Although the original purpose of the Core Working Group’s November meeting was intended to be the inaugural discussion of data collection practices, the committee’s wrap-up of curricular discussions was exceedingly productive and dominated the meeting.
Our meeting focused on three areas: (1) analyzing program professional development syllabi, (2) discussing the implementation of career planning modules, and (3) (re)considering the value of digital dissertations.
Professional Development Syllabi
Following last month’s discussion about implementing a professional development module as part of every doctoral program’s first year class, the Project Leaders gathered course syllabi and other professional development materials from the various humanities PhD programs and made them available to the Core Working Group. At the beginning of our meeting this month, the committee directly addressed the gathered documents, which provided the basis for much of our discussion.
One committee member raised the logistical concern of inserting nonacademic elements into the existing syllabi. Would it be a two week session? How could these elements help students think about nonacademic jobs? Additionally, it’s unlikely that faculty members would be able to lead these sessions as most don’t have expertise in nonacademic career options.
Another committee member noted that those programs that do include information about nonacademic careers in their syllabi often point to the existence of alt-ac positions (i.e., “we want to make you aware that you may have to look for other types of employment”) rather than helping students build skills. There was some surprise to see individual program syllabi (notably Philosophy) so heavily geared towards academia even when there are particularly few academic jobs in those fields. Additionally, several remarks were made about the requirement for Art History students to complete 50 hours of teaching preparation for no credit. Part of students’ eagerness may stem from the fact that they have teaching fellowships, and they may feel that they need this level of preparation to be successful. It certainly demonstrates that students are eager to broaden their professional capacity.
Implementation, Structure, and Content of Modules
The discussion regarding individual program syllabi then segued into discussion regarding the creation of modules in order to address professional development across humanities disciplines. Modules might be particularly effective because they can be designed for early use in programs rather than level three interventions.
There were some general concerns about the best way to implement a module format. For instance, could we press programs on several levels by adding specific learning outcomes to the accreditation requirements of each program? Could we require programs to demonstrate that they have met these outcomes? Another suggestion put forth was for faculty members to complete a workshop on mentoring students and helping them to develop leadership skills.
The Core Working Group generally seemed to like the suggestion of selecting a student cohort to pilot a project. The students who participate in the pilot could help work on the course module (as an alternative to faculty being required to do so). The individual programs could identify students who are open to thinking broadly about what it means to get academic training in the humanities.
One committee member suggested that it might be beneficial to rethink students’ WAC (Writing Across the Curriculum) fellowships, which were created in the 1990s. Perhaps a long-term plan could redesign them to align with a new module. Additionally, more flexible thinking around course credits could also open up interesting teaching possibilities.
After some brainstorming, the committee settled on the following list of desirable nonacademic learning outcomes:
- Ability to write for a general audience
- Flexibility and adaptability
- Ability to effectively collaborate
It was also agreed that mentorship is very important. We could work with programs to help students identify a secondary mentor, perhaps outside of the programs themselves. A benefit of the dual mentorship idea would be developing an additional reference for nonacademic jobs.
Another important phase of the module would be an internship component. If students could get a course release in the spring and then again in the fall (two course releases but not in the same academic year), they would have an entire calendar year to work on a project. Something akin to the Provost’s Digital Initiative could fund GC offices to hire students to work on worthy institutional projects.
Other module suggestions included advocating for the humanities and differentiating between writing for the public and scholarly communication.
In discussing desirable student skill sets that modules could promote, the conversation turned back towards the digital dissertation and the skill sets that it demonstrates.
Digital Dissertation Skill Sets
Two digital dissertation projects by Graduate Center students served as the nexus for the discussion:
Venereal Disease Visual History Archive
the web component of a dissertation by Erin Wuebker, GC PhD History
Walking with Whitman: A Mobile Walking Tour
a fully digital dissertation by Jesse Merandy
(project cited by the Chronicle of Higher Education)
Committee members familiar with digital dissertations commented that many of these projects are archive-intense Omeka sites and have some complementary written component. The audiences for digital dissertations varies, but they are often geared towards nonacademic audiences. Additionally, they demand a higher level of project planning and require students to share the building blocks of their project and think about accessibility. They require students to ask complex questions about maintenance and archives and to think about privacy and copyright concerns. Students learn about outreach and publicity. Students completing these projects have to get test users and work collaboratively. They also have to choose the right digital tool—exposure to a kind of decision-making that might happen on a regular basis in a nonacademic setting.
One committee member remarked that a humanities background is more and more relevant to public issues and questions. Gaining business-related skills would be extremely handy for humanities students.
The continuing discussion about possible curricular changes has been fruitful, and committee members have lots to consider before our May Town Hall Meeting.
The next project meeting is scheduled for early December. That gathering will be a full meeting of both the Project Steering Committee and the Core Working Group. Our goals will be the examination of data collection practices and the creation of recommendations around data collection.