Category Archives: Meeting Report

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May 4 Event Report

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:

  1. Career development for a wider range of careers at all stages of doctoral coursework
  2. Alternatives to the monographic dissertation
  3. Internships and other types of service for doctoral students
  4. Expanding mentorship
  5. Collaborative work
  6. 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.

Working Group: March Report

Overview

The majority of this Core Working Group meeting focused on discussions around the development and implementation of internships for graduate students. We had an alumna of the Graduate Center’s Political Science MA Program join our Core Working Group, which added greatly to our conversations about creating networks connecting alums to the GC.

Response to Curricular Review and Innovations from the Provost

The meeting began with an overview of the Provost-led discussion from last week’s meeting of the Steering Committee. Core Working Group members were encouraged to respond to the takeaways.

One committee member noted that there’s undoubtedly resistance to the proposed changes, likely because individual writing is being valued more than collaborative work. There is also resistance to on the job training being done outside of the classroom. Another committee member expressed a belief that the most effective tool for implementing new policies is changing opinions. Perhaps the best thing to do now is to begin acting upon our ideas. We need to put the policy into action and provide an example of its implementation in order to gain support from faculty members and students. When ideas stay in the abstract, people can more easily doubt the rigor and benefit of proposed changes.

Discussion about Internships

The third planning theme of our project is partnerships. We want to create more opportunities for students to experience work from a range of fields while still in graduate school, and we want to establish databases and practices for connecting students to both external organizations and alumni.

One idea is to reach out to those students at the GC who’ve already done internships outside of academia.

Another suggestion that interested multiple committee members is to focus on the skills-building perspective of internships. There’s an assumption that internships are usually focused on one task. Many internships and non-academic careers require some basic, ubiquitous skills, such as budgeting, event management, and working collaboratively. These are skills worth learning. Praxis classes have already been working on skill building.

There are opportunities for the Graduate Center to partner with the Social Science Research Council (SSRC). The SSRC is a scholarly environment and already has a structure in place to bring on young people and young staff members. Their graduate interns are often short-term hires, and they are given a range of tasks, not just one thing.

Discussion around Implementation

As the conversation shifted from general ideas about internships to a more strategic discussion about their implementation, the Project Leaders posed a few questions for consideration: What’s the output that we’re looking for? What are we trying to create—a road map, or a list of obstacles? What additional components would the individual programs add?

Members of the Core Working Group agreed that we need to lay out the discussion about the training currently offered by the programs in order to have a better perspective about broader opportunities. For example, there’s currently a name change going on in the Theatre Program. (They are expanding to be called Theatre and Performance.) One committee member thinks that this expansive thinking can be extrapolated and brought to the other programs as a possible way to spin the resistance.

One of our alumni members expressed a contempt for teaching at the CUNY campuses while at the Graduate Center. The alum desired a more collaborative approach to pedagogy. She’s concerned about how much acknowledgement there is in programs about shrinking academic paths. Is there discussion regarding the value of having people with degrees in the world? Best strategies need to be laid out for students.

There was ample discussion about student funding and the possibility of retooling budget allocations. One committee member asked if the institution could afford to buy students out of their teaching fellowships. It doesn’t seem like a huge ask to have 5 or 6 students a year working outside of the building. Some of the constituent CUNY colleges have had to turn away teaching fellows because there is a limit to the number of open classes.

There’s also some opportunity for fellowships within the various project and student centers represented by our various committee members. For example, three different fellowships are offered through the Digital Initiatives, who uses a standard set of procedures: (1) orientation process – politics of institution, (2) shared code of conduct, (3) peer to peer mentoring, (4) self-evaluation / strengths, and (5) identify areas of growth (personal, academic, program). Similar procedures could be employed by other centers. However, it is important to acknowledge that not every office has the same caliber of program. Procedural changes for fellowships will take time. Also, sometimes the richer the caliber of experience is dependent on what management staff and student employees need.

One suggestion that has come up repeatedly is the desire to front-load a WAC (Writing across the Curriculum)-like internship in the second year of doctoral study. Holding off on WAC fellowships until the fifth year curtails students’ professional development.

Moving Forward

At the end of our meeting, we briefly discussed how to deal with our lack of student involvement in this planning grant process. The agreed-upon solution will be to go back to the DSC and ask for another round of recommendations. Students should be assured that the project requires a low level of commitment from them.

