Category Archives: GSAS Dean

Transformation, Not Replication: Training the Next Generation of Doctoral Students

Is it possible to “unlearn” something? This was one of the main questions at the recent meeting of the “Living Humanities” Ph.D. for the 21st Century project, focusing on the planning theme “Inhabit the New Learning Ecosystem.”

This term comes from Cathy Davidson’s Now You See It: How Technology and Brain Science Will Transform Schools and Business for the 21st Century, in which she draws from Alvin Toffler to suggest that “the key literacy skill of the twenty-first century is the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn” (12). Some participants scoffed at this description, seeing it as old hat. Don’t we do this in our classrooms every day? Isn’t this a skill that dates back to Plato? But perhaps this idea bears repeating – in adapting doctoral programs to suit a twenty-first century learning ecosystem, we need to let go of old assumptions.

 
One of these assumptions is that every Ph.D. graduate will go into a tenure-track academic faculty position (or that every student enters a Ph.D aspiring to this career). Today’s Ph.D. graduates are grappling with a much larger job market. While many candidates still make the tenure-track professorship their primary goal, others focus more on so-called “alternative academic” careers (alt-ac) or careers outside the academy altogether in non-profits, museums, government, or business, among others.

A second assumption is that incoming doctoral students will learn and conduct their scholarship in the same ways that their professors did. The constantly evolving digital and informational landscape means that students have new avenues to acquire knowledge, from the internet to MOOCs, as well as new systems of learning. One professor noted that he finds it harder and harder to find cultural parallels with his students, and feels that he is forcing them to use his systems of learning rather than the ones they have grown up with.

 
So how can we adapt doctoral programs in the humanities to accommodate more career outcomes? One suggestion is to talk to Ph.D. graduates who have gone to other careers. In “Graduate Education Reconsidered,” James Grossman and Emily Swafford of the American Historical Association (and members of the “Living Humanities” Ph.D. project) mention asking alumni from History Ph.D.s working outside the academy what they wished they had learned during their degrees. They found five areas to address that could easily benefit students going into academic careers as well: “communication beyond the scholarly and classroom modes, collaboration, quantitative literacy, intellectual self-confidence, and digital literacy/engagement.”

Among these five areas, communication stands out. At the meeting, several participants emphasized the need for Ph.D. students to address different publics both inside and outside academia. They saw this skill not only as a way for students to advocate for themselves and highlight their skills to employers, but also as a means of promoting Ph.D. study in the humanities more generally. Ph.D. alumni working outside the academy could become strong ambassadors for their disciplines, communicating what they achieved in their degrees to a much broader audience.

Participants had many suggestions about incorporating more career outcomes into Ph.D. programs, but they were less certain about how to engage students who were accustomed to learning through primarily digital means. So how can doctoral programs adapt to engage these students? Some participants were skeptical about making big changes at a time when digital tools are changing so frequently. What if we adopt something that turns out to be a passing trend? How do we maintain our traditions and standards of excellence while also staying current?

The general consensus seemed to be that we have to be willing to change, to unlearn outdated methods and try new ones (even if they might not last). But participants also highlighted elements of doctoral education that still remain constant. The key skills of mastery and manipulation are still key to learning, even if they are being done differently in our digital age. Moreover, some of the functions of studying the humanities still stay the same. They can still tell us how we got to where we are today, creating a “living archive” that makes the past current, and they still offer self-knowledge to those who study them.

 
Through the process of unlearning, perhaps we can let go of old assumptions about what Ph.D. students want to do and how they want to learn to create doctoral programs that will best serve new generations of students. As the MLA Task Force on Doctoral Study in Modern Language and Literature puts it in their 2014 report, we should encourage “a shift from a narrative of replication, in which students imitate their mentors, to one of transformation, since graduate programs should be centered on students’ diverse learning and career development needs.”

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For more about the “Inhabit the New Learning Ecosystem” planning theme and suggestions for further reading, see its description on the website for “The ‘Living Humanities’ Ph.D. for the 21st Century.” To learn more about the meeting itself, read the full discussion in the official minutes.

