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.
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.)
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
- 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.
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.