Summer Centered: Michaela Richter ’25 Researches Professors’ Career Paths With an Eye on Equity
During a summer internship sponsored by the Center for Peace and Global Citizenship, Richter helped track hiring practices in academia and how they relate to careers in linguistics.
Despite the efforts of academic institutions to diversify their ranks, research has shown that women and racial minorities are underrepresented in faculty positions. These trends in academic employment “reflect and amplify larger social factors, like gender and race,” says Michaela Richter.
As a political science and linguistics double major, Richter has found an opportunity to explore one of the ways in which her chosen fields intersect by studying the hiring practices of Ph.D.-granting institutions in the United States and Canada to construct a portrait of linguistics careers over the past 70 years. During a summer internship sponsored by the Center for Peace and Global Citizenship, she has been working for a pair of linguistics professors and an independent scholar—Swarthmore College Visiting Assistant Professor Rikker Dockum and University of Michigan Assistant Professor Savithry Namboodiripad, along with Caitlin Green—to expand an existing data set by collecting CVs and combing through archived webpages in search of a better understanding of how faculty in the field are selected.
“I care deeply about academic equity and the politics of who influences the path of academic fields,” Richter said. “Since this project focused on this issue specifically in linguistics, it seemed like an interesting opportunity for me.”
Richter first began working on the research in February. Over the course of the summer, she has shifted from compiling additional data to helping the professors write an abstract for a paper that was submitted to the Linguistic Society of America. Now, she’s learning how to use data visualization methods, including the popular tool R, to analyze the trends she and her fellow researchers have found in the data.
“While we've mostly focused on post-grad institutions, undergrad institutions like Haverford are also implicated in the same trends,” Richter said. “Thinking about who we see in our faculty and why they ended up there is really important.”
Because the research focuses only on individuals who have secured a tenure-track position, Richter said, the project has led her to think more deeply about the “exclusionary paradigm” that separates academia from the general population. The educational path required to reach that point in a career is rigorous, and many people face barriers to entry along the way.
As she’s learned about data collection and the analysis required to write an academic paper, Richter has also been able to investigate her own future career path. The research has revealed that the length of “precarious employment” between graduating with a Ph.D. and securing a tenure-track position has lengthened significantly over the past 70 years, she said. Her research has allowed her to gain an understanding of how people working in linguistics have navigated their careers and stoked their interests. And if it helps her figure out what’s next after Haverford, that’s all the better.
Says Richter, “I'm partly hoping that this will tell me whether or not I'm built for a career in academia.”