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Putting the Humanities PhD to Work: Updates, abstracts, and more

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I’m delighted to share that Putting the Humanities PhD to Work is in production at Duke University Press, and should be out in the world in time for Fall 2020! It has a fresh new subtitle (Thriving in and Beyond the Classroom), and a structure that has been much improved thanks to thoughtful comments and questions by generous peer reviewers.

In addition, our team at the Futures Initiative is using ideas in the book as a starting point for what I think will be an exciting nationwide conference in Spring 2020. This conference, Graduate Education at Work in the World, aims to collectively imagine and redesign graduate education to support students, scholarship, and the public good. If you're interested in these topics, please consider submitting a session proposal (by Oct 21, 2019) or joining us in NYC on April 30-May 1, 2020. Graduate Fellow Cihan Tekay (Anthropology) will be leading much of the conference development, and I’m so excited to be a part of the conversations that emerge.

What has become incredibly clear to me, both through writing the book and now through the process of developing the conference, is how important it is to embed any discussion about career pathways in a broader context of the values and structures of higher education. Even when a university has deeply-held values about its purpose and mission (such as supporting the public good), those values can easily be undermined by inequitable structures. I think a crucial starting point for reform is finding where the tensions are between values and structures, as those points of friction often illuminate tacit values that work against the university's goals.

These are the kinds of difficult questions that are woven throughout the book. It will be released by late summer 2020, and I hope it will be useful to graduate students, faculty, and administrators alike. Read on for an updated table of contents and abstracts:

Putting the Humanities PhD to Work: Thriving in and Beyond the Classroom

Table of Contents

Introduction: Putting the PhD to Work—For the Public Good
Chapter 1: The Academic Workforce: Expectations and Realities
Chapter 2: Inclusive Systems, Vibrant Scholarship
Chapter 3: Expanding Definitions of Scholarly Success
Chapter 4: What Faculty and Advisors Can Do
Chapter 5: Students: How to Put Your PhD to Work
Conclusion: Building a University Worth Fighting For
Ten Ways to Begin

About this book:

Putting the Humanities PhD to Work invites readers to build a university that is truly worth fighting for by thinking more expansively about what constitutes scholarly success—not only to support individual career pathways, but also to work toward greater equity and inclusion in the academy. Despite decades of research and funding in career diversity, many doctoral students feel alone and at sea when it comes to envisioning and working toward their professional futures. And yet, an increasingly interconnected world means that the humanities are more necessary than ever. Intended for graduate students in the humanities and for faculty members who guide them, this book grounds practical career advice in a nuanced consideration of the academic workforce, diversity and inclusion, new modes of scholarly communication, and humanities education as a public good. It posits that career-related initiatives in graduate programs must engage with the pressing issues of graduate education today, such as admissions practices, scholarly reward structures, equity and inclusion, and academic labor practices—especially the increasing reliance on contingent labor. It also examines ways that current practices perpetuate systems of inequality, resulting in continued underrepresentation of women and minorities in the academy. Leveraging research, surveys, interviews, and personal experience, the book invites readers to consider ways that graduate training can open unexpected doors that lead to meaningful careers with significant public impact, and offers concrete ways to get started.

Introduction: Putting the PhD to Work—For the Public Good

The introduction demonstrates that even in this challenging time for higher education, a PhD in the humanities is powerful for the training it offers, the doors it opens, and the value it provides to society. The introduction presents two key questions:

  • What can be done—by students, faculty, and program administrators—to normalize and strengthen a wider range of career pathways?
  • How might a broader understanding of postgraduate success improve the health, inclusivity, and impact of the humanities?

These questions help to situate a discussion of career paths in a broader context of graduate education reform and support for higher education as a public good. The introduction presents baseline data, a hypothetical case study, a consideration of the importance of doctoral training, and the theoretical frameworks that will structure the subsequent chapters.

Chapter 1: The Academic Workforce: Expectations and Realities

The first chapter examines typical career expectations for graduate students as well as the current landscape of academic labor structures. Although humanities scholars thrive in a wide range of positions, most doctoral students still consider a faculty position to be their primary career goal, and few graduate programs systematically equip their students for varied post-graduate opportunities. Issues such as labor practices, public disinvestment in higher education, changes in scholarly communication, and new affordances in digital pedagogy and online learning all affect the training that graduate students receive and the career paths they pursue. This chapter posits that equipping graduate students for more varied careers is only one element of many that are needed to truly reform graduate education, and pairs the work with advocacy for fair labor practices and better training for those doctoral students who do go on to become faculty members.

