Edward Balleisen | Duke University
Edward J. Balleisen is Professor of History and Public Policy and Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies at Duke University. His historical research examines key fault lines in the history of American capitalism, such as bankruptcy and business fraud; he also has written extensively on the evolution of the modern regulatory state, and led major interdisciplinary, collaborative research projects on aspect of regulatory governance. As Vice Provost, Balleisen is responsible for facilitating cross-school collaborations around research, teaching, and civic engagement, and oversees 12 interdisciplinary units that range from the Franklin Humanities Institute and Kenan Institute for Ethics to the Duke Global Health Institute and the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences. He also provides leadership for several innovative projects related to doctoral education in the humanities and more broadly. These include:
- Bass Connections, a university-wide program that each year supports over 60 interdisciplinary project teams involving faculty, doctoral and professional students, and undergraduates
- Duke Support for Interdisciplinary Graduate Networks (D-SIGN) Grants, which fund interdisciplinary research or pedagogical projects proposed by groups that include doctoral and professional students;
- the Duke Doctoral Academy, a two-week cluster of more than 20 short-courses to provide complementary skills to doctoral students and post-docs.
Balleisen conceptualized and serves as PI on Duke’s NEH Next Generation Implementation Grant, Versatile Humanists@Duke (described more fully in Maria Wisdom’s bio), and is co-PI on Duke’s current Mellon grant, “Humanities Unbounded,” that is funding departmentally-anchored humanities labs, in which doctoral students play key leadership roles. Most recently, he co-chaired Duke’s Reimagining Doctoral Education (RIDE) Committee, which has set out wide-ranging recommendations to improve doctoral training at Duke.
Thought Piece—Core Disciplinary Research Skills “Plus”
In every discipline, both within and outside the humanities, doctoral training for the 21st century has to provide more than just grounding in core disciplinary knowledge and research skills. As I have noted in a recent post for the Versatile Humanities @ Duke Blog that describes the recent report of Duke’s Committee on Reimagining Doctoral Education, “if our PhD recipients are going to be able to adapt to shifting intellectual currents and evolving careers/roles both within and outside academia, we need to provide core research training ‘plus.’ That ‘plus’ involves a set of complementary skills and experiences that will vary from student to student, but that entail leveraging resources across Duke, not just the superb professors and talented peers in a given degree program.”
In some contexts, supplementary workshops or short-courses (on public speaking; or policy engagement; or project management) may do the trick. In others, a substantive internship experience linked to a student’s research agenda, or rather a sustained teaching apprenticeship, may be key. For some students, the right “plus” may be a joint degree. For a significant fraction of doctoral students, I see enormous value in exposure to team-based, interdisciplinary research teams, like those supported by Bass Connections.
This more flexible, student-centered approach to doctoral training will require rethinking of curricula and experimentation with integrating faculty research and student education. It also will depend on encouragement for students to seize complementary opportunities beyond doctoral programs, and a team-based approach to advising and mentoring.
Beth Boehm | University of Louisville
Beth Boehm was appointed as Executive Vice President and University Provost at the University of Louisville on September 1, 2018 after a brief term as Interim Provost. Boehm joined the faculty of the University of Louisville as an Assistant Professor of English in 1987, and has served in the Provost’s office since 2009, serving as Associate Provost for Faculty Affairs, Vice Provost for Graduate Affairs, and Vice Provost for Academic Affairs, in which role she was responsible for both undergraduate and graduate affairs. She also served as Dean of the School of Interdisciplinary and Graduate Studies for eight years before being appointed as Interim Provost. As Executive Vice President and University Provost, Boehm not only is responsible for setting the university’s course, through collaboration with faculty, staff and students, but also is charged with assuring that it stays on course. The Executive Vice President and University Provost is an advisor to the University President and acts as president during presidential absences. She has served in a variety of administrative and academic roles at the University of Louisville, including as Director of Undergraduate studies in English, as Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of English, as Vice Chair of English, as Vice Chair and Chair of the faculty senate. Boehm twice received the College of Arts and Sciences Distinguished Teaching Award and was selected as a University Distinguished Teaching Professor in 2003. In 2009, she was awarded for her distinguished service by both the college and the university. Her recent research has focused on issues in graduate education such as mentoring, reimagining the dissertation, community engagement in graduate education, masters education, and holistic admissions.
Kelly Anne Brown | University of California Humanities Research Institute
Kelly Anne Brown is associate director at the UC-wide Humanities Research Institute and manages a diverse portfolio of projects, including the UC-wide competitive grants program, Humanists@Work, and Horizons of the Humanities, among others. She holds a BA in English from Lewis & Clark College and a PhD in literature from UC Santa Cruz, where her scholarship centered on modernist publicness and interwar art and performance. Her professional background includes experience in public policy and administration, with a focus on children and family issues at the city, county, and state levels of California government. Her recent scholarship addresses issues of professionalization, the work of the humanities, and the future of graduate education.
