Monthly Archives: September 2016

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Steering Committee: September Report

Overview

The purpose of the Project Steering Committee’s September meeting was to share notes from the Core Working Group’s first meeting and continue the discussion of possible curricular changes with this larger group.

As the inaugural meeting of the Project Steering Committee, the first portion of the gathering focused on practical aspects of the planning grant. The Graduate Center’s three planning themes were discussed at length, as was the intended relationship between the Core Working Group and the Project Steering Committee. Time was also spent sharing ideas and best practices from other institutions and updates from the NEH and Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) regarding the Next Generation Humanities Ph.D. grant.

However, the majority of the discussion centered on sharing out and discussing possible curricular changes to (humanities) doctoral programs.

Possible Curricular Changes

The discussion began with the question of using qualifying exams to develop real world skills.

The Ph.D. Program in English recently revised its qualifying exam following a survey in which students expressed feelings that the previous exam felt stressful without any clear pay off. As a result, the program re-engineered the exam with a focus on (academic) professionally-oriented tasks such as preparing an annotated bibliography. A committee representative from the English Program admitted that the program’s Executive Committee hadn’t considered incorporating non-academic professional tasks into the exam. Nevertheless, the portfolio exam model is an example of a curricular requirement already at place in a doctoral program that might be reframed in order to interweave academic and non-academic skills.

The Ph.D. Program in Art History has begun such skill development with their Mellon grant for curatorial training. The program has twelve curatorial fellowships, which allow students to take off one year from their Graduate Teaching Fellowships to work in a museum. Although museums are often most likely to choose candidates with prior curatorial experience rather than career academics, the skills that lend themselves to teaching also lend themselves to curatorial roles. Students in the program also complete an exhibition proposal, and the student with the best proposal has an opportunity to bring their exhibition to the James Gallery. Unfortunately, the Art History Program also suffers when ABDs leave the program in order to pursue non-academic careers.

In contrast, one committee member noted that students in the Ph.D. Program in Theatre are often interested in academe because of the scarcity of stable, full-time theatre careers. Nevertheless, practical experience in professional theatre often helps students succeed in securing academic jobs. Those who do seek professional careers in the arts often must compete in an international job market. Key concerns for Theatre Program faculty include being more responsive to students interested in cultural or arts activism and supporting the endeavors of students who participate in their own theatre companies. However, best practices for building these types of practical careers have not been gathered.

Committee members familiar with the Graduate Center’s STEM programs were able to offer some insight into some developments outside of the humanities as well. For instance, the biomed programs have shifted to making their qualifying exam a grant application. Additionally, two students launched a biomed club to figure out what kinds of skill sets can help students succeed in biopharma. Meanwhile, the Ph.D. Programs in Math, Physics, and Computer Science are experimenting with courses in mathematical finance since so many students are interested in that pathway. One problem that many students within science programs face is the fact that many non-academic jobs require lots of writing. This is often a considerable challenge for international students in particular.

Confronting Current Curricular Requirements

The discussion progressed onto the question of developing multiple tracks within each Ph.D. program. Within the History Program, the question of a public history track has been a recent topic of conversation. Such a track could provide students with practical experience. Unfortunately, such experience often requires financial support. There are potentially summer opportunities through various institutions and organizations, such as the Morgan and the Altfest Internship Program, that are supposed to give students this type of experience pre-graduation, but it is unclear whether students who partake in such opportunities share their experiences with their colleagues. Reporting back might help students understand the link between their field of study and non-academic paths and subsequently generate more student interest.

The Graduate Center has a digital Praxis course already in place. The course is built around the idea of getting students to engage with digital methods early on in their graduate study. Perhaps there is a way to get students involved in professional development early on in their graduate study as well.

One hurdle that the committees must face is the problem that Ph.D. programs at the Graduate Center are already requirement heavy. The ultimate goal of the NEH initiative must be to change the programs themselves, not to add additional tasks.

Trimming requirements for doctoral programs would need to be an institution-wide initiative. Faculty buy-in would be imperative to reduce requirements. One idea that came up was the possibility of faculty development grants for developing courses geared towards a more flexible vision of professional development. Some programs have already begun to have conversations about helping students get to the dissertation earlier, but there exists, at least in some places, cultural anxiety about reducing requirements as faculty worry that this is a chance to cut staff.

Moving Forward

Committee members generally agreed that it would be useful to collect and aggregate data regarding graduate career placement. Notably, the percentage of students who pursue alternatives to academic careers is likely to vary widely between programs. Understanding where Ph.D. graduates end up might help the grant committees determine what additional skills students need to build in order to succeed in these settings. The Graduate Center has previously completed a “Linked In” study, and there is a possibility that career outcomes data could be pulled from that report.

Regardless of what careers students peruse, the institution needs to be more flexible with curricular pathways. Early research leads to early degree completion.

Steering Committee: September Agenda

We just finished our first Project Steering Committee meeting. There were lots of ideas regarding possible curricular changes that were brought forward and discussed in-depth. Our next post will detail some of that discussion.

