The Present and Future of the Humanities PhD in an International Perspective

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1 Dr. Nancy Wright, Dean, Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences University of Windsor The Present and Future of the Humanities PhD in an International Perspective Reviewing the Humanities Doctorate in a comparative international perspective This is not a paper representing a position held by the University of Windsor or by its faculty who teach and research in Humanities disciplines. Instead, it is a proposed topic for discussion at the future of the Humanities PhD Conference based on my experience of returning to a leadership position at a Canadian university after teaching and researching in Australia for more than two decades. As a result of my experience, I necessarily view the Humanities PhD in a comparative international perspective a perspective that this national conference may find valuable. The different models of requirements and supervision of humanities doctoral degrees in Canada, the USA and UK are well-known. In all these national contexts, research training is the focus of the program of study guided by the assumption that a foundation for an academic career is established by the learning outcomes of doctoral research programs, including having demonstrated comprehensive knowledge of a discipline, its research methods and practices, ability to work independently and with others (i.e., a supervisor or supervisory panel), ability to define important research questions, capacity to make original contributions to knowledge, and excellent communication skills. Among these national models, the components of research training vary, particularly the required number of courses, the format of comprehensive examinations, and the models of supervision and examination of the doctoral dissertation. All these models seemingly presume the career goal of the doctoral graduate is an academic career, although doctoral graduates often by choice pursue productive careers in the civil service and NGOs, for example, where their research and communication skills are highly valued. There are other national models of doctoral programs, particularly in the Humanities, that merit study as we consider how best to prepare doctoral graduates for multiple career pathways or non-academic PhDs in the terminology of this conference. This paper describes Australian models of the Humanities PhD and the Professional Doctorate. There, as in Canada, 1

2 many graduates will not secure full-time academic appointments and many aim to pursue alternative careers. The Australian Humanities Doctorate Model The Australian model of a Humanities doctorate differs from a Canadian PhD because the former does not require course work or comprehensive examinations. Whether an Australian doctoral degree is in English literature, History or a social science discipline, course work and comprehensive examinations are not part of the program requirements. These requirements, I was recently advised, are not required of Ontario doctoral programs by the Ontario Council of Graduate Studies but instead are a convention or tradition. This raises a fundamental question to consider in relation to Humanities doctorates: why do these differences exist in these national models? It would be easy too easy to suggest that one is limited in comparison to the other, which is more comprehensive. Typically, Canadian Humanities PhD programs require less coursework than American Humanities PhD programs but that does not mean the knowledge and learning outcomes of a graduate of an American program are necessarily more comprehensive or superior. The issue to focus on, I suggest, is the reason why graduate course work is required to develop high level competence in research methods as well as disciplinary knowledge in particular national models of the Humanities PhD. In Australia admission to a doctoral program in Humanities disciplines places emphasis on demonstrated research experience, including a short thesis, completed during the fourth year of the undergraduate program of study. The fourth year of undergraduate study in English, History, Philosophy or Modern Languages, Literatures and Cultures requires students to enrol in four one-semester courses focussing intensively on research methods and skills and to produce a short thesis under the direction of a supervisor within one year of full-time study. In other words, students who enrol in a four year BA Honours program have a focussed year of research training that prepares them for doctoral study. The BA Honours program enables an undergraduate student to gain an understanding of what is involved in continuing to a doctoral program of study. They have a demonstrated grounding in how to develop an important research question, identify a relevant research method for a project, conduct research, write a 60 page thesis and work with a supervisor and independently within a strict timeline. Students who graduate with a BA General degree often return a year or several years later to enrol in a BA Honours program to gain greater understanding of research, particularly after having found employment that provides for promotion with a BA Honours qualification. The Australian model of BA General and BA Honours programs in the Humanities shapes the curriculum at undergraduate and graduate levels in ways that again differ from the Canadian 2

3 model. The year of study required for an undergraduate Honours degree involves applying for admission and a research-focussed curriculum that is not desired by all students. The Australian Honours curriculum is focussed on research training rather than a capstone experience with smaller seminars and longer assignments as in the fourth year of undergraduate study in many Canadian Bachelor programs. The focus on research training at the undergraduate level is intensified in Australia and is given greater weight in identifying preparation and ability for doctoral study when allocating doctoral scholarships. The issue these differences identify for our consideration is how the undergraduate curriculum shapes the graduate curriculum in these different national models. Because research training is a focus of an undergraduate Humanities program, the doctoral program is escalated and streamlined. The Australian Humanities PhD seems obviously less comprehensive because it lacks course work to develop and examinations to demonstrate comprehensive knowledge of the discipline However, if one compares learning outcomes for graduates of these national doctoral program models, it is difficult to differentiate what the programs provide to their graduates. The Australian Professional Doctorate Model Typically, a Professional Doctorate (DCA, DEd, DIT) provides for a student who has been engaged in a profession, or more accurately, who has been employed for a minimum of 5 years in one area of employment or practice to enrol in a doctoral program of study. The duration and structure of the program of study is similar to the Australian Humanities PhD; that is, students typically enrol for a minimum of 3 years and a maximum of 4 years of full-time study that does not involve comprehensive examinations. For both degree programs, candidates must meet a series of research benchmarks structuring each year of study, beginning with submission of a literature review and submission of a thesis prospectus prior to a confirmation of candidature process during the first nine months of enrolment. The Professional Doctorate may involve enrolling in or auditing course work on topics such as research methods, and presenting their research at a number of conferences, both graduate student, academic and professional conferences. During their enrolment candidates for both a Humanities PhD and a Professional doctorate work with a supervisory panel of faculty who have relevant but often diverse research specializations. The supervisory panel for a Doctorate of Education (DEd) or Doctorate of Information Technology (DIT) reviews the candidate s existing publications, that is, reports written and disseminated in their workplace as well as papers written for professional or trade journals or newspapers, for example, to make a selection for the basis for the dissertation. Similarly, the supervisory panel for a Doctorate of Creative Arts (DCA) reviews a significant body of creative work across one or more arts practices, such as a body of creative writing or visual 3

