Fall Harvest2016-17 at the Commons will be a year centered around graduate education. Since we opened our doors in 2015, we have been developing a range of services and activities for graduate students, often in response to student interests and requests. We’ve designed programs that help graduate students identify and apply for dissertation and research funding; we’ve hosted skill shares and trainings that address graduate students as teachers and public speakers; and we’ve launched an internship program that provides meaningful opportunities to apply research skills in public settings.
This year is different, though: thanks to an NEH Next Generation PhD Planning Grant, we will be hosting more inclusive and systematic conversations around how graduate education in the humanities at UCI might best evolve in a rapidly changing higher education landscape.
What is key here to me is not reacting to a crisis but rather thinking in affirmative and creative ways about what we think the value of a PhD in the humanities is. What kinds of work, inside and outside of colleges and universities, can PhDs do with the research skills and habits of inquiry that we are aiming to cultivate in our seminars, dissertation advising, and co-curricular mentoring and support? How can a broader sense of the situations in which humanities research occurs be introduced earlier in graduate education, with an eye to developing more flexible, responsive, and imaginative scholar-teacher-citizens? How will that expanded vision benefit students regardless of whether they end up pursuing tenure-track jobs or seeking other kinds of positions?
We already got some initial answers to these questions in our Public Fellows program last year. Graduate students in English, History, Visual Studies, and East Asian Languages and Literatures reported positive experiences interacting with colleagues in cultural organizations in the region. We are expanding the Public Fellows program this year, thanks to a grant from the Luce Foundation. “Community partnerships and mentoring” is the topic of one of four working groups that will contribute to the NEH planning process. The other working groups include “Strategies of Engagement” (how do we get the conversation started?) and “Graduate curriculum and training” (once we have the conversation, what are some ways to make these ideas real?).
In initiating this planning grant, we will be joining a national consortium of universities. They include UC Berkeley, UC Santa Barbara, UC Santa Cruz, the University of Colorado at Boulder, Princeton University, the University of Chicago, Washington University, Fordham University, and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Through national meetings and online conferencing, we will have a chance to share ideas with them and discuss common challenges.
Although the Humanities Commons will continue to offer trainings, workshops and internships, any real change will have to happen in departments and will involve acting on ideas generated by people invested in different aspects of this work. Our planning committee includes faculty, graduate students, community members, and staff. The problems before us are not small, and there is no single solution to creating stronger foundations for our programs and sounder employment prospects for our students while retaining the rigor and integrity of graduate training. We look forward to your contributions and feedback.