The next month will be spent finalizing plans for our May 4 event.

Steering Committee: February Report

Overview

The Project Steering Committee’s February meeting addressed feedback from the gathering of Next Gen PhD Project Directors. The meeting also included the Graduate Center’s Provost and a discussion about implementing curricular changes.

Discussion of Takeaways from Project Directors’ Meeting

Our discussion on the takeaways from the Project Directors’ meeting began with committee members identifying potential problems in designing project-based classes. There’s concern that digital projects and assignments organized by a faculty member won’t have the same currency or hold the same weight as independently-produced, individual research. Another committee member expressed that internships aren’t appropriate for students in his program because internships in that particular field aren’t equivalent to graduate-level engagement. Someone else raised the concern that work completed outside of the institution is inherently more difficult for instructors to evaluate.

This, in turn, raised the possibility of assigning someone the task of monitoring standards related to internships. This practice is already implemented in the Clinical Psychology Program. When students enroll in externships, a faculty member is responsible for coordinating the process. The faculty member checks on the appropriateness of the externship by conducting a site visit, talking to the potential supervisor, and creating a contract. Although the overarching process is laid out by the APA, faculty members are directly involved in supervising the process. Additionally, the companies involved benefit from student participation: They can bill for the hours and don’t have to pay the student, which is essentially free labor for them.

There was also some general discussion about how best to facilitate work in a public humanities research lab. The Center for the Humanities already offers some opportunities for students to engage in public humanities, as does the Martin E. Segal Theatre Center, although the Segal Center could expand to include more interdisciplinarity. One committee member noted that there is also a public humanities program at work in the city called Humanities New York, which offers potential for future collaboration.

Council of Graduate Schools’ PhD Pathways for Program Improvement

The Council of Graduate Schools has issued an RFP regarding career pathways. The grant would provide funding for the implementation and analysis of surveys to current PhD students and alumni to better understand their career pathways and outcomes. The Graduate Center will be putting together an advisory group, which will be tasked with identifying stakeholders and advising on best strategies to disseminate and use the data collected during the project for program and institutional effectiveness and improvement.

This new project resonates with elements of our current project, especially as it pertains to Humanities students. One important thing to consider will be the difference between incoming and outgoing student expectations and accounting for how these expectations might change.

Discussion with the Provost about Curricular Review and Innovations

The Graduate Center Provost, Joy Connolly, attended our meeting in order to address her office’s current review of Graduate Center curriculum and the possibilities for upcoming innovations.

Some of the takeaways from Dr. Connolly’s talk are as follows:

  • We need more promotion of our activities and participation with the Next Gen PhD to reach potential students
  • We need to build into the current curriculum. We need to create exposure to these ideas in different, existing classes; we need to get faculty to incorporate these ideas.
  • The Provost’s Office will share the results of another curricular reviews conducted by the program Executive Officers, which required them to compare the curricular requirements of the Graduate Center with four other comparable, model institutions.
  • We need to continue to work on incentivizing flexibility.
  • Our biggest challenge will be to invite creative and flexible blue-sky thinking while simultaneously managing costs.

The committee members agreed about the importance of flexibility, especially as it relates to student funding. There was some question as to whether or not there has been a noticeable difference in the career trajectories of students in different funding tiers. Do those with tuition-only funding have to leave earlier? Is that an incentive towards a nonacademic career? One committee member commented that, in his program at least, those PhD students with tuition-only fellowships have proven much more flexible year after year.

One of our alumni committee members commented that during his time at the Graduate Center everyone kept saying that the job market was bad, but no one ever defined non-traditional pathways. Many students might be interested in fellowships that don’t require teaching undergraduate classes.

One of the major concerns regarding internship enrollment is that it has a knock-down effect in faculty teaching units. The current plan is to think through the issue logistically and the find the money. Faculty hires have been slowed, which has impacted multiple programs. Also, the size of the student body is still changing due to fellowship limitations.

Moving Forward

The next project meeting is scheduled for next week. The meeting will bring together the Core Working Group to continue our conversation around partnerships and to finalize some decisions for our May 4 event.

Working Group: January Report

Overview

The Core Working Group used our January meeting to make headway in planning the May 4 Town Hall event.

Event Proposal

As outlined in our grant project proposal, the May event (under the working title Town Hall Meeting on Careers for Humanists) is an opportunity to encourage discussions between faculty, students, and alumni about possible career paths for humanities PhDs.

