation, and higher education. To give a few examples, one former fellow, Tangier Davis, co-authored an issue brief exploring how evidence-based teaching practices need to consider equity if they are to have an impact on all students. Another, Yuzhou Bai, conducted a landscape overview of research cores at large public and private institutions in the US. Heidi Booth, who has since joined our team full time, investigated the challenges that homeless and foster youth face in earning a postsecondary degree.
What’s next for the program?
Demand for fellowships at ITHAKA is really high; we get more applications for highly-qualified fellows than we have openings, so for me the priority is on trying to ensure we have as many positions each cycle as possible. ITHAKA works across many areas within higher education and scholarly publishing. Internally, I’m always looking to add new managers and get new teams to participate in the program so that we can offer fellows more opportunities and also exposure to more career paths.
Another way we’re able to meet the demand is through partnerships with colleges and universities who help us offset the costs of the fellowships. All of our fellowships are paid and we do that to ensure that no potential applicant is prevented from applying because of financial considerations. But on the flip side, it also means that we have financial constraints on how many positions we can fund in a given cycle. In some cases, schools have been able to help us offset the costs of the positions, which helps us offer more positions to more applicants.
Finally, we’re trying to make the program accessible to all potential applicants, including those who identify as justice-impacted. I want to make sure that our program isn’t only accessible, but is inclusive and that means continuously refining our hiring practices, our onboarding processes, and our program curriculum to ensure that both fellows and managers have the support they need to be successful.
Going even a step further, I want our fellowships to be accessible to people who are currently incarcerated. There is an unbelievable amount of red tape to cut through to get there, but we see offering opportunities for experiential learning and professional development as an extension of the work that ITHAKA is doing on incarceration.