While creating Humanists@Work with graduate students across all 10 campuses, we articulated the following 6 values to guide our work: Collaboration. Deep collaboration, with faculty, campus career centers, departmental staff, professionals in the field, and–most importantly–graduate students, is an essential component of the effort to re-conceptualize PhD education and professionalization. Experimentation. Experimentation with content and structure of programmatic activities reveals key issues to address, new ways to reach stakeholders, and best practices for humanities PhD training. Culture Change. The pervasive attitudes toward non-professorial careers within the academy must change in order to transform how students approach professionalization, faculty members support graduate students, and institutions address the career challenges facing humanities PhDs. Highlighting and Valuing Labor. Humanities graduate students should recognize the work they do has value and be treated as professionals with lucrative skill sets. Wherever possible, their work should be made visible and remunerated accordingly. Community. A wide community of graduate students, faculty members, alumni, and other key advocates strengthens engagement in critical, yet challenging conversations around the role of career training for humanities PhDs. Holism. To acknowledge the many roles graduate students play in addition to being students and scholars (such as family members, activists, and teachers), professionalization activities must address the “mechanical” elements of thriving in the workforce and facilitate critical discussions about graduate student experiences. These values permeate all of what Humanists@Work do and how we work to achieve our goals.
Stacy Hartman | City University of New York
Stacy M. Hartman earned her PhD in German Studies at Stanford. While still at Stanford, under the mentorship of then-associate vice provost for graduate education Chris M. Golde, she organized the first “alt-ac speaker series,” which brought in staff members at Stanford with PhDs to speak to graduate students about their work. Upon finishing her degree in 2015, Dr. Hartman moved across the country to New York, where she served first as project coordinator and later as project manager for the Modern Language Association’s Mellon-funded program Connected Academics.
At the MLA, Dr. Hartman was responsible for running the Connected Academics NYC Proseminar on Careers for New York-area PhDs in language and literature. She also organized intensive versions of the proseminar at the MLA Annual Convention in 2018 and 2019, as well as a department based version in collaboration with Professor David Porter at the University of Michigan in spring 2018. She has also worked extensively with faculty through the MLA’s summer seminars and as an institutional co-author on the Doctoral Student Career Planning Guide.
Finally, she assumed primary responsibility for the MLA’s Possible Futures Career Fair in both 2018 and 2019.In November 2018, Dr. Hartman transitioned to the Graduate Center as director of the PublicsLab, a component of another Mellon-funded venture, “Transforming Doctoral Education in the Humanities for the Public Good.” At the PublicsLab, she will be responsible for mentoring and guiding a cohort of twelve Mellon Humanities Public Fellows through a 3-4 year fellowship program that will prepare them to put their degrees to work for the public good in a variety of ways. She will also support and amplify the public work that is already happening at the Graduate Center.She is also co-editing with her graduate school partner in crime Yevgenya Strakovsky, now at the Georgia Institute of Technology, a volume for the MLA on graduate education titled Mission Driven: Reimagining Graduate Education for a Thriving Humanities Ecosystem.
Over the past several years, as my work on graduate education has evolved, one of the most disturbing trends that I have seen is how joyless graduate work is for so many people. There is no monetary reward for going to graduate school in the humanities (and, indeed, a lot of cost in the form of lost earnings and retirement savings), so one would hope that people who make that choice do so, in some sense, because of the joy they take in the work. By “joy” I don’t mean pleasure, though I think there are pleasures to be found in humanistic study; no work is pleasurable all of the time. Rather, I mean a much deeper and more lasting satisfaction that is capable with of withstanding setbacks and hardship. This satisfaction comes from different places for different people, but in general, I believe it is related to feeling like the work you do matters not just to you, but to others, and not only for reasons such as hiring and promotion. And this, I believe, is the source of the joylessness that is present in so much of graduate education in the humanities: the struggle on the part of students to see how their work really matters. This is what leads to existential crises, to floundering; coupled with often unsustainable financial situations and an uncertain future, I believe that this is what leads to the crisis in mental health that riddles all of graduate education, but especially the humanities. Does my work matter? Will my work matter? What is all of this for, anyway? These are the questions that graduate students ask themselves, and which graduate education too often does not help them answer. Those of us who work in graduate education must recognize that many of our students are deeply mission-driven; they care about the world and their communities and they want their work to have impact now. They don’t want to save the work that will matter for their “post-tenure project.” And moreover, they should not have to.