  • Samantha Sabalis, Graduate Assistant, NEH/GSAS Grant, The “Living Humanities” Ph.D. for the 21st Century

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Helping Students to Navigate through Graduate School: Let’s Talk About Mentorship

This is post two on the “Ensure Access and Inclusion” theme- see part one here!

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Entering graduate school can be a bewildering experience. As well as struggling with the demands of coursework and the expectations of professors, students must also learn the norms of their new environment. For some, this process is a necessary component of preparing for a doctoral degree. For others, it feels needlessly punitive and even like a form of hazing.

The question of how to welcome new students into the community of the graduate school and into individual departments was a central component of the meeting on Access and Inclusion, especially for the group focusing on student retention and support. The discussion in this group centered on one possibility for helping students acclimatize to the department – mentorships between students and faculty members. A productive mentorship can open a window into departmental culture and practices for students, as well as fostering the passion for the subject that prompted them to enter graduate school in the first place. Ideally, faculty mentors could not only provide valuable resources to their mentees and increase their confidence, but also develop a relationship with them that is goes beyond the requirements for the degree.

These ideal mentorships can be an asset for a department, but they depend on one key element: the mentor him or herself.

While many graduate students develop beneficial mentorships with faculty members, some are less lucky. Different faculty members can have different expectations and rules for their relationships with students, which may be implicit, and students can also feel apprehensive approaching their mentors with their own expectations and issues. Stories of less-than-ideal relationships between faculty and students often circulate within departments, and students are subtly discouraged from pursuing relationships that could prove problematic.

Departments can help students create fruitful mentorships by encouraging them to develop relationships with several faculty members to evaluate them as possible mentors, but why should the burden of developing a mentorship fall entirely on the student? Drawing on their own experiences as current and former graduate students, meeting participants agreed that approaching faculty members can be a daunting task, especially for students who don’t feel they fit into the culture of the department.

Instead, why not ask students what they expect from a mentorship, and provide guidelines for both mentees and mentors that draw on? Departments might also consider building other forms of mentorship that could help bring students into their community. For instance, students may feel more confident sharing their problems with peers who are further along in their studies. Departments can also introduce students to their culture and expectations through a foundation class, such as the Graduate Proseminar in Fordham’s Philosophy department.

Mentorships can help students become happier and more confident members of the graduate school community. To reap these benefits, however, we have to consider the burden that we place on students to create strong relationships with mentors as well as the hidden expectations on both sides that can undermine these relationships.

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To read more about the “Access and Inclusion” planning theme (including a recommended reading list), see its description on the website for “The ‘Living Humanities’ Ph.D. for the 21st Century.” If you want to learn more about the meeting itself, read the full discussion in the official minutes.

  • Samantha Sabalis, Graduate Assistant, NEH/GSAS Grant, The “Living Humanities” Ph.D. for the 21st Century

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Opening the Gates: Ensuring Access and Inclusion During the Admission Process

On Tuesday, November 15th, “The ‘Living Humanities’ Ph.D. for the 21st Century” held its second meeting, focusing on the planning theme of “Ensure Access and Inclusion.” For this meeting, the group was split into two parts, which will be addressed in two different blog posts (see part two here). In this post, I focus on the first group’s discussion on admissions, considering how GSAS programs in the humanities can attract and admit under-represented groups during the admissions process. A subsequent post will focus on the second group’s discussion on retention, mentoring, and student support for under-represented groups once they are attending the GSAS programs in the humanities.

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So what are these “under-represented groups” at Fordham? This term includes but is not limited to prospective and current students who are members of racial and ethnic minority communities, members of faiths other than Christianity, members of LGBTQ communities, and/or members of economically and academically disadvantaged communities. Meeting participants considered how these groups are not mutually exclusive and how diversity goes beyond racial differences, often including hidden identifiers that students may not be comfortable revealing.