The event was conceived as an extension of an event hosted by the Office of Career Planning and Professional Development in December 2015. That event, called “Post Grad (Center): Putting Your Graduate Skills and Training to Work,” included twenty alumni from across the humanities and social sciences. These Graduate Center alums met and networked with approximately sixty students who attended the event.

Event Planning

The title for our May 4 event will be “Post Grad (Center): Engaging Publics with a PhD. Building off of the December 2015 event, we will bring together university scholars and PhD professionals outside academe, Graduate Center students, faculty, and alumni for panel discussions, breakout sessions, and a keynote address. We want everyone in attendance to join in the efforts of The New PhD: A Renaissance of Public Engagement to reimagine the possibilities opened up by doctoral study in the humanities and related disciplines and to help us give shape to a new PhD for the work of the next generation.

Following coffee and registration, our morning session will be a curated panel of scholars from a range of professional backgrounds. The panel will be centered around the notion that there are countless ways from both within and outside academia to continue one’s scholarly and research interests after graduation.

Attendees will break off into two groups for lunch. Students and alumni will participate in facilitated roundtable networking. Meanwhile, faculty members and program Executive Officers will participate in a facilitated discussion around the ideas generated during our monthly project meetings. We will discuss the cross-disciplinary initiatives that we have been developing to integrate professional development for public-sphere humanities into existing curricula. The goal of the grant has been to produce concrete plans that will transform the humanities PhD to meet the labor demands of the twenty-first century—preparing students for careers outside as well as inside academe—and we hope to win the support of Graduate Center faculty in order to put these plans into action.

During the afternoon, we hope to offer an array of breakout panel sessions on a range of topics related to careers for humanists, such as public service, journalism, and NGOs. There will also be a keynote talk prior to a reception during which participants can continue to network and discuss the day’s proceedings.

Moving Forward

With a tentative agenda in place, our project leaders and committee members can begin extending targeted invitations to alumni and guest speakers.

The next project meeting will bring together the Steering Committee to discuss ideas for developing an alumni mentoring database and to continue plans for this May 4 event.

Full Meeting: December Report

Overview

This was the first full meeting of both the Core Working Group and Project Steering Committee. In this joint-session, we wanted to summarize the curricular changes that we thoroughly discussed in our previous meetings and then jump into our discussions about current and desirable data collection practices.

Discussion of Proposed Curricular Changes

The group began by examining a summary document of ideas for curricular changes that were generated during our past months’ meetings. The ideas have been divided into the categories that follow below.

We want continued conversations that might actually be useful and produce changes that are feasible. The goal of all curricular changes is to add additional opportunities without adding any additional time to degree.

The generated document will be what we move forward with for curricular changes pending any possibility for future implementation.

(1) Career/professional development modules

The English Program’s spring Intro to Doctoral Studies class will pilot a combination of career and professional development modules. The goal is to ground discussions of non-academic careers. The module will hopefully address the concern of faculty members who feel underprepared or unqualified to teach about careers that are outside of their own experience. Such courses are already overburdened by articulating examination requirements and program expectations. The modules could also sign-post various offices and centers at the Graduate Center in order to help promote the activities that they are already doing.

Another possibility will be to cull first-year working hours for a professional development free-floating workshop. Students could be given a menu of programs to choose from. The idea has already been enthusiastically received by a majority of the humanities EOs. One key concern while developing this workshop is that it assumes that the majority of students are on a Graduate Teaching Fellowship. How can we not show prejudice against students who have different fellowships?

During our discussion, it was asked if we could find a way for interested students to participate in another program’s professional development? This would require each program to distinguish between those events that are localized within the program and those that should be interdisciplinary.

(2) Alternatives to the monographic dissertation

Suggestions regarding alternatives to the monographic dissertation are perhaps more challenging and require implementation from the individual programs. But, making such changes would put us in step with a national conversation about the dissertation.

The dissertation is not a unified concept; it varies greatly across disciplines and time. Is it a practice vehicle for academic writing? Is it evidence of a research practice? The institution needs to consider what the dissertation is across the humanities. There is a need for coherent guidelines outlining the required components of such a project that includes elements like sustainability and thinking about audience accessibility. The library is currently involved in working with students and advisors to construct data sets and present their work publicly based on current and future interests of working with that data. Expectations for longevity need to match formats.