Jenna Lay | Lehigh University
Jenna Lay is Director of Graduate Studies and Associate Professor in the English Department at Lehigh University, where she is also a College of Arts and Sciences representative to the Faculty Senate. Her research areas include early modern literature, women’s writing, and religion; her first book, Beyond the Cloister: Catholic Englishwomen and Early Modern Literary Culture was published by the University of Pennsylvania Press in 2016. At Lehigh, Jenna served as the English department’s first job placement officer from 2013-2015, led a university task force on graduate education in 2016, and was the project director for Lehigh’s NEH Next Generation PhD Planning Grant in 2016-17. With Charles Mahoney of the University of Connecticut, Storrs, Jenna developed and led a preseminar workshop for directors of graduate study at the 2017 ADE Summer Seminar and a preseminar workshop on graduate curricula and careers at the 2018 ADE/ADFL Summer Seminar. She has also led workshops on career pathways for graduate students and faculty at a range of institutions, and has written on career advising for The Chronicle of Higher Education. Jenna is currently co-writing an essay with Emily Shreve of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas on graduate education in the humanities, entitled “Collaborative Ethics: Practicing Engagement in our Academic Communities.
In my work on graduate education, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what programs and faculty can and should do to help students as they navigate their intellectual and personal development within an increasingly complex professional landscape. First, we must check our own assumptions: if we do not imagine a faculty career and the pre-professional training designed around it to be the inevitable or even most desirable focus of graduate education, we can better work together to create academic communities that recognize, welcome, and support students with a broad range of aspirations. Second, in welcoming students with diverse goals to our programs, we must communicate why we think pursuing a graduate degree in the humanities is a worthwhile endeavor. This necessitates a clear understanding of how the humanities matter to a broad range of publics: intellectual curiosity and rigor are increasingly important in our current political moment—as is the ability to read closely and critically, to research a focused topic with depth and precision, to craft and recognize rhetorically sophisticated (and unsophisticated) arguments, and to value empathy, diversity, equity, and community. We need more people who are able to do this work, whether they hold a faculty position or not. Advanced study in the humanities can offer the intellectual preparation necessary to do it well—especially when graduate programs are crafted to expand horizons rather than limit them. Which means that third, and most importantly, we must design programs that are responsive to students’ intellectual and professional development. To give one example: in my home department at Lehigh University, our focus on literature and social justice helped us to initiate a series of conversations regarding the ethics and praxis of graduate education over five years ago. How might a social justice practice inform our work as advisors and shape the parameters and potential of our graduate program? At the department level, we agreed to maintain small cohorts in the PhD program to ensure an equitable distribution of resources, individualized mentoring, and continued post-graduate support for those students who struggle to find their first position. We’ve developed partnerships with other units on campus that enable students to pursue assistantships designed with reciprocal benefit in mind: students offer pedagogical and content-based expertise in a position that enables them to explore their abilities in a new context and develop new capacities. These assistantships led our department to endorse a broader conception of the dissertation, as students were eager to incorporate what they’ve learned into dissertations that more fully reflect their holistic graduate experiences. In other words, our program continues to develop in response to our students’ needs, aspirations, and leadership—and the future they help us to imagine for both humanities graduate education and for themselves.
Ryan McBride | Tulane University
Ryan McBride is an Administrative Associate Professor with the English Department and the Center for Public Service at Tulane University. For the past seven years he has designed and taught graduate seminars in community-engaged and public scholarship. He is the Director of a Graduate Program in Community-Engaged Scholarship, an interdisciplinary certificate program that brings together graduate students in the humanities, community leaders, and faculty for a multifaceted two-year cohort experience. The program supports participants as they connect their academic interests to new communities and work with those communities to develop cutting-edge, civically informed, ethically grounded, public scholarship.
One of the challenges of connecting academia to the larger world is finding ways to bring community leaders into the process. When we were designing our Mellon Graduate Program in Community Engaged Scholarship a central question was: how can we construct a program that allows graduate students and community leaders to develop meaningful relationships with one another? In the past we had regularly invited community leaders as speakers, but we found that we spent a significant amount of our time together just getting to know one another and just when we reached the point of understanding one another, the visit would be over.We had a similar issue with faculty, who also visited or seminars as guest speakers. Some graduate students would follow up with them, but that was the exception rather than the rule. Initially the pilot program I developed had a stipend for faculty or community leaders who would be mentors. We have kept that but we now realize that graduate students need advising from a wide variety of sources and they’re not in a good position to find those advisors on their own.For the past year two years we have had a call for community leaders and faculty to apply to be part of our program. Their positions last for two years and they work with graduate students who are also in the program for two years – they are with them from for their entire experience and together they form a cohort. The backbone of the program is now our monthly group-of-five meetings (three graduate students, one faculty member, and one community leader). We found that scheduling a monthly meeting of five was more difficult than we first realized, so we instituted a meeting once per month at a venue that is off the main campus (easier to get to for community leaders) where we provide food and child care for everyone. We are now working with 24 graduate students, 8 faculty, and 8 community leaders. We’re facing many challenges, but we’re finding this structure to be working better than anything we’ve tried in the past.