For now, here is a copy of our meeting agenda:

Project Steering Committee Meeting
September 26, 2016

Meeting Agenda:
  1. Outline practical aspects of the grant
    • Planning themes: curriculum, data, partnerships
    • Meeting schedule for the academic year
    • Interactions between Working Group and Project Steering Committee
    • Sharing information
  2. Updates from NEH and CGS
  3. Discuss inclusion of additional committee members
  4. Share ideas and best practices from other institutions
  5. Share and discuss possible curricular changes to doctoral programs
    • Using qualifying exams to develop real world skills
          –
      Define desirable professional skills
    • Embedding elements of GCDI Praxis course into early stages of doctoral coursework
          –
      Identify possibilities of working within programs’ course requirements
          –
      Possibility of a for-credit interdisciplinary humanities professional development course
          –
      Possibility of a three- to five-course humanities professional development certificate program
    • Changes to the form and structure of the dissertation
    • Receiving academic credit for internships, externships, and job shadowing experiences
  6. Building consensus and support among faculty members for any proposed changes

Working Group: August Report

Overview

During its first meeting, the Core Working Group had several tasks to accomplish in order to get the NEH planning grant off to a running start. Members of the Core Working Group needed to better familiarize themselves with the intent and purview of the Next Generation Humanities Ph.D. grant and the project goals outlined by the Graduate Center in our grant application before jumping into serious preliminary discussion about implementing change in the institution.

Planning Themes

The meeting began with the Project Leaders outlining project priorities and elaborating on our three planning themes. (See our last update post to read more about our planning themes.)

Grant Logistics

After outlining the goals of our planning themes, the Core Working Group addressed some housekeeping issues. The meeting schedule for the rest of the academic year was set. For the most part, meetings will take place on the first Tuesday of the month, and measures will be taken to allow committee members to video-conference into meetings if need be.

The Working Group also discussed best practices for sharing working documents. We will use Dropbox for static documents (e.g., articles, reports, administrative documents), and we will use Google Docs for working documents (e.g., meeting minutes). Google Docs offers the advantage of version control. Once a working document is complete, it will be moved to our project Dropbox. Depending on the content, these documents may be posted to our website to be accessed by the public.

A list of the current Project Steering Committee members was scrutinized by the Working Group in order to revise the list prior to the Steering Committee’s first meeting. In particular, we discussed the inclusion of students on the committee and concluded that the selection was best left to the Doctoral Students’ Council (DSC). There were some suggestions regarding possible alumni and additional faculty members to include on the committee, and the Project Leaders agreed to follow up with them regarding their interest in the project. A key concern right now is that all humanities programs have some committee representation for the duration of the project.

Possible Curricular Changes

The preliminary discussion about implementing curricular changes at the Graduate Center began with an analysis of recent changes to the English Program’s qualifying exam. According to a program representative, English Ph.D. students found the previous version of the qualifying exam to be unhelpful. It was decided to make the exam mimic discipline-specific tasks, in particular, writing tasks students would have to complete if they secured a tenure-track position. Ph.D. Programs in French and Philosophy are also experimenting with making their exams mimic the work of faculty members.

The discussion then turned to skills-based training. The committee pursued the question of whether or not the assessment of student skills needs to (or should) live in individual programs. Some specific questions that arose from this discussion include:

  • What are the skills we want doctoral students to have?
  • Which of these skills can come through individual programs (even if they need to be worked on in a more conscious way)?
  • Which skills would need to be added to current training?

The committee came up with the following short list of desirable skills:

  • Project management
  • Supervising or collaborating with others
  • Budgeting
  • Grant writing
  • Writing for a range of audiences
  • Ability to recognize the correct (digital) tool for a given project
  • Presenting and facilitating discussion
  • Quantitative literacy

The committee was encouraged to take a look at the American Library Association’s Framework for Information Literacy to find ideas to express the skills that humanities Ph.D.s can bring to an employer.

In moving out from the list of desirable skills, the discussion turned to the following questions:

  • How can we have students understand the development of these skills as a necessary part of doctoral work?
  • How can we have an employer understand doctoral skills as an advantage rather than a liability?

We also discussed the tension between wanting to spin the Ph.D. into something completely different versus selling the Ph.D. as a body of accumulated knowledge. One committee member asked that we keep in mind the idea of the Public Scholar, someone who can address both parties with specialized knowledge and the general public.

The discussion turned once more, this time to the Graduate Center’s Digital Praxis course. Two problems that the Praxis course currently faces are (1) it’s hard to get first-year Ph.D. students to register for a year-long course and (2) the structure of individual programs might not allow first-year students to take electives. It’s possible that these problems highlight the tension between old modes of book-oriented scholarship and new modes of digital scholarly practice. One difficult question to address is the timing of introducing curricular alternatives: When is the best moment for intervention? It might be easier to sell a course like the Praxis if it were tied to a dissertation project as a student makes the move from Level II to Level III. However, completing the Praxis in a student’s first year means that they already have these alternative ways of approaching research questions in place so as to avoid redoing or rethinking such approaches as work on the dissertation begins.

Moving Forward

Two other possible curricular changes (changes to the form and structure of the dissertation and receiving academic credit for internships, externships, and job shadowing experiences) were tabled for the Steering Committee’s first meeting in September and the Core Working Group’s follow-up meeting in October.

Also, the committee began a much lengthier discussion of which employers to partner with and how best to do that. How can we “sell” humanities doctoral students to employers who may be interested in them? During times of scarce resources, these ideas can be hard to get employers to buy into. One possible resource is the 4Humanities alliance. This point of discussion will definitely continue later in the year when we address our planning theme of partnerships.