Brandeis overhauls Ph.D. training in the humanities

Most Ph.D. students will not eventually get a term faculty position as there are far more prospective assistant professors than available positions. Brandeis University is one of a growing number of institutions that face reality straight. It encouraged graduate students, faculty members, and academic programs in the humanities and social sciences to pursue traditional Ph.D. training with skills development and experiences that do not center faculty work. Some departments have also adopted significant curricular reforms.

Much of this work was part of Brandeis’ Connected Ph.D. initiative, now three years old. The program was launched with a $ 750,000 four-year grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. For students, the program funds professional development experiences, including fellowships (something like paid internships) on campus or at external locations identified by the candidate. Previous fellowships – some of which led to permanent employment or other lasting connections for the student – include those at Brandeis’ Center for Teaching and Learning, Brandeis University Press, Brandeis’s Educational Justice Initiative, the International Institute of New England, the Society for Cultural Anthropology, the National Women’s Law Center and Boston Public Schools.

Anthony Lipscomb, a Ph.D. candidate in Near Eastern and Jewish Studies and one of two students who Connected Ph.D. funding to work with Brandeis University Press is now the press’ full-time coordinator — a position he was offered to his fellowship. He said he was initially interested in a press fellowship because of his previous experience as a research assistant on faculty publishing projects, and a general desire to diversify his “prospects” in light of the difficult faculty labor market.

“Looking back, I feel really happy to have this opportunity,” Lipscomb said this week. “I am now a full-time staff member of the press while I am also writing my dissertation. Where does this road lead, who knows? Academic publishing is important work, a partnership between publishers and scholars to form fields of knowledge. I can see myself thriving in this business on both sides of this partnership. ”

Sue Ramin, press director, said her operation benefited from being part of the Connected Ph.D. program too. While doctoral study is not a prerequisite for positions in the publication, she said, graduate students bring valuable “independence” to their work. It’s nice to have someone who, if they do not know how to do something, they work out how to do it. ”

While Brandeis-based societies proved particularly practical during COVID-19, when restrictions and travel restrictions limited some community-based work, external societies and involvement continued throughout the pandemic.

Kaitie Chakoian, a Ph.D. candidate in social policy, said her Associated Ph.D.-related work in 2020 at the National Women’s Law Center was a result of an earlier research course on gender-based violence presented by Anita Hill and which she followed at Brandeis . At the center, Chakoian helped conduct a national survivor survey, contribute to the Survivors’ Agenda policy platform and plan a national summit.

“It was an incredible experience, mostly because of the network of leaders, activists and survivors I was able to work with that summer,” Chakoian said. “I have been on committees with front-line workers, executive directors and community organizers from so many groups and organizations doing the real, on-the-ground work to support survivors and work to end gender-based violence.” Now that she has completed her dissertation, she said “the connections I made through with the Connected Ph.D. helped me frame my research. ” She also works as the campus policy manager at End Rape on Campus, an organization involved in the Survivors’ Agenda.

Some students received funding Connected Ph.D. funding for skills building and credibility, to enroll for digital tools, methods and design courses and workshops outside Brandeis. The university also now allows Ph.D. students to enroll for supplementary online courses by the Rabb School of Continuing Studies at Brandeis, namely: cognitive and social psychology of user-centered design, principles of learning experience design, and writing for digital environments.

“We as a faculty have an ethical obligation to prepare students for the positions that are out there, and those positions are different from what they were 10, 20, 30 years ago,” says Wendy Cadge, dean of the Graduate School for Arts and Sciences at Brandeis. “It’s just realistic. I mean, if you’re going to invest in Ph.D. students, you want them to be successful. And I think they need a wide range of skills and the ability to be flexible – and, honestly, an awareness of what the job market looks like when it comes to their Ph.D. program — so that they can make the decisions that are best for them. ”

Apart from Associated Ph.D. funding opportunities, Brandeis doctoral students are guaranteed 9 months of funding for five years.

Associated Ph.D. also provides faculty members with funding for course development and program innovation.

A ‘Bridge’ from Academy to Careers

Jonathan Anjaria, Associate Professor of Anthropology, is involved in many aspects of Connected Ph.D. program as Brandeis’s first faculty director of professional development for the graduate school. In this latter capacity, Anjaria offers highly personalized career consultations with individual graduate students in the humanities, social sciences and arts (another mentor and other services are available for graduate students in the sciences). He also plans career seminars and talks, and liaises with alumni working inside and outside the academy, who also help guide current students on various paths.

Anjaria recently said that “the reason we thought this post was very important was that we wanted to create a bridge, a position that reflects the academic work that is going on in the departments at the academic level, and career services and other bridge career support. ” Often, he said, students graduate over academic sense and stick to an “unspoken rule” not to discuss “practical”, “professional” or “financial” topics with their immediate faculty mentors, which inhibits their career planning.

“When I meet students, the typical scenario is someone who says, ‘Well, I’m in my fifth year, sixth year of a Ph.D., and I feel I’m trained to be an expert in this one subject. , and I now realize that the chances of me getting a steady job in that subject are very slim. “I’m really worried that I’m just trained to do this one thing, and that I have no ability to get any other job,” said Anjaria. “And so a big part of my job is career exploration, to get people out of that mindset. To say, ‘Actually, even if you’re in the most humanities-focused field or whatever, there are many options out there,’ ”including, but not limited to, faculty work.

These options are increasing with careful planning, Anjaria continued: “It is assumed that the two grade school tracks the academic [job] track or non-academic track, but what I have seen is that the two tracks actually go through grade school and think about work, as opposed to going to postgraduate school and not thinking about work. ”

Sarah Gable, a Ph.D. candidate in history, worked in the provost’s office through Connected Ph.D., and explores how undergraduate majors can better align their course offerings with direct learning objectives. She has since moved on to other projects within the provost’s office and continues to invest in career diversity (she said her interest and participation in career diversity work preceded Connected Ph.D., in part because she worked outside academia before graduate school and now has young children, whom she is not prepared to “bounce” across the country for a series of temporary postdoctoral positions while in the fixed-term labor market).

“I’m really passionate about it because I want to protect people from that really emotional mourning process” across the job market, even if Gable’s own thoughts on a faculty future were more “practical,” she said. “I want people to be prepared and I want people to know — especially with the humanities, where we kind of go around justifying our existence — that there is value in the Ph.D. is, even if you are not going to work in a term job. Your skills and everything you have learned, it’s all really necessary outside of academia, because a lot of people talk about the issues we’re talking about in the humanities in the wider world, and not just talk to other academics. ”

Brandeis is now working to secure funding for the societies to continue even after the Mellon award ends in a year. But other elements of his approach to rethinking Ph.D. training costs little to nothing, and will continue. Case in point: curricular reform, which has already approved several programs.

John Burt, chairman of English, said COVID-19 sparked discussions in its 2020 curriculum change program. Studying alumni career outcomes was a big part of this effort. The changes, which will be rolled out over the next few years, include asking applicants for admission to share career plans that may include work outside the traditional faculty track, extending a course on writing for academia to other types of writing. cover (including grant proposals) and rewrite a course on pedagogy to include various types of teaching. Other plans include adding a fourth-year internship and making the final research project more flexible – meaning it does not necessarily have to be (in Burt’s words) “a proto-book”.

“There are so many features to this project,” he said.

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