Maureen McCarthy | Council of Graduate Schools
Maureen Terese McCarthy is the director of Best Practices and Advancement at the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS). She serves as co-PI of Understanding PhD Career Pathways for Program Improvement, a cross-institutional, interdisciplinary effort featuring 65 university partners. Maureen has led CGS projects on broadening professional development for humanities PhDs (#NextGenPhD) and the future of the doctoral dissertation. She recently authored a guide on promising practices and a review of prior work in humanities PhD professional development and has co-authored reports on holistic review in graduate admissions, PhD career pathways, and doctoral learning outcomes. Maureen earned her PhD in English from Emory University.
Molly McCarthy | University of California–Davis
Molly McCarthy is the Associate Director of the UC Davis Humanities Institute where graduate education and mentoring have become a key part of the institute’s programming. As a hybrid academic-administrator with a Ph.D. in American History (Brandeis University) and a Master’s in Journalism (Columbia University), McCarthy saw a need for more tailored career mentoring for graduate students in the arts, humanities, and social sciences. In 2014, the institute launched PhD Unlimited, a professional development workshop series aimed at helping students find meaningful careers wherever those jobs might take them. McCarthy also oversees the Mellon Public Scholars program, created in 2015, that invites graduate students to design and execute a community-engaged research project over the summer months. Mellon Public Scholars has proved to be a leading wedge in effecting culture change in UCD’s graduate programs thanks, in part, to the way it knits faculty into the fabric of the program and turns them into champions of public scholarship and new forms of scholarly training.
I am often asked how students can explore the benefits of public scholarship if they don’t have access to a program like Mellon Public Scholars at their institutions. Students have begun to understand that they need to seek out more wide-ranging opportunities and get outside of their departments. Public scholarship is just one of many ways to do that. Public scholarship will position you well no matter your career track. Very recently, we heard from a Ph.D. candidate who was interviewed for a tenure-track position and all the hiring committee wanted to talk about was her community-engaged research project.For those interested in getting a taste of public scholarship, here are a few suggestions:
- Apply to be a PAGE Fellow through Imagining America.
- Reach out to local cultural/arts organizations to see if there’s a project you could help with.
- Visit your state humanities council webpage. California Humanities, for instance, has a Humanities for All quick grants program that is ripe for public scholarship collaborations with cultural and community organizations.
- Find out where public scholarship is happening on your campus and connect with faculty or project directors.
David Nugent | Emory University
David Nugent holds a Ph.D. in anthropology from Columbia University, and is professor of anthropology at Emory University. He has done extensive theoretical and applied work in a variety of settings, from Latin America to East Africa to North America. His areas of specialization include: political and economic anthropology; race, ethnicity and nationalism; Latin America; agrarian society; and the anthropology of the state. Emory’s “Communities of Practice” initiative: http://news.emory.edu/stories/2016/04/er_laney_luce_grant/campus.html
I am interested in exploring processes that would allow us to re-position the university with respect to the broader society of which it is a part. This would entail moving away from the model of the 19th century German research university, upon which contemporary university structures in the U.S. are based. It would mean as well establishing pathways by which those who are involved in graduate education—students and faculty alike—can form novel ties with groups located beyond the university. This in turn would mean exploring new forms of knowledge and knowledge production by taking as a point of departure the concerns of disadvantaged and marginalized populations. It would also mean establishing mechanisms to ensure that academics are accountable to the populations they work among. Taking steps that would make it possible for universities to engage directly with non-academic social worlds and interlocutors would help establish a new role for universities in contemporary life. It would also help create new futures for students and faculty.
Jason Puskar | University of Wisconsin Milwaukee
Jason Puskar is Associate Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and the Associate Dean of the Graduate School. He works on American literature and culture from the late nineteenth to the early twentieth centuries, with emphasis on economic and business history, media studies, and the history of science and technology. He directed UWM’s large and diverse PhD program in English for four years, which includes a wide range of approaches to the discipline, from media studies to creative and professional writing. In that role, he served as PI for a first-round NEH Next Generation Planning Grant, which mobilized a diverse committee to begin reimagining humanities doctoral programs that are more publicly engaged, sensitive to student needs, and successful at preparing students for a wider range of careers. Currently, as Associate Dean of the Graduate School he is continuing those efforts by leading a team of faculty from Architecture, English, and History, who are beginning to implement a new, interdisciplinary Public Humanities Doctorates (PHDs) program that will span all three fields.
I received my doctorate from what amounts to a vocational training school, for it prepared its graduates for only one career, the professoriate. In terms of the breadth of professional training—and despite its Ivy League credentials—my doctoral program (like most others) may as well have been a welding academy. Today, comfortably situated as a research professor, I often have reason to decry attempts to vocationalize higher education too narrowly, but it is impossible to deny that my entire field has been narrowly vocationalized already. The vocation just happens to be my own.My goal over the last few years has been to acknowledge this as the intellectual and practical impasse that is, and to persuade my colleagues here and elsewhere that the humanities will be better and stronger if we begin to reconceive our disciplines thoroughly, and to turn outward toward broader publics. Against those who object that doing so will endanger the humanities, I respond that the humanities already are in danger, but mostly from the inertia of conventionality. At UWM we concluded that bold strokes are necessary, and soon. We need far more than alumni networks or better career counseling, though those will help. Through our NEH Next Gen planning grant, we became convinced that meaningful change will only happen with changes to the curriculum, and not just in ancillary measures like optional certificates that add time to degree, but in the core coursework requirements for the doctorate.
