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Chapter 5– Students: How to Put Your PhD to Work

Book Title: Putting the Humanities PhD to work

In chapter five, Rogers examines the specific ways of putting the humanities PhD to work. She focuses this intervention on not only the students but also those in positions to make institutional decisions, such as faculty members and university administrators. Rogers, in this chapter, offers practical suggestions on “how graduate students can prepare themselves for future careers at any stage of their doctoral program, succeed academically and take advantage of opportunities that go beyond the classroom” (101). Although the book, and in extension chapter 5, focuses on current or recent PhD students, Rogers ensured to make her suggestions applicable to prospective PhD students also. To her, thinking about the career question before beginning a PhD is ‘wonderful’ as such question becomes “a harder nut to crack when the dissertation is nearly done” (125). 

To set a proper context for how she has framed the discussion in this chapter, Rogers not only provides pieces of advice to PhD students––she wants them to understand that there are so many career paths that align with and amplify the goals of humanities PhD––but also note that the PhD degree will enable them maximize opportunities to grow and learn new skills in the future. Essentially, Rogers argues that one viable way graduate students can approach claiming control of their career pathway within or outside academia is by translating the core values––research, teaching, and impact––that are central to scholarly work into something that can be easily understood across different professional contexts. 

This translational exercise, Rogers avers, will help students to “reframe the skills and outcomes of a humanities PhD into terms that resonate with a wider range of potential employers” (103) in any career setting. First, translating expertise in research will help PhD students position themselves professionally and conduct sophisticated analysis on unfamiliar materials. Second, the PhD student can translate their teaching expertise in a professional context to achieve people and project management, teach team members skills for work effectiveness or convince leadership on a specific course of action. Third, the translation of impact means the PhD students are skilled in articulating the implications of new knowledge and making meaningful connections with the public. Rogers offers a valuable reminder to PhD students when she states that “you [the student], not the prospective employer, will need to do the work of translating your experience and making it legible, especially if it falls outside the usual norms” (131). 

Beyond translating academic expertise for career positioning, Rogers provides a set of guiding principles to help prospective, current and recent graduate students get started with determining the career path that best suits them. It is instructive that Rogers refers to these suggestions as principles as there are no universal sets of rules or ‘how-to’ manuals for navigating the doctoral program or putting the PhD to work. Generally, Rogers advises students to get to know people, leveraging the opportunities of technology to organically expand their circle of connections, and become familiar with the terrain of careers that are of potential interest to them. Additionally, she stresses the importance for each PhD student to know themselves enough to enjoy their academic activities, which, by so doing, will help the student focus on the values that matter to them as they navigate their career choices. 

The last section of this chapter focuses on highlighting career-related resources and support that graduate students can take advantage of during or after their doctoral program. From identifying institutional resources to outlining personalized support processes, Rogers’ aim in this concluding section is to orient graduate students on how to approach job searches, interview sessions and contract negotiations. Rogers concludes the section by challenging graduate students, especially those not at the stage to begin job search, to explore new and creative ways of developing their competencies and translatable skills. One way Rogers recommended is to conduct a nontraditional dissertation, which if supported by the dissertation committee and successfully executed, “is a key aspect of preparing for multiple career possibilities” (126).

Rogers, in this chapter, identifies practical steps that prospective, current and recent PhD students can consider as they aim to find their academic and professional footing. While the steps she lays out provide good insights on how to get the humanities PhD to work, it is even more impressive that she addresses the institutional factors that might hinder the full realization of these students’ potentials. Hence, this chapter does a good job of not only advising students on creative pathways to consider and how to approach them, but also providing faculty members with varied tools to support their students.

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