Chapter 2: Inclusive Systems, Vibrant Scholarship

This chapter addresses matters of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality in relation to academic and scholarly labor and reward structures. It indicts the tacit rules and unspoken norms that actively harm marginalized scholars, and offers strategies to begin combating bias and inequality in higher education. It posits that normalizing a broader spectrum of career paths has the potential to improve the health and inclusion of the humanities. If one goal of the academy is to foster different kinds of scholarly output—from community engagement to digital projects to creative works—then examining the recruitment and admissions process is an essential first step. The chapter demonstrates that incorporating a more holistic understanding of the value of research and teaching to society may help open the door to creative research that is deeply grounded in issues that matter to first-generation students and students of color.

Chapter 3: Expanding Definitions of Scholarly Success

Chapter three proposes that innovative scholarly work can catalyze deeper connections with communities within and beyond the university. As scholars and technologists create new platforms and structures for sharing research, there are increased opportunities for that work to have a meaningful impact that goes far beyond the reach of a traditional peer-reviewed journal article. However, if scholars are to devote their time and resources to sharing their work through innovative or experimental channels, there must be professional recognition for doing so. From digital dissertations to network building and from policy-relevant research to activist community engagement, greater flexibility in what is understood by the academy to constitute valuable research would help cultivate stronger public understanding of, and support for, systems of higher education.

Chapter 4: What Faculty and Advisors Can Do

Faculty members, advisors, and administrators have a vitally important role in changing the ways that students and institutions perceive career diversity, even if their own professional experience has been exclusively within a university setting. Building on the context and arguments of preceding chapters, this chapter empowers faculty members and administrators to take immediate action to support both current and future students, through advising and mentorship, curricular reform, connecting with supportive communities within and beyond the university, and tracking alumni outcomes over time. It offers examples of ways that even small changes can revolutionize student success. Students will also find this chapter illuminating, as it will provide a glimpse into the concerns and limitations that faculty members face while also suggesting ways forward—topics that students may wish to use to ground discussions with their own advisors.

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

This chapter offers practical advice for students to get the most out of their graduate program and prepare for a successful job search and career anywhere. Starting with a premise that many career paths not only align with but actually amplify the goals of humanities scholarship, the chapter offers strategies to translate and reframe the skills and outcomes of a humanities PhD into terms that resonate with a wider range of potential employers. It addresses questions related to the job search and interview process, from assessing needs and desires to navigating a set of workplace cultures that differ from that of the university. Because the dissertation offers an opportunity to explore not only new ideas but also new kinds of research and writing, part of this chapter focuses on matters related to the dissertation—including public engagement, digital and other non-standards formats, and measures of success.

Conclusion: Building a University Worth Fighting For

Individual success stories about academic career diversity abound. And yet, despite decades of discussion, reform has still not permeated an institutional level, leaving assumptions about what constitutes scholarly success largely unchanged. The conclusion posits that it is time for all who are invested in higher education to take action—not to tear down the structures of the academy, but to reshape and strengthen them from within. Humanities PhDs have long excelled in a wide range of careers and will continue to do so. What is at stake is how well programs equip students for new possibilities; how innovative work with public relevance is evaluated and valued; and whether programs internalize a broader set of values in their recruitment and admissions practices. Reinvesting in higher education as a public good means recognizing and celebrating the myriad ways that humanities graduate study can strengthen and enrich the structures of our society.

Ten Ways to Begin

As a final takeaway, this appendix presents ten suggestions inviting readers to begin building a university that is truly worth fighting for, both at the individual and structural levels. These actions are relevant to all in higher education, whether current or prospective graduate students, alumni, faculty, or administrators. The list includes actions that can be undertaken immediately, such as making space for reflection about future pathways, as well as longer-term goals, such as working to expand the understanding of what constitutes meaningful scholarship. A key element is working against bias, so that people from all backgrounds can question, challenge, explore, and articulate new views without fear of retribution. This action-oriented list is intended both as a call to action and as encouragement, and reminds readers that even if change is hard to see, every individual effort matters.

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