This can be a challenge, as some faculty perceive changes to the curriculum as an existential threat to the discipline. Fortunately, we have encountered surprisingly little resistance, so have felt emboldened to move rapidly. We are fortunate that UWM has a long tradition of embracing new approaches. UWM helped create the field of film studies almost a half-century ago, long before it was the norm, and the term “postmodernism” was coined in our walls. When the tradition is a tradition of adventurous change, everyone is a little less afraid about what might be lost.So we have been working hard for two years to plan an interdisciplinary and publicly engaged doctoral program that includes Architecture, English, and History. Starting this spring, each of those departments will begin to develop special concentrations in what we are calling Public Humanities Doctorates (PHDs) that will leave no part of the curriculum untouched: new required and elective courses, required internships, modified language requirements, and even more flexible dissertation formats. Many of the details still have to be ironed out, but we already have begun implementing key components. Architecture’s “Field School” already involves students in collaborative neighborhood projects in which students work with local residents to better understand some part of our built environment. English recently created an innovative new PhD program in Rhetoric, Professional Writing and Community Engagement, which includes new courses and new faculty hires. And History has had been strongly committed to public history for many years, with almost a half dozen faculty working in that field, also including new faculty hires. On this solid foundation, we plan to build a more integrated, interdisciplinary, and innovative program that will preserve the very best of humanistic inquiry, make it more accessible to a broader public, and give our graduates more options in their careers.It all starts with curriculum. Faculty own the curriculum, and once implemented, the curriculum justifies other structures of support. Alumni networks, career services, data gathering initiatives, and closer institutional ties to the broader community will be easier to justify once we have a curriculum that demands them.
Kathryn Temple | Georgetown University
Kathryn Temple, J.D., Ph.D., is an associate professor and former chair of the Department of English at Georgetown University where she has taught since 1994. Her research interests include law and humanities, law and emotion, and the history of emotions, mostly in the eighteenth-century Anglo-American context. She has contributed to humanities graduate and undergraduate education reform from a “Humanities for All” perspective. On the undergraduate level, this has included outreach to veterans and to the incarcerated through the Georgetown Loyola Castle and Pivot programs; on the graduate level, she has advocated for the humanities as the principal investigator for the Mellon-funded grant, Connected Academics at Georgetown, aimed at increasing career diversity for graduate students in the humanities. Recent projects include the launch of the Georgetown non-credit Graduate Certificate in the Engaged and Public Humanities, and the development of a Georgetown MA program in Engaged and Public Humanities.
I will focus on what we can learn from “Quit Lit” about the need for structural change. Sharing information about possible job outcomes is a necessary and responsible way to manage a graduate program. But “quit lit” tells us that putting graduate students on notice about the job market is not enough. We must do more: specifically, we must change our problematic programmatic structures to reflect the actual (and excellent) array of positions our students attain. Otherwise we perpetuate a pernicious cycle of negativity around graduate education in the humanities.
Maria LaMonaca Wisdom | Duke University
Maria LaMonaca Wisdom is the Director of Graduate Student Advising and Engagement in the Humanities at Duke University, and program director for Duke’s NEH Next Gen PhD grant (2016-19), Versatile Humanists at Duke. In her role as a supplemental advisor and mentor for 400+ doctoral students in the humanities and humanistic social sciences, Wisdom draws upon the full spectrum of a varied academic career, including her activities as a scholar of Victorian women’s writing, a tenured professor of English (Columbia College, SC), and executive director of the humanities center at UNC-Chapel Hill. Beyond advising, Wisdom is the lead administrator for the Versatile Humanists at Duke internship program for humanities PhD students, and a PhD innovation fund to foster graduate curriculum innovations. She also co-directs the Mellon-funded Humanities Unbounded Teaching Fellows program, which pairs Duke humanities doctoral students with Durham Technical Community College instructors to enhance community college curriculum and pedagogy.
Thought Piece—My Philosophy
The longer I am engaged in the work of graduate education reform, the more convinced I am that empowering students and building community are at the heart of every effective intervention we’ve made. There are many talented faculty and staff engaged in this work, and as the NEH and Mellon projects show, there are many fantastic ideas out there. But nothing inspires and informs me more than what I see so many of our doctoral students at Duke already doing—through internships, interdisciplinary opportunities, pedagogy, public scholarship, the digital humanities. In so many cases, it is the students who lead the way, insist on what they need, and show all the rest of us what a graduate student can do and be. So often, graduate students are the best models and mentors for each other. Secondly, all of our best work has required community-building: collaboration and communication across university divisions, and empowering graduate students to identify and cultivate networks across (and beyond) the university. Too often graduate culture reinforces isolation, however, coupled with extreme dependency on a single advisor or subset of faculty. More intentional community building (and in more strategic ways) is needed.
