Category Archives: Core Working Group

Full Meeting: December Agenda

Our first full meeting of both the Core Working Group and Project Steering Committee will take place tomorrow afternoon. Because the November meeting of the Core Working Group focused largely on wrapping up curricular discussions (see meeting report here), this meeting will be the first to fully address our second planning theme: data.

Our agenda for this meeting will cover both initial discussions and committee recommendations about data collection practices.

Full Meeting
Core Working Group and Project Steering Committee
December 6, 2016

Meeting Agenda:
  1. Presentation and short discussion of proposed curricular changes
  2. Look at current GC alumni data
  3. Discussion of data collection practices
    • Individual doctoral program methods of tracking and reporting data
    • Institution at-large methods of tracking and reporting data
      Office of Institutional Research and Effectiveness (Provost’s Office)
      Office of Career Planning and Professional Development
      Institutional Research study of 2003-2014 graduates (spring 2015)
    • Tracking career outcomes for those who leave doctoral programs
    • National conversation about data from CGS, NACE, MLA, AHA
  4. Beginning plans for May 4 event: Town Hall Meeting on Careers in the Humanities

Working Group: November Report


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.

Moving Forward

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.

Working Group: November Agenda

The next meeting of the Core Working group is scheduled for this afternoon. We will be transitioning from our first planning theme (curriculum) to our second (data).

Here is the meeting agenda:

Core Working Group Meeting
November 1, 2016

Meeting Agenda:
  1. Wrap-up curriculum planning theme discussions
    • Individual program syllabi addressing professional development
    • Additional dissertation forms
  2. Examine current alumni data collection practices
    • Individual doctoral program methods of tracking and reporting data
    • Institution at-large methods of tracking and reporting data
      Office of Institutional Research and Effectiveness (Provost’s Office)
      Office of Career Planning and Professional Development
      Institutional Research study of 2003-2014 graduates (spring 2015)
  3. Discuss possible changes to data collection
    • Sharing data across academic programs
    • Tracking career outcomes for those who leave doctoral programs
    • Best practices for developing an alumni networking database
      National conversation about data from CGS, NACE, MLA, AHA
  4. Further discussion of May 4 event: Town Hall Meeting on Careers in the Humanities

Working Group: October Report


The main goal of the Core Working Group during its October meeting was to finalize curricular changes suggestions for sharing with a wider faculty audience in various Graduate Center humanities Ph.D. programs. The meeting served as a continuation of the August discussion on curricular changes, as well as a response and synthesis of the inaugural September meeting of the Project Steering Committee.

Discussions centered on two main topics: (1) rethinking the dissertation and (2) creating alternative programmatic pathways.

Rethinking the Dissertation

In order to rethink the possibilities of what a dissertation in the humanities might be, the Working Group first set out to analyze the purpose of the dissertation. A key question that arose during discussion was the relationship between the dissertation and alt-ac careers: How much do (non-academic) employers care about the dissertation? Is the research process, subject matter, form, content, or mere completion of the dissertation most important for obtaining and advancing in alternative careers? Multiple committee members commented upon the credibility that having a Ph.D. provides even if no one knows the form or content of the dissertation itself.

The discussion then turned to alternatives to the dissertation monograph. Within many humanities disciplines, the possibility of curating some type of exhibition and then submitting an accompanying essay seems to be a likely monographic dissertation alternative. For students interested in such projects, a practical project might better align with particular non-academic careers because it demonstrates field-specific abilities.

The main dissertation alternative discussed was the creation of digital projects. One committee member commented upon the flexibility already in place within some Graduate Center Ph.D. programs for digital projects, although evaluation criteria for such projects is still unclear, as is the digital dissertation archival process. Specific, digital components of this new dissertation have yet to be identified, although committee members generally agreed that the most meaningful components of any dissertation are those which demonstrate career-oriented skill sets.

One major concern that the planning committees will need to address is faculty discomfort in accepting dissertations without print components.

Although the possibility of alumni sitting on dissertation committees was discussed, most committee members felt that such a change would be additive. While some alt-ac participation might be beneficial and add something of value in specific circumstances (notably the inclusion of musicians within the Music Program), there is no clear preparation for such inclusion.

Creating Alternative Programmatic Pathways

The second topic of discussion for the Core Working Group was alternative programmatic pathways. Various committee members addressed pre-existing conditions at place in the Graduate Center and higher education at-large that hinder progress towards the development of non-academic skill sets. Two major hurdles are (1) the ongoing myth perpetuated by students and professors alike that all current students will have future academic careers and (2) the fact that students come mostly into contact with academics and don’t know anything else. Along with these hurdles, the academic career-path is perpetuated by many humanities courses that use a final seminar paper as the only assignment.

One suggestion under serious consideration was the creation of a public humanities certificate program, which, in addition to core coursework centered on the public humanities and alternative career paths, could have an internship component. While there is some enthusiastic support for this idea amongst a few committee members, others fear that all certificate programs at the Graduate Center are additive, meaning that the program would add additional requirements to willing Ph.D. students rather than open up new programmatic pathways for all students. Additionally, the structure of certificate programs at the Graduate Center is already problematic as most rely on multiple doctoral programs for course offerings and are therefore under serious threat due to ongoing budget cuts.

Spurred on by the discussion regarding the creation of a public humanities certificate program, the conversation turned to ways of embedding the same ideas into every doctoral program, such as by pushing for a professional development module as part of every first year class. The first step in initiating this would be to gather course syllabi from each program in order to see what information they already present about professional development.

Moving Forward

Ultimately, though, it’s yet unclear how such changes could be incentivized for individual programs.

In moving forward, it’s become apparent that any changes to curriculum will require support from a network of people. The committee will need to make the argument to programs that providing students with reengineered training will benefit both them and their students.

Working Group: October Agenda

We just concluded the second meeting of the Core Working Group during which we attempted to wrap up our conversations about curriculum by synthesizing ideas from our August and September discussions. Our meeting report will be posted as soon as possible.

Here is the meeting agenda from this afternoon:

Core Working Group Meeting
October 4, 2016

Meeting Agenda:
  1. Review of last week’s Steering Committee Meeting conversation
    • Outcomes data as a means for building a professional curriculum
    • Do the programs have too many requirements?
    • How to promote a culture of other career possibilities among students? Among faculty?
    • Reaching students earlier
  2. Additional ideas regarding curricular change
  3. Bringing closure to curricular change discussions
  4. Preliminary discussion of May 4 event

Working Group: August Report


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.

Working Group: August Agenda

Yesterday was the first meeting for “The New PhD: A Renaissance of Public Education.” This inaugural meeting of the Core Working Group covered some general housekeeping and project overview, as well as beginning discussions regarding our first planning theme: curriculum. We will create another update post shortly with some details from our discussion.

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

Core Working Group Meeting
August 30, 2016

Meeting Agenda:
  1. Outline project priorities
  2. Planning themes: curriculum, data, partnerships
  3. Set meeting schedule for the academic year
  4. Discuss best practices for sharing working documents, etc.
    • Platform possibilities: Dropbox, Google Docs, Commons, Basecamp, Slack
  5. Discuss inclusion of individuals on Project Steering Committee
  6. Discuss possible curricular changes to doctoral programs
    • Using qualifying exams to develop real world skills
    • Embedding elements of GCDI Praxis course into early stages of doctoral coursework
    • Changes to the form and structure of the dissertation
    • Receiving academic credit for internships, externships, and job shadowing experiences