I’ve had the privilege of talking about graduate education reform and career preparation for humanities scholars at several universities this spring, including Stanford, NYU, and the University of Delaware. I’ve adapted the following from those presentations. The full dataset from the study that I discuss will be available later this summer, along with a more formal report. A PDF of this post is available here.
Already familiar with the background of this project? Jump straight to the survey results.
Graduate students in the humanities thinking about their future careers face a fundamental incongruity: though humanities scholars thrive in a wide range of positions, many graduate programs operate as though every PhD student will become a tenured professor. While the disconnect between the number of tenure-track jobs available and the single-minded focus with which graduate programs prepare students for that specific career is not at all new, the problem is becoming ever more urgent due to the increasing casualization of academic labor, as well as the high levels of debt that many students bear once they complete their degrees.
This spring marks a new phase for my work with SCI. Data collection for the survey on career paths is complete, and analysis is underway, meaning that the next step will be much more focused on sharing outcomes. In some ways, this is a less comfortable step in the process for me (nerves! public speaking!), but also an exciting and satisfying one.
I’m honored to be giving several invited talks over the next few months:
I gave the following talk at the 2013 MLA Convention in Boston as part of an excellent roundtable organized by Paul Fyfe, who has also collected a number of resources in a Zotero library. The wide-ranging presentations sparked many thoughtful questions that I hope will lead to continued discussion about the ways that graduate training could be modified for the good of students, the discipline, and the public. Some of the slides are taken from my earlier presentation on SCI’s survey on career paths for humanities PhDs (a full report of which will be available later this year).
When I look back on 2012, I have no doubt that it will stick in my memory as a year of renewal. It has been an incredible and enriching year in so many ways, from a new home to a new job to what feels like a thousand and one new skills (many of them half-baked, but good starts nonetheless). I know that the tech skills below are no big deal for most everyone in the DH community, but I came to them all from total unfamiliarity.
Here are some of the things I’ve learned in the past year:
I learned how (and why) to use the command line.
I learned how to use Github, both for my own projects and to collaborate with others.
I learned how to use vim, and that using vim makes me feel pretty badass… or else it makes me feel like a hopeless case. The line between the two feelings is pretty thin.
I learned that everybody has to look stuff up in the documentation, and that half the battle is knowing where to look.
I’ve gotten pretty decent with HTML markup.
I can figure stuff out in CSS. Sometimes.
Along the same lines, I finally figured out how to get a domain name and host, get a proper WordPress install, set up a child theme, and start making my website look the way I want it to look.
I learned how to use an FTP client, and eventually I got brave enough to move remote files around from the command line.
I learned a tiny little bit of Ruby.
I learned how to type curly quotes, and why it matters (thanks, @clioweb!).
And finally, it might rank low on the list of essential life skills, but I have learned to do a headstand without a wall to catch me, and that feels amazing.
The last couple of weeks have seen a great deal of news and conversation about graduate education reform. I have a lot to say about it (unsurprisingly!); you can find my take on it over at ProfHacker. The piece includes some discussion of SCI’s latest work, the Praxis Program, and the budding Praxis Network, so I hope you’ll take a look!
I’m also happy to note that I’ll be talking more about all of this at the upcoming MLA Convention in Boston—if you’re interested the topic, consider attending this roundtable on Rebooting Graduate Training. There will be ample time for discussion at the session, so come ready with questions and ideas.
This year’s MLA Convention program is up, and I’m already excited about connecting with people and hearing about their latest work. I’m also feeling a little uneasy about my own presentation, though. Or rather, I wish I could belatedly add a second presentation that is rooted in my current work at SCI.
Proposals for MLA presentations are due early in the year; I submitted mine mid-March, and I think most deadlines fell around the same time. It’s an entirely reasonable time frame given the size and complexity of the convention, but it also means there’s a significant lag between submission and presentation. At that time, I was still at Sloan, though I knew (unofficially) that I’d be starting at SCI soon after. I knew that my work this year would have me digging deeply into the landscape of alternative academic careers, but I didn’t know enough of the specifics it would entail to write a proposal on it, and the study that has been my primary focus didn’t exist yet. So, because I knew I wanted to go to the MLA (and because I wanted to give myself some research and writing homework), I proposed a paper that was grounded in my academic background — one I had been wanting to write, and that I’ll be happy to present and get some feedback on.
While I don’t have anything that cool that to show yet, I’m excited that I do have a little something. Here’s the fruit of everything I’ve learned so far:
Humanities scholars come from a wide array of backgrounds and embark on a variety of careers in areas like libraries, museums, archives, higher education and humanities administration, publishing, research and technology, and more. SCI anticipates that data collected during the study will contribute to a deeper understanding of the diversity of career paths we pursue after our graduate studies, while also highlighting opportunities to better prepare students for a range of careers beyond the tenure track.
The surveys complement thepublic database that we recently created as a way to clarify the breadth of the field, and to foster community among a diverse group. If your work represents the diversity of the broad #alt-ac community, it’s not too late to tell us about yourself!
The surveys and directory are being administered as part of the Scholarly Communication Institute’s current phase of work – which includes a close concentration on graduate education reform (largely in the North American context) and the preparation of future knowledge workers, educators, and cultural heritage and scholarly communications professionals.
The survey results will help us to make curriculum recommendations so that graduate programs may better serve future students, and anonymized or summarized data will be made available at #alt-academy at a later date. Please contact me if you’d like to know more.