Glenn Wright | Syracuse University
Having worked variously in educational assessment, academic publishing, and higher ed administration since completing his PhD in English at the University of Michigan in 1997, Glenn was “alt-ac” before “alt-ac” was a thing. In his current role as director of programs for the Syracuse University Graduate School, Glenn develops programs and initiatives to support the professional development of graduate students. He provides oversight for Syracuse’s TA Program, English Language Proficiency Services for international students, and Future Professoriate Program (with roots in the national PFF effort). Glenn directs SU’s graduate-education-themed book publication program, the Graduate School Press, and is the editor of The Mentoring Continuum: From Graduate School through Tenure (2015).
Thought Piece—Taking the Cantilever Stairs to a Rewarding Career
When I was a graduate student in English in the late ’90s, I needed summer employment and supplemental income. So I signed on to serve as a reviewer of writing portfolios submitted by incoming undergraduates at my institution, to see if they needed to take the freshman writing sequence or not. On the referral of a grad student friend, I began writing author profiles for the Contemporary Authors biographical digest series. Having corrected approximately ten zillion undergraduate essays as an English TA, I aced several academic publishers’ editing tests and began taking on freelance copyediting (and later content editing) assignments.After two unsuccessful forays on the academic job market, I found myself in upstate New York, where my spouse had found employment. On the basis of my undergraduate writing portfolio assessment experience, I was able to get a temporary job as Chief Reader for the State of Massachusetts’ 8th-grade writing proficiency test (MCAS). I took a third and final run at the academic market, but was also looking for other jobs. With two campus visits pending, I was offered a job with the Assessment Unit at Regents (later Excelsior) College, paying $12K more than a faculty job I had recently not gotten. And since it was within walking distance of my home, I didn’t even need to buy a car, much less relocate from my infant son. Farewell, faculty career!
Two years later I was laid off, and had to reactivate my connections in academic publishing for freelance work. I dipped a toe in the academic market and was offered a job at a community college in New Jersey. But at the same time a job as Acquisitions Editor at Syracuse University Press opened up, and since my freelance activities had made me a strong candidate, I was again spared relocation.In the fullness of time I was able to position myself as the ideal candidate for a job with the Syracuse university Graduate School that combined my English language assessment experience and my publishing background. This quickly metamorphosed into a higher-level position, as I absorbed the duties of colleagues who left.
At this point, my professional career is pretty much on par, in terms of salary, respect, etc., with what it would have been had I landed a faculty job out of grad school, at the sort of institutions that were considering me. This is an encouraging tale for current PhD students, who have the opportunity to be more intentional about the process of providing themselves with varied career options than I was in my haphazard rooting about for a summer paycheck.Among the most elegant stairway designs is the cantilever stair, which allows one to ascend with the support of the preceding step, not any vertical foundation. It’s an apt analogy for the kind of incremental professional development that worked in my case—a modest opportunity put me in the running for something a bit better, and in three or four steps to secure a meaningful professional position utilizing the skills I had developed in grad school.
There is a lot of interest now in internships for humanities PhD students, and that is a terrific idea. But internships are hard to create; they require a lot of work up front to design them well, and, unless there is funding involved, only a minority of PhDs will be able to prioritize such an experience over paid work. Departments, colleges, and Graduate Schools could be much more active in identifying and connecting PhD students with already existing or easily created work opportunities that touch, even if only peripherally, on employment sectors attractive to humanists. And we should encourage students to be strategic in pursuing a broad range of such experiences, especially in the context of their need for summer employment, from the moment they enroll.
Aiden M. Bettine | University of Iowa
Aiden M. Bettine is concurrently pursuing a Ph.D. in History and a Master’s in Library and Information Science at the University of Iowa, working at the intersection of public history and archival science. He holds both a Bachelor’s in History and African & Black Diaspora Studies and a Master’s in Critical Ethnic Studies from DePaul University. Currently Aiden is the Mellon funded Humanities for the Public Good Graduate Fellow at the Obermann Center for Advanced Studies. He is also a 2018 alumni of the Obermann’s annual Graduate Institute on Engagement and the Academy. Through the institute, Aiden developed a collaboration with the Iowa Youth Writing Project and has provided youth in the Iowa City area opportunities to engage in oral history methodology and digital storytelling with their works featured in Youthquake Vol. 1.
