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Chapter 3 - Expanding Definitions of Scholarly Success

headshot of Katina L. Rogers and book cover of Putting the Humanities PhD to Work

In earlier chapters, particularly in Chapter 2, Rogers stresses the importance of admitting graduate students with diverse backgrounds and of valuing those backgrounds in the application process. Hand in hand with that idea is the point that forms the basis of Rogers’ argument in Chapter 3: once those students are admitted into PhD programs, we need to value the diversity of work that they can produce. That would require a shift in graduate programs’ mentality towards scholarly success and a widening of our conceptions of “robust” scholarship and potential audiences. There are barriers to this shift, some harder to dismantle than others, but by naming those barriers we can begin to find ways to subvert them. Only once scholarship is as diverse as our student body in terms of method, output, audience, and collaboration will academia truly reach its full potential as an engine for the dissemination of ideas. 


The first and possibly the steepest hurdle students face pertains to the prestige economy of academia. Early on, students will internalize what types of work their departments and fields value most, and most likely they are seeing that only traditional forms of scholarship are being rewarded. Even relatively established scholars in fields like the digital humanities are having problems counting their digital outputs towards tenure and promotion If students perceive that the type of work they are interested in pursuing is not conducive to success in the academic job market, they may change their projects to fit into the homogenous mold of traditional scholarly work. Departments need to be aware of this, and if they want to encourage new methods (which they should), they need to take active steps to demonstrate that the work is valued (59, 70-2). This does not begin and end with the dissertation, although it certainly includes it. How course assignments are formatted, what faculty work is highlighted, and who is being lauded will all impact what students feel they are “allowed” to pursue. If an institution takes seriously the need to expand the definition of legitimate scholarship, this goal needs to be embodied in all areas, including in the administration, departments, library, events, speakers, and partnerships with other organizations. 


Second, there are structural barriers and requirements that will impact what formats dissertations can take (65). In many cases, students are required to submit a copy of their dissertations to the library in order to graduate. However, the systems used for institutional repositories may limit dissertations to a small number of file formats. Digital dissertations may not have written components to submit, and there needs to be ways for that work to be deposited. If departments are encouraging innovative dissertations, there needs to be ways for those students to actually submit them, or else all of that effort is wasted. These arrangements, which will require collaboration with university libraries, should be discussed in advance so that students aren’t forced to scramble in the last few weeks of the process. 

Two tweets from Hannah Alpert-Abrams "This chapter offers really hopeful arguments about what's possible in graduate education. But it does end with some warnings.   Fish First, these programs are hard to 'scale up' to impact more people, especially because they are so risky and unrewarding for faculty." and "Fish Second, these programs often ask students to do extra work on top of their more traditional obligations. This can benefit people in individual cases, but the long-term consequences are significant."


Rogers lays out compelling reasons as to why new forms of scholarship will help academia produce more ideas and help scholars reach different audiences, which can help higher education institutions in the long run. It will not be easy to fight against the prestige economy and elevate work that has a greater public impact, and departments should look for partners in other areas of the university as well as outside of the university to help fight this fight.

I recommend Hannah Alper-Abrams live-tweeted reading of this chapter for further reading!

Peer Reviewers: Courtney Dalton  


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