Tag Archives: dissertation

css.php

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.

Steering Committee: September Agenda

We just finished our first Project Steering Committee meeting. There were lots of ideas regarding possible curricular changes that were brought forward and discussed in-depth. Our next post will detail some of that discussion.

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

Project Steering Committee Meeting
September 26, 2016

Meeting Agenda:
  1. Outline practical aspects of the grant
    • Planning themes: curriculum, data, partnerships
    • Meeting schedule for the academic year
    • Interactions between Working Group and Project Steering Committee
    • Sharing information
  2. Updates from NEH and CGS
  3. Discuss inclusion of additional committee members
  4. Share ideas and best practices from other institutions
  5. Share and discuss possible curricular changes to doctoral programs
    • Using qualifying exams to develop real world skills
          –
      Define desirable professional skills
    • Embedding elements of GCDI Praxis course into early stages of doctoral coursework
          –
      Identify possibilities of working within programs’ course requirements
          –
      Possibility of a for-credit interdisciplinary humanities professional development course
          –
      Possibility of a three- to five-course humanities professional development certificate program
    • Changes to the form and structure of the dissertation
    • Receiving academic credit for internships, externships, and job shadowing experiences
  6. Building consensus and support among faculty members for any proposed changes

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