People nestle in like ticks to discuss the subjunctive . . .

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If this second of three discussion sessions had an organizing concern, it had to do with speed versus slowness in the accumulation and dissemination of knowledge. A Classics professor noted the pleasure specialists take in lingering over the fine points of grammar (“people nestle in like ticks to discuss the subjunctive”), while an American Studies specialist noted that the long form of the dissertation is linked to long forms of attention, expressing a worry that the latter might be lost when there is a push to make things more easily digested. A Musicologist, noting time-to-degree pressures, suggested that graduate students are increasingly reluctant to delve into areas of specialization that require facility in a foreign language.

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The group, which also included a poet and two historians, saw the value in short-form and swiftly-published modes of writing like the blog and the tweet, recognizing how they can get students writing about their intellectual projects sooner and more regularly (“writing is a muscle; you need to be writing every single day,” noted a scholar/blogger), and how they make work accessible to a broader public (in a “turn toward public history and public writing”). One participant noted how an ability to write for different audiences will serve students interested in careers as diplomats and grants administrators, many if not most of whom have PhDs. Another person noted that a recent history PhD built a large network of people interested in her work by means of blogging and tweeting research in progress.

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The group also discussed how university hiring practices might serve students making the transition from graduate school to the job market. Participants speculated about whether the UI could forge relationships with other institutions so that, for example, rather than developing post-docs for our PhDs, we developed post-doc relationships with other universities. In this way, our recent graduates could be exposed to new ideas and ways of doing things at other institutions, and those institutions’ recent PhDs could do the same at the UI. A similar relationship might be imagined for alt-ac internships.

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Some of the participants’ personal priorities are communicated on the index cards included in this post.

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How to create the most successful intellectual project . . .

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Our first (of three) Next Gen Humanities PhD planning meetings brought together two department chairs, a PhD student, a librarian/English PhD, a university administrator/humanities prof, and a lecturer/teaching initiative innovator. We began by discussing an excerpt from Sidonie Smith’s Manifesto for the Humanities and also Alexandria Agloro, Johanna Taylor, and Elyse Gordon’s showcasing of innovative dissertations in “What’s the Point: The Dissertation as Process and Not Product.”

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One participant raised the issue of whether we want to encourage students to take a “both/and” approach—that is, to write a traditional dissertation and create more innovation manifestations of research findings. This contributor went on to note that her department had success in placing students in academic jobs at places that required a traditional dissertation. Another person expressed concern about a possible “thinning” of traditional disciplinary training, even as she conveyed enthusiasm for students developing facility with new digital tools and platforms.

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Another person broached the question of whether we are open to NOT requiring a “both/and” approach, which led to several people inquiring about the purpose of the PhD. “What do you need it to be a record of?” one person asked, going on to say, “A thesis is not a record of everything someone has done—there are other ways to assess students’ abilities as teachers, organizers, et al.” We should be thinking about what creates the most successful intellectual project, another suggested, going on to say that choosing the right platform should be part of the intellectual project.

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One participant noted the inflationary tendencies in dissertation requirements—humanities dissertations were no always as long as they are today. Another noted that it would be possible to highlight the abilities one develops while writing a dissertation: e.g. developing an argument, making connections to others’ arguments.

Several people were intrigued by Sidonie Smith’s suggestion that students might complete a “suite” of essays, perhaps pitched to different audiences. One person wondered if the comps level would be the place to start something like this; another expressed an interest in getting students to write for different audiences (and at different lengths) from the first year of grad school. One person suggested a seminar “paper” that could have linked references and outlinks to digital artifacts.

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Another participant, noting that employers request project management skills, expressed the view that a graduate student who had developed a large-scale instructional project, requiring her undergraduate students to work together and publish an online project, would be able to demonstrate the project management skills she used as she designed and orchestrated a complicated classroom effort with many moving parts.

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As the discussion went on, structural and systemic issues arose, for example, issues related to graduate student funding (now based almost entirely on teaching assistantships), and to a rise in the number of contingent faculty. “Who is going to teach the new skills we think our graduate students will need?” one person queried. Another expressed this concern: “Will students who want to pursue alternate careers feel they have the support of their faculty mentors?”

Touching back on our grant proposal’s attention to social media platforms, such as Twitter, we talked about how communities of scholars living in far-flung places have new opportunities to talk about their common interests. We discussed how graduate students, even as they begin their training might tap into diverse online communities, and begin to develop scholarly identities.

Before we dispersed, participants wrote down some preliminary concerns and priorities on index cards.