Over the past few days, I’ve talked to several groups on campus about the NEH Next Gen Humanities PhD planning process and about our upcoming symposia featuring Dr. Amanda Visconti and Dr. Nick Sousanis, dissertation innovators. The groups included the Humanities Advisory Board, a graduate class in the French department, a group of librarians, and several English PhD students who are working on fine-tuning their job application materials.
Here are some of the concerns expressed by faculty:
“My discipline is a book field, and I’m concerned about sending students out without a book.” And (summarized): To what extent are deans at other universities going to be amenable to unconventional research formats at the promotion stage?
“It’s absolutely vital for students in my field to write real, I mean conventional, dissertations.”
“Students in my department have been doing very well in the academic job market.”
Here are some of the career aspirations expressed by graduate students:
“I want to be an archivist.”
“I would like to be an American Literature college professor. More realistically, I would like to work in international relations, specifically at an embassy/consulate.”
“I would like to be a translator.”
“French teacher or professor in language and literature. (Dream job: music composer for films.)”
“Community engagement relating to cultural policy and human rights and working with women for more education/empowerment.”
At the September 13 core planning group meeting, we celebrated the news that Amanda Visconti, creator of Infinite Ulysses (an award-winning dissertation project which encourages readers from all walks of life to read James Joyce’s masterwork and to participate in the annotation of its elusive twists and turns), will be participating in our symposium on the dissertation. We discussed what will likely become the basic structure for each of our Newly Composed PhD symposia: a lunch discussion at which the guest will talk to graduate students, a larger conversational gathering at which the guest’s innovative contribution will be (swiftly) showcased before we (the entire Next Gen PhD planning committee, along with members of the larger community, especially Directors of Graduate Studies, current graduate students, and members of the Humanities Advisory Committee) zero in on issues related to transforming graduate education so that graduate students are better prepared for future careers both within and beyond the academy. After each of our symposia, a Next Gen working group will create a document in which they list the best strategies broached by the symposium participants, and brainstorm about how they might be implemented, this as a rough draft contribution to the action plan we plan to write at the end of the planning year.
One of our graduate student committee members mentioned that she entered her PhD program knowing that she is not interested in a career as a college professor—she looks forward to working in a library, and is excited about using mapping tools both as means to visualize arguments and to reveal patterns in data. Another graduate student visitor to our planning meeting, a PhD candidate in the University of Iowa’s Interdisciplinary PhD program (a student about which we will say more in a future posting), is developing a game as part of her dissertation work.
We also made tentative plans to curate a list of innovative, consequential dissertations to serve as inspirational models. Nominations? (leave a comment or send suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org)