And how can humanities programs in the GSAS attract members from these under-represented groups? The discussion focused on three elements: advertising the programs to create a more diverse applicant pool, rethinking how we evaluate applications to potentially create a more diverse student body, and above all considering the application process from the applicant’s point of view. Group members suggested advertising Fordham’s programs to promising applicants from under-represented groups by working more intensely with institutions in the neighborhoods around our campuses in the Bronx and Manhattan and using faculty contacts to forge links with institutions catering primarily to communities not well-represented at Fordham, such as historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

As well as reaching out to these communities, group members considered factors that could discourage promising students from applying to graduate school, such as the many costs that prospective students face and the uncertain payoff of a Ph.D. degree in the current academic job market. Applying for a Ph.D. is an expensive proposition, including hefty fees to prepare for and take the GRE test, but even after students are accepted they must reach further into their pockets to pay for moving expenses and the deposit on a new home. To address initial expenses, the group suggested forgiving GRE fees for admitted students and providing advance funding for the transition to start graduate school.

Mitigating these costs still leaves the price of the degree itself. The cost of attending a Ph.D. program must be balanced with the rewards at its conclusion – if students do not want traditional academic jobs or feel that the market is too competitive, they see no point to even applying. To address these perceptions of limited or lackluster job prospects, the group proposed showcasing a wider range of career paths for Ph.D. graduates on the university website that could appeal to a broader group of applicants.

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But encouraging promising students to apply is only half the battle; they must also be admitted into Fordham’s programs. The group confronted current markers of privilege in evaluating graduate applications and how to acknowledge them. For instance, they noted that committees rely heavily on the GRE General test as a marker for student potential, but higher scores on this test have been linked with higher socio-economic status. As GRE scores are used for university ratings, the group found it impractical to get rid of the test entirely. Instead, they suggested training admissions committees about its limitations as a marker of academic potential to encourage them to take a more holistic view of each student’s application. The group then considered looking at applications without any clues to the applicant’s identity. One innovative suggestion focused on a technique called Blind Hiring, pioneered in Silicon Valley, which strips all identity markers from application materials and has resulted in more diverse and talented hires.

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To read more about this planning theme (including a recommended reading list), see its description on the website for “The ‘Living Humanities’ Ph.D. for the 21st Century.”

  • Samantha Sabalis, Graduate Assistant, NEH/GSAS Grant, The “Living Humanities” Ph.D. for the 21st Century

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Message to the GSAS Community

Dear Members of the GSAS Community,

Now that we begin to grapple with the significance of today’s historic election results, it is vital for us to reaffirm our purpose as a community of scholars, teachers, and students. This morning, as we woke to deep divisions and yet-to-be-fathomed realignments, I recalled the words of the GSAS mission: “Guided by its Catholic and Jesuit traditions, we aspire to prepare students for teaching and leadership in a global society, by welcoming learners from diverse religious, economic, and cultural backgrounds into full participation in a scholarly endeavor.” We should be proud to belong to a community that defines itself in these diverse and inclusive terms in the service of knowledge, wisdom, and the common good.

Today I am asking all of us—professors, students, and administrators–to rededicate ourselves to the university and to our academic community because it remains a vital embodiment of that hope that only education can offer to the poor, the marginalized, the fearful, the oppressed, and the disenfranchised. Never has the power of education in creating spaces of choice, hope, and possibility been clearer. I am grateful for the depth of commitment you bring to the work of research, reading, experimentation, analysis, and teaching–to all those minute daily motions of academic freedom that end up expanding the funds of knowledge and shrinking the domains of prejudice.

Eva Badowska,
Dean, GSAS

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“Living Humanities” Ph.D. Grant Project Kicks Off at Fordham!

The National Endowment for the Humanities has awarded GSAS and Fordham University a Next Generation Humanities PhD grant for the project entitled “The “Living Humanities” Ph.D. for the 21st Century.” For more on this project, see its website.