Next steps might be:

  • Resuscitating the digital dissertation group.
  • Working on a program by program level to look at comparable institutions with policies already in place for proposal, execution, and evaluations phases.
  • Looking internationally (at places such as the U.K., Australia, and Canada) for how to address alternatives to the monographic dissertation, such as the incorporation of a practical component.

(3) Internships

There are semi-structured internship opportunities available during the summer. We might be able to take all of the students who have participated in such projects to form a cohort and organize a larger event (or smaller events within each program) in order to inform other students about larger opportunities available to them.

Most of these institutions who offer such internships have an underlying goal of how to make their current projects more public, whether through blogging or catalog-writing. This speaks to a key concern in the Working Group about addressing a wider audience. How do you take the theoretical information and communicate it to the public?

(4) Expanding mentorship

We continue to ask: How do we expand our alumni engagement with students in productive and organized ways?

Look at Current GC Alumni Data

We shifted to discussions of our second planning theme, data: collecting and publicly disseminating data about retention rates and student post-doctoral career paths.

We had two graduate students come to speak about and share the alumni data that currently exists as part of an internal study conducted by Institutional Research (IR). The study began in the spring of 2015 in reaction to an extremely low alumni survey response rate. IR first contacted programs to find out what data they had on their alums. The researchers then began to discover alumni information through web searches, institutional pages, and LinkedIn. The study has tracked 90% of GC graduates between 2003 and 2014. The remaining alums that are undiscoverable (about 10%) are mostly presumed to be international students who returned to their country of origin.

Lots of data exists, but it is yet unclear how the data should be aggregated.

The researchers created an executive summary of the data in order to demonstrate some possible things that can be expressed with the alumni data that exists.
We came up with a brief list of questions that we hope the data can answer. We’re particularly interested in looking across years in order to recognize trends relevant to our project:

  • A comparison of numbers between alums working inside and outside academia.
  • What happens to ABDs and/or other students who are leaving programs before completing the dissertation?
  • How can we take into account that decreasing enrollment numbers at the institutional-level might be affecting data?

Other things that have been considered include: Who is the audience for this kind of data? What can the data be used for by people within the institution?

According to the researchers, we don’t currently have the infrastructure to continue tracking data as alumni change positions.

Discussion of Data Collection Practices

The Project Leaders outlined three key issues for us to address:

  • What can we do to better support programs in keeping data? What can we do to make this kind of tracking easier?
  • Is this something that we need to ask students about when they enter the program? Should we ask students what they intend or hope to do with their degree? How do we measure students’ intentionality and then discover if we are meeting their expectations? Should this data be shared with incoming students?
  • Can we create a better process for alumni to report their information or status with us? Both quantitative and qualitative data results are interesting. It is a shared responsibility across the institution. There’s also a lot of room for cross-disciplinary force.

We need some standard on how programs are gathering and sharing alumni data. It was suggested that the administration require programs to keep track of alumni information.

Sharing information on program websites seems to be a successful way of keeping track of the information. Thus, we need to highlight those programs that are already doing well at collecting and publishing data. The Theatre Program has been identified as one humanities program that is particularly good about collecting and publishing alumni data. Could we intervene at the APO meeting to highlight processes that are effective?

If we’re trying to get programs to contribute to data collection, we need to outline a series of questions that the numbers actually answer. What do we know? What other things might we want to know? Can we formulate the findings as prose rather than as data only? What questions might more articulated data collection help us answer?

One committee member suggested that the Graduate Center create a better alumni feature on the institution’s website.

An ongoing question we’ve had is: Can we work backwards from our data to craft professional development support? We might also consider both how our data is limited by what our programs have already articulated as job possibilities and how we might account for serendipitous career outcomes.

Beginning Plans for May 4 Event

We turned to opening discussions of the May 4 event, which has been tentatively titled as a Town Hall Meeting on Careers in the Humanities. The ultimate goal of the event will be to foster communication between alumni, students, and faculty.

Moving Forward

The next project meeting is scheduled for mid-January. At that meeting, the Core Working Group will finalize recommendations for data collection practices. This meeting will also serve as the transition from our second planning theme (data) to our third (partnerships). We will begin developing recommendations and strategies for building, fostering, and maintaining better partnerships with both alumni and employers.

Working Group: November Report

Overview

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: October Report

Overview

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.

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.