Aiden’s public facing doctoral work is grounded in interdisciplinary methodologies with an emphasis on developing local oral history projects and companion archives. Aiden is founder of the Transgender Oral History Project of Iowa (TOPI) with a mission to recognize, collect, preserve, and celebrate the lives and stories of transgender and gender non-conforming people across the state of Iowa, while simultaneously building a digital archive of transgender history. In support of TOPI, Aiden has received the 2018 Digital Scholarship and Publishing Studio Summer Fellowship and a Community Impact Grant from the Office of Outreach & Engagement. Aiden is also an active member of History Corps, a public history collaborative run by the University of Iowa History Department. Aiden’s dissertation research examines the development of community archives in the city of Chicago, wrestling with issues of race, sexuality, access, preservation, knowledge production, and historical memory. In collaboration with Dr. Lindsay Mattock, Aiden is working on a larger community-engaged research project to document the practices of community archives across the Midwest in celebration of the autonomy and agency that communities have in preserving their own history. Follow Aiden on Twitter @ambettine.
Reflecting on my own graduate education, I’ve always worked hard at creating a “build your own degree” model even while completing the core degree requirements of my graduate programs. I was fortunate to intentionally enter an interdisciplinary master’s degree program in Critical Ethnic Studies before my arrival at the University of Iowa for a doctoral degree in History. As an undergraduate history major, I recognized that pursuing graduate-level work in history would come with particular constraints on my ability to cross disciplines and engage other theories and methodologies, encouraging me to seek a graduate degree elsewhere beforehand. My master’s work equipped me with the interdisciplinary competence, coursework, and honestly confidence, to navigate a Ph.D. in History on my own terms. As a public historian working with marginalized communities and trained in both ethnic and black diaspora studies, I knew that entering a traditionally academic history department offered a challenging road map. Without devoted curriculum on public history, furthering my education in the field alongside gaining experience working on public history projects requires extra time and work outside of my degree track.
I believe that graduate education in the humanities should be more flexible and reflexive. First, in response to the career goals of their enrolled students, second to the multiplicity of ways that doctoral level humanities work is valuable beyond teaching in the undergraduate classroom, and third to the opportunities that arise both across campus and externally that afford graduate students coursework, fellowships, assistantships, and institute and symposia attendance beyond their degree field and department. Community engagement is a primary avenue for changing how faculty and students alike see the value and relevance of their work for surrounding community members. Through the development of coursework, fellowships, and internships that allow graduate students to apply their skills in the humanities to work alongside community members, we are prepared for an array of careers both inside the academy and out.
Margaret Brennan | University of Illinois
Margaret is a doctoral candidate in History at the University of Illinois, studying religion, ethnicity, and migration in the early modern Atlantic world. Beyond her passion for research in and teaching of history, she is an advocate for humanities graduate students on a variety of career pathways. She has participated in and designed career diversity programming in several roles during my time at Illinois, most often on the Humanities Without Walls (HWW) grant, funded by the Mellon Foundation. In that role, Margaret coordinates the work of graduate student collaborators in fourteen interdisciplinary and cross-institutional research projects focused on the theme of “The Work of the Humanities in a Changing Climate.” She also collects ethnographic data to reflect on cultures of collaboration and career diversity training for students in the humanities.
In these past few years on the Humanities Without Walls grant, I have contributed to programs that that apply collaborative and interdisciplinary models for graduate education which are aimed at preparing students for a variety of career paths, academic and non-academic. I believe that resources that prepare graduate students for doing “something else” ought to be accessible from the very outside of their doctoral training. This is of course crucial for future employment prospects—as an early modern European historian on the academic job market, I have been keenly aware of the declining number of tenure-track positions out there. However, exposing humanities graduate students to work experience beyond the professoriate is imperative far beyond the realities of supply and demand for desirable faculty positions.
Here I would like to reflect on just one of the many benefits to career diversity training in humanities doctoral programs. It is no secret that graduate students are at great risk for mental health issues, as several recently published studies have revealed. While there are myriad causes for these struggles, the external contributing factors cited in these studies are normalized features of life in graduate school. Job insecurity is a significant one, to be sure, but there are others: isolation, financial insecurity, poor work-life balance, problematic student-advisor relationships, lack of structure, and imposter syndrome. While getting involved with some kind of non- or para-academic work a few hours a week while pursuing a doctoral degree is not a panacea, it does have the potential to alleviate many of these pervasive issues. Working as a summer intern for a local non-profit, or in an hourly position as an assistant editor for an academic press, for example, provides students with an opportunity to complete more immediate, straightforward, and less overwhelming tasks (vs. that immense project of the dissertation). It allows for an expansion of a social and professional network, and the cultivation of relationships with new mentors. Such professional experience can prepare students for other career paths, and knowledge of that has the potential to reduce anxieties about future job prospects. Even for graduate students who ultimately end up on a more traditional academic career path, career diversity training and non-academic work experience during graduate school has the potential to make future faculty more supportive advisors and equipped mentors to their own students. Initiatives like HPG and those mentioned above are essential because they not only have the potential to improve the lives of graduate students as individuals, but also to demonstrate the value of humanities scholarship both in the academy and elsewhere.
