Humanities scholars debate PhD reform

May 29, 2014

Scholars at the 2014 Congress of the Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences (CFHSS) are debating the future of humanities PhD programs. The ideas being put forward include the end of the dissertation, higher standards for digital literacy, and more concerted efforts to link graduate humanities education to post-doctoral employment. Paul Yachnin, Director of the Institute for the Public Life of Arts and Ideas at McGill University, says that more can be done to communicate the value of humanities PhDs’ skills; he also suggests that universities must do a better job of tracking PhDs who find employment away from academia. Yachnin works with the Future of Graduate Training in the Humanities Project, which has issued 7 recommendations for reforming humanities PhD programs. These include the creation of dedicated placement services for non-academic opportunities, replacing the dissertation with a series of projects, and limiting the duration of programs. Meanwhile, the Modern Language Association (MLA) has issued a report that recommends reducing the time it takes to complete a PhD. The MLA further recommends departments revise the pacing and quantity of coursework and promote additional competencies, including technological training. Neither the CFHSS roundtable nor the MLA believe that the size of PhD cohorts should be reduced. CFHSS News Release | White Paper on the Future of the PhD in the Humanities | The Chronicle of Higher Education | Inside Higher Ed | MLA Report Summary