A Linguistics PhD in Instructional Consulting

By Shana Melnysyn

Dr. Chris Odato, an Instructional Consultant at Keene State College, received his PhD in Linguistics at the University of Michigan in 2010.

Dr. Chris Odato is an Instructional Consultant at Keene State College in New Hampshire, where he works closely with faculty on course design and professional development. After a few years on the academic job market, he decided a tenure track position wasn’t the right path for him. So he started to reorient himself towards other types of work by thinking about what parts of an academic job he found most enjoyable and intellectually engaging.

While Odato was a postdoctoral fellow at Lawrence University, he had his first opportunities to design his own courses. He loved having the freedom to try new and innovative approaches to teaching. He started investigating the types of work that would allow him to stay in a university setting and work on instructional design. After determining that he would enjoy working in a teaching and learning center at a college or university, Odato decided to get some additional credentials. He had spent some time practicing course design through the Preparing Future Faculty seminar at U of M’s Center for Research on Learning and Teaching. But he still thought it was important to be able to show employers that he was serious about pursuing this career path and did not view it as a backup plan. So he earned a Graduate Certificate in Instructional Design from UMass Boston. This helped him to further develop his skills and knowledge of theory in the field and a more proficient vocabulary to describe his skill set to potential employers.

Dr. Chris Odato

In his current role as an instructional consultant, Odato assists faculty in designing and improving course materials and developing and implementing teaching strategies. He facilitates professional development opportunities for faculty, as well as learning communities where he works with groups of faculty on an ongoing basis to explore a specific topic of interest. These activities draw upon his experience teaching as a graduate student and postdoctoral fellow. Because linguists are trained in a wide variety of research methods, he is adept at analyzing both qualitative and quantitative data, which helps him communicate effectively with faculty in the sciences and humanities.

Odato’s PhD also gives him added credibility when working with faculty, who appreciate that he understands the limitations on their time as well as the logistical challenges of implementing new practices in the classroom. His work as a Graduate Student Instructor gave him valuable experience working with professors to fulfill their teaching goals.

Part of Odato’s job at Keene State is to research effective practices in higher education and keep up to date on research about effective practices for teaching and learning. He synthesizes his findings in order to make informed recommendations to faculty who are interested in assessing how well their classroom approaches are working. Sometimes he helps faculty design research projects to collect and analyze their classroom data.

Networking was a valuable tool for Chris Odato as he was preparing to change fields. While living near Dartmouth College, he made connections with professionals working in the field of instructional design in higher education. These informational interviews helped him to better articulate how his skills and experience align with the responsibilities of this work and further develop the right language to describe his qualifications to potential employers. He also found the resources on Versatile PhD extremely useful for help crafting his resume, and he encourages graduate students at U of M to take advantage of their free membership through the university! Odato’s professional journey shows how important it is to use every resource available to learn what you enjoy, where you will thrive, and how to “speak the language” of the field you want to work in.

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