The number of academic positions posted by humanities disciplinary associations has decreased overall. This news of the continued sluggishness of the academic job market is only distressing, however, if we believe that the single possible or appropriate professional pathway for humanities PhDs is the professoriate. There is no reason to accept this view as reality when the limited available evidence suggests that a wide range of rewarding careers are possible. More...
August 28, 2017
PhDs wanted: Valuing deep training in the humanities
Suzanne T. OrtegaSuzanne T. Ortega is President at the Council of Graduate Schools.
The number of academic positions posted by humanities disciplinary associations has decreased overall. This news of the continued sluggishness of the academic job market is only distressing, however, if we believe that the single possible or appropriate professional pathway for humanities PhDs is the professoriate. There is no reason to accept this view as reality when the limited available evidence suggests that a wide range of rewarding careers are possible.
As William D. Adams, former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, has said, humanities doctorate holders have much to contribute to American society.1 And yet, PhD students continue to be told, often explicitly, that the only definition of success is a tenure-track professorship at a high-intensive research university. The Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) has been working with its member institutions on a variety of strategies designed to change this narrative in favor of one that better reflects the breadth of skills and contributions of humanists who hold PhDs.
Having more information about PhD career pathways in the humanities may better establish the value of a humanities PhD to individual degree holders and to larger communities. While we know, anecdotally, that humanists with PhDs occupy leadership positions in business, government, and at non-profits, we need to know more. Among other things, we still do not fully understand the extent to which humanists work in fields related to their field of study; whether they find career satisfaction; what skills they use in their professions; and the extent to which their graduate education prepared them for their careers.
CGS’s recently-launched PhD Career Pathways project will help answer these questions while also identifying the full range of careers that humanities PhDs aspire to and pursue. Working with 29 institutional partners and an even larger network of university affiliates, CGS will support the collection of information on the career aspirations of PhD students and the career pathways of PhD alumni across all broad fields; the humanities portion of this work is generously supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. For the graduate education community, this information promises to broaden our conceptions of the purpose of graduate education in the humanities—and inform the ways we structure our programs.
While more and better information about PhD career pathways in the humanities will be important, we need not wait to rethink humanities graduate students’ professional development. Over the past year, CGS has partnered with The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to do just that. The Next Generation Humanities PhD program addresses the need for a robust public humanities network in the United States by empowering PhD programs to consider the broader implications of their research, and to involve students in public outreach.
Through this program, NEH awarded grants to 28 universities “to plan and implement changes to graduate education that will broaden the career preparation of a PhD student beyond a career in the academy.”2 CGS was tasked with providing intellectual leadership to a consortium of the 28 grantees and guiding their mission to transform the culture of graduate education. CGS’s summary of promising practices resulting from the first year of the Next Gen program will be released this fall.
Humanities graduate students and recent alumni already engage in projects that have enormous value to the public. Through an initiative called GradImpact, CGS collects examples of the ways that graduate students and degree holders in the humanities (and other fields) contribute to the public good. We invite universities to nominate students and recent alumni work for inclusion in the gallery.
These initiatives are helping to create the conditions that will allow PhD-trained humanists to more fully contribute their urgently-needed expertise and perspective to our society. To realize this potential, we need to understand the full range of contributions PhD humanists currently make, and make visible their successes. Perhaps most importantly, we must give current students the opportunity to use their preparation in a broader range of careers, and to help them envision and lead work of real social impact.
Note: A portion of this text is adapted from an article in CGS’s GradEdge newsletter, “Now More than Ever: An Argument for the Humanities” (January 2017).
1 See Adams’s remarks in Flaherty, C. (2015, October 21). “Beyond faculty careers.” Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2015/10/21/neh-seeks-spur-humanities-phd-training-beyond-traditional-career-paths
2 National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). (2016). Next Generation Humanities PhD Implementation Grants announcement. CFDA Number: 45.130 Retrieved from http://www.neh.gov/files/grants/next-generation-humanities-phd-implementation-grants.pdf