Joseph Stanhope Cialdella | University of Michigan
Joe is a Program Manager at the University of Michigan’s Rackham Graduate School where he is a part of the Professional and Academic Development team. His primary responsibility is running the Rackham Program in Public Scholarship, which has a variety of experiences and initiatives that help graduate students learn to do effective public-facing and community-based work that is collaborative and of mutual benefit to their research and community needs. Prior to joining U-M, he was a Program Officer at the Michigan Humanities Council and former Enid A. Haupt Fellow at the Smithsonian Institution. He learned a Graduate Certificate in Museum Studies and PhD in American Studies, both from the University of Michigan.
I was very lucky to participate in several collaborative projects and experiences – including a museum studies certificate, internships, and public history research project – during graduate school that helped me clarify my professional values, career path, and importance of humanities research and skills inside and outside colleges and universities. I was also fortunate to have a supportive advisor, committee, and mentors on and off campus. Some has changed since then, but too often it still seems like too many graduate students interested in public humanities and expanding their career horizons are left to either figure things out for themselves or “add on” projects and internships to their degrees to cultivate the necessary skills and experience to have have career options and be publicly engaged scholars. It is my hope that moving forward we can bring a more holistic approach to doctoral education in the humanities that integrates more deeply collaborative work, a bigger picture of the whole “humanities ecosystem,” and professional mentorship as a part of the formal and informal curriculum. No one should graduate feeling isolate and without options. There are models and viable options out there. With strategic and thoughtful retooling and restructuring, humanities departments and graduate schools can create graduates who might choose to be academics or practitioners in a number of professional contexts, but all will be better prepared to serve the field and society.
Margaret Nettesheim-Hoffmann | Marquette University
Margaret Nettesheim Hoffmann is the On-Site Project Director for the Humanities Without Walls consortium summer workshop and is the Program Coordinator for the Graduate Student Career Development Initiative at Marquette University. She is a doctoral candidate in American History at Marquette where she researches the history of American philanthropy, capitalism, and progressive era political discourses critical of wealthy giving. In particular, her work tracks the historical evolution of political conversations impacting the construction of nonprofit sector policy in Wisconsin. Margaret was the Rev. John P. Raynor, S.J Fellow at Marquette University in 2017-2018 and was an Arthur J. Schmitt Leadership Fellow for 2016-2017. She was selected as a 2017 National Humanities Without Walls Predoctoral Fellow and has presented her work at national and international conferences including the American Catholic Historical Association, the Economic History Society, and the Social Science History Association where she received the SSHA’s Tilly Award in 2017. Inspired by the lessons learned during the HWW workshop in 2017, she returned to Milwaukee and Marquette with plans to develop collaborative career diversity programming on campus that led to her current work with the university. Margaret is also the co-author of For the Benefit of All: A Fifty-Year History of the Faye McBeath Foundation (published by the Marquette University Press, 2016) which tracks the historical legacy of a Milwaukee based philanthropic foundation and their impact on the development of a professional non-profit sector in the city over the second half of the twentieth century. You can follow her work at margaretnettesheim.com or on Twitter @HoffmannMaggie.
My introduction to formal career diversity planning and programming proved to be a transformative moment in my professional life. In 2017, I was selected as a member of the first national cohort for the Humanities Without Walls (HWW) predoctoral fellowship workshop. Each year, HWW hosts a group of thirty international and national PhD students in the humanities for a three-week intensive summer workshop in Chicago which introduces the fellows to the varieties of career paths available to them with a PhD. Sessions include a values and identity discernment workshop grounded in the methods of storytelling; a mechanics of career development session that teaches the fellows how to translate their academic CVs into professional resumes; a grant role-play site visit to a local Chicago based foundation that provides fellows with insights into how funding decisions are made at the institutional level. More importantly, the three-weeks I spent in Chicago in 2017 helped me to discern my strengths and talents as a scholar, to dig deep into the specific parts of what energizes me about the work we do as scholars, writers, and researchers. I learned that career diversity opens us up to the possibilities for careers based upon the application of our research methodologies, and that to be an historian means I can utilize the skills I have acquired over my years as a graduate student to many meaningful career pursuits.
Upon completion of the workshop, I spent considerable time contemplating how to bring the message and work of career diversity back to my graduate student colleagues at Marquette University. In 2018, the Graduate School at Marquette implemented a new project based on the methods of the HWW career diversity workshop, and this year, we will pilot a one-week career bootcamp modeled on the HWW method. HWW and career diversity gave me the confidence and the knowledge to advocate for the introduction of formal programming at my graduate school. Ultimately, in an environment of academic job scarcity, HWW and other national career diversity projects provides graduate students with hope. There are many meaningful professional pathways available to PhDs if we ground our career explorations in a deep discernment process rooted in understanding our identities and our values. I’ve learned that discerning ones values is the first step towards a future career either inside or beyond the academy.