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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.

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.