Jonathan MacDonald is a 2017 graduate of the MA History program at Virginia Tech. He is the current Project Coordinator for the Before ‘Farm to Table’: Early Modern Foodways and Cultures at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. Before ‘Farm to Table’ is an interdisciplinary research initiative funded by the Mellon Foundation and housed within the Folger Institute, the library’s center for research and scholarship.
Q: After graduating from Virginia Tech’s M.A. program, what have you done professionally?
A: After graduating from Virginia Tech, I moved up to the Washington D.C. area. I briefly worked as a media cataloger at Sirius XM in Washington D.C., creating and describing archival audio records in the radio station’s database. I joined the Folger Shakespeare Library in January 2018 as the Project Coordinator for Before ‘Farm to Table’, a grant funded program that takes a collaborative and interdisciplinary approach to humanities research. I work with a small team of scholars and postdoctoral researchers to stage public lectures, scholarly events, and general humanities outreach centered around foodways in the Early Modern British and Atlantic world.
Q: What is one thing that you did at Virginia Tech that aided you in your professional or academic path?
A: It’s difficult to choose one thing. I was extremely grateful that Virginia Tech afforded me a variety of experiences across my coursework and graduate assistantships. My first year, part of my assistantship hours were dedicated to helping organize the Images and Texts in Medical History Workshop. Conference organizing was new to me, but I gained the confidence to head-up organizing the Bertoti Conference in 2017. More than anything, I am grateful for the supportive relationships I formed with those in my graduate cohort at Virginia Tech. Working with them organize the Bertoti Conference taught me a number of lessons which have been applicable in my role as a Project Coordinator at the Folger.
Q: What advice would you give current or future students wanting to pursue a path similar to yours?
A: Networking. I learned about the opening for my current position from a former undergraduate professor who I remained in contact with. But also keep an open mind and look for opportunities. My research at Virginia Tech had nothing to do with Early Modern European history, but the skills I developed at Virginia Tech – teamwork, conference organizing, administering projects – allowed me to fill a role in a humanities institution I would not have otherwise been qualified for.
Q: What has been a major challenge you have encountered in your career? How have you dealt with it?
A: Finding a job takes time and persistence, and luck. If I could do it again, I would have spent more time planning ahead. In the initial 6 months after graduation, I strung together part-time work to keep afloat and build a resume. Start planning and applying for jobs well before you graduate – I did not. There were moments where I drew on the support and guidance of my mentors, who advised me to pass on opportunities for full-time employment that did not feel like great fits. Those were very difficult decisions to make at the time but I am confident they were the right decisions to make.
Q: What are your plans from here?
A: My position at the Folger is grant-funded, so at the conclusion of the grant I plan to resume graduate studies in a Ph.D. program. From there, I am equally excited to explore opportunities in the professoriate or in other non-profit humanities institutions.