Our May 4 event, Post Grad (Center): Engaging Publics with a Ph.D., was attended by about sixty students and alumni throughout the day. We were pleased with this turnout, especially after speaking with various committee members who noted a surprising drop-off in student attendance at events this entire academic year.
Our check-in and morning panel was in the Segal Theatre at the Graduate Center. We distributed programs and personalized event swag (bound notebooks with event information inscribed on the cover) as our attendees arrived for coffee and a light breakfast. Our event began with an introduction from Provost Joy Connolly who provided an overview of the Next Generation Humanities Ph.D. Planning Grant and the project undertaken by the Graduate Center. We then moved right into our first panel, “Why the Humanities,” which featured three alumni panelists with diverse career paths and trajectories. Stacy Hartman, the Project Director of MLA’s Connected Academics, moderated the session and included some opportunities for audience questions.
Lunch corresponded with our keynote talk. Dr. Fatimah Williams-Castro spoke with students and alumni on making connections and networking. This was the highest attended portion of the day, likely due to both the draw of a “keynote” and the timing of the event to coincide with lunch, which was provided. Student feedback about Dr. Williams-Castro’s talk was particularly positive. We even arranged to have Dr. Williams-Castro return for another, related Career Planning event at the beginning of June: “Discover Your Options.”
While the keynote talk was happening in the Segal Theatre, the Provost, program Executive Officers, and key members of the Core Working Group met to discuss the ideas for curricular change generated thus far during project meetings. The key discussion points included the following:
- Career development for a wider range of careers at all stages of doctoral coursework
- Alternatives to the monographic dissertation
- Internships and other types of service for doctoral students
- Expanding mentorship
- Collaborative work
- Diversifying admissions
Although the EOs did not voice strong enthusiasm for curricular changes, there also was not a sense of resistance. This was the first time that many of the EOs heard any details about the project, so most of their questions focused primarily on specific curricular questions. The primary action item for the EOs is to begin devising professional development modules within their own programs that are geared toward career choices. It’s still unclear whether the faculty have a true awareness about the lack of available tenure-track positions and the actual student placement outside of academia. It’s also become apparent that the faculty need to be made more aware of the work of our institutional offices, such as the Office of Career Planning and Professional Development, the Graduate Center Digital Initiatives, and the Futures Initiative.
After lunch, we directed event attendees down to the Concourse Level for alumni breakout sessions. The sessions were organized primarily around different types of public engagement. The first two panels were “Communicating” and “Making and Supporting Tools”; the second set of panels were “Creating Content” and “Building Programs, Research, and Advocacy.” These afternoon alumni panels each had about three panelists in attendance and one additional alumni connecting via Skype, and they were moderated by graduate students. (For a complete list of panelists, please see our program webpage.) Our moderators guided the discussions so as to emphasize the multitude of pathways and opportunities open to graduates.
We moved back into the Segal Theatre for our final talk of the day. Jason Pedicone, the co-founder and president of the Paideia Institute, gave a talk titled “Beyond the Tenure Track: A Legion of Opportunities.” Dr. Pedicone highlighted the public engagement of his company and shared data regarding the placement of Classics Ph.D.’s across business sectors. In particular, the job placement data incited discussion and curiosity amongst both students and alumni in attendance. Transparency regarding alumni placement is undoubtedly of interest to many seeking careers outside academia.
Dr. Pedicone’s talk led directly into our end-of-day reception. Attendees were encouraged to eat and drink while networking and continuing Next Generation Ph.D. discussions.
While extending gratitude to the various alumni panelist participants, we solicited feedback regarding what they would have liked to have seen during their time as students at the Graduate Center. Much of the alumni feedback lauded the work that the project committee has been doing because of its importance and usefulness for students. Simply seeing examples of types of jobs and careers Ph.D.’s have and could pursue can be eye-opening. Helping students think about careers outside of academia from the very beginning of their graduate training might enable them to accumulate relevant experience prior to entering the job market and thus to have a better sense of a desirable, attainable career path. Above all, those students pursuing “alternative” careers (meaning: everything beyond the academy) need to feel supported. More than one alumnus stated that their own graduate program did not provide support or encouragement for intellectual and professional aspirations that veered from the tenure track. Most of our programs continue to celebrate faculty placements above and beyond job placements in other careers. Events such as this one seek to change the conversation and to help students identify individuals and centers at the Graduate Center who celebrate professional diversity.
Other ideas include items that have come up during our Working Group and Steering Committee meetings: more career panels featuring alumni or other professionals from non-academic careers, funding opportunities for students to work outside academia (especially in professions that acknowledge the benefits of advanced degrees, e.g., libraries, museums, foundations, and NGOs), and organizing workshops and courses around such topics as academic publishing and networking (which would benefit both those seeking careers inside and outside academia).
One alumni who is a seasoned learning technologist argued that the Graduate Center should be doing more to help academics become digitally savvy: “So long as the university model is part of this equation of preparing tomorrow’s knowledge workers, academics—especially humanities academics who have some training that could help here—are able to participate in being positive agents of change either within the academy in tenure-track positions or outside the academy.”
For more insight about our event, see what our participants had to say on Twitter by following our hashtag: #PostGC2017.