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The inaugural meeting of “The ‘Living Humanities’ PhD for the 21st Century” project took place on Friday, October 14. The meeting started on a somewhat bleak note – the unhappiness of graduate students. In his introductory talk, featured speaker Leonard Cassuto highlighted that, in the current plan of graduate education in the humanities, professors teach graduate students to want something that their professors can’t supply – the tenure-track academic position – so they’re effectively teaching their students to be unhappy. Drawing on two chapters from his 2015 book, The Graduate School Mess: What Caused It and How We Can Fix It, “Admissions” and “Conclusion: In Search of an Ethic,” Cassuto charted how we got to this point, giving a snapshot of graduate education and job placement since the 1950s. Most damningly, he suggested that current doctoral education is designed for people who could be the grandparents of our current students – the doctoral candidates who graduated during an academic job boom in the 1950s and 60s.

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Having established this pressing need for change in doctoral education, the meeting then turned to how we can change, focusing on five key questions:

  • How can we connect what we teach with what our students do with their degrees?
  • How can we embrace the teaching mission of graduate study?
  • Should the PhD be reconceived with skills-based approaches, and what would these skills be?
  • What are the goals for the PhD degree, and what would it mean to reconceive doctoral education in the humanities as liberal education?
  • How should the PhD go public?

Meeting participants engaged in a World Café format, discussing these questions in groups of five and taking copious notes to share with the group.

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With these discussions, the tone of the meeting became a lot more uplifting, with participants discussing ways to make change and programs that had already started this process. Participants questioned what students get out of their degrees – how do we connect how we teach with what our students do with their degrees? What skills do students develop during the PhD? They also debated how to balance discipline-specific requirements with more universal skills – should graduate education be skills or content-driven (and is this an either/or question)? Are the disciplines dinosaurs? A common theme across the five topics that merits further exploration was what students actually do once they graduate from PhDs – are there recognizable categories of non-academic jobs that students go to? What options are available to humanities PhD graduates, and what do employers outside the academy value from a humanities doctoral education?

One key theme across the topics was the value of collaboration and interdisciplinarity. Many participants emphasized the value of collaborative assignments for students, but also encouraging students to look beyond their departments for resources and providing teaching opportunities that weren’t just field-specific. They also highlighted current initiatives across the GSAS that help prepare graduate students for a range of positions, such as the proseminar for first-year students in Philosophy that provides professional orientation, or the Teaching Practicum in the English department that prepares graduates to teach at a range of institutions. New initiatives were also mentioned, like the Preparing Future Faculty program at GSAS and a proposed Eloquentia Perfecta seminar in Public Communication for graduate students across the humanities.

Other resources from outside Fordham were also suggested. In a discussion of post-PhD careers, one participant suggested the “Humanities Unbound” project, which promotes careers beyond tenure-track academic jobs and investigates what alt-ac activities are already being pursued by graduate students and academics across the US (see this paper by Katarina Rogers from the University of Virginia for details). In a discussion of internship opportunities for PhD students, several people mentioned the MLA’s Connected Academics Proseminar for alternate careers to academia, currently in its second year. In a discussion of taking scholarly research public, the “Knowledge Unlatched” portal was mentioned, which hosts Open Access publications that are proposed by publishers and then supported by libraries.

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Throughout the meeting, participants highlighted avenues for improvement and expressed a strong desire to implement such changes. They also considered both potential gains and losses from the evolution of graduate education, and emphasized the need for humility in looking to new models. The practicality, enthusiasm, and wealth of suggestions from PhD students and graduates across disciplines and careers set a promising precedent for “The ‘Living Humanities’ PhD for the 21st Century” project’s ongoing mission this year.

  • Samantha Sabalis, Graduate Assistant, NEH/GSAS Grant, The “Living Humanities” Ph.D. for the 21st Century

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Eva Badowska Appointed Dean of Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Fordham GSAS is thrilled to officially congratulate Eva Badowska, PhD as the Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences!

Eva Badowska, PhD

Eva Badowska, PhD

To learn more, please read the latest Fordham news!

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