4 arts and related texts as the basis of the dissertation. The candidate is required to research and write a substantial exegesis of approximately 60 pages to introduce and contextualise the extant publications or works as a coherent body of work addressing a research question. The research training provided is based primarily on supervision of researching and writing an exegesis and editing the candidate s publications into a coherent and original contribution to knowledge. The contribution to knowledge aimed at is relevant not solely to an academic discipline but also to a workplace, policy issue, profession or creative arts practice. The learning outcomes of the degree do not include comprehensive disciplinary knowledge because the career trajectory is not focussed on an academic career. There is no requirement to complete comprehensive examinations for the Professional Doctorate. The most common learning outcomes for an Australian Professional Doctorate are: a broad practical knowledge; a critical understanding of research ethics, and of the literature, theories, methodologies and/or debates of their discipline; strong research skills and practices; strong presentation and communication skills; sound work practices and collaborative skills. The Doctor of Creative Arts addresses the aspirations of many practitioners of creative and performing arts including creative writers, visual artists and filmmakers to gain a qualification that recognizes the research elements of their creative practices. The degree provides a level of academic recognition for different research practices that characterise creative writing and filmmaking, for example. Typically the dissertation for such candidates will be a significant body of creative work across one or more arts practices, such as a body of creative writing, plus an exegesis of 60 pages that contextualises the body of creative work. Often the exegesis will address how research is conducted to create the body of work of art presented. The Doctorate of Creative Arts quickly attracted significant enrolments at many universities where practitioners of creative arts disciplines recognised the value of belonging to a university for a period of 3 years because it provides not only access to libraries and research facilities but also the opportunity to participate in workshops with other creative artists and teaching and research academics. Applicants to a Professional Doctorate program usually differ from applicants to an Australian PhD program in the Humanities; specifically, the applicants for a Professional Doctorate have pursued employment outside the academy for a period of time and choose to return to upgrade their qualifications or, perhaps as importantly, to have their workplace experience and practices recognised as the foundation for an original contribution to knowledge. The 4

5 Professional Doctorate degree attracts a significant number of university graduates who have been independently employed in small businesses or those who have worked as journalists, publishers, editors, visual artists and creative writers. In addition, the Professional Doctorate is often enrolled in by academics whose disciplines do not have a doctorate as a terminal degree program but who aspire to have a doctoral-level qualification. This cohort of candidates often has a significant body of quality publications that when combined with an extended exegetical introduction produces not only a dissertation but also a book manuscript for publication. Those who enrol in a Professional Doctorate usually remain employed full-time during their program of study and complete their research project within the minimum period of 3 years. Often their tuition is paid for by their employers a benefit for the candidate as Professional Doctorate programs are usually offered on a cost-recovery basis. During their enrolment, candidates for a Professional Doctorate have the opportunity to gain experience in the academic context that provides them with new and diverse opportunities to build research and communication skills and to access professional networks. Appropriately, the name Professional Doctorate differentiates this degree from a PhD because the graduate outcomes of these two programs differ. What the Professional Doctorate provides for is diverse career trajectories. The opportunity for graduates of Bachelor and Master-level programs in the Humanities to choose among multiple career pathways, particularly to pursue non-academic careers knowing of the opportunity to return to university to pursue a degree program focussed on a specific aspect of their work experience, is enabling in the Australian context. For examples of Australian Professional Doctorate programs see: es#professional Questions for Discussion: I support the proposal of engaging, as mentors to our graduate students, alumni who as working professionals chose a career outside the academy. However, is it accurate to suggest as is stated in the conference project description Future Humanities: Transforming Graduate Studies for the Future of Canada: no matter how conscientious faculty members are, they are not well-suited to supervise students in programs that are designed to lead to careers outside as well as inside the university? Faculty members at universities in Canada are not residents of an ivory tower whose experience is limited to one workplace during their entire lives and 5

6 careers. Contemporary universities are not places that exclude all those other than academics but instead have increasingly engaged in community-university partnerships at the regional, national and international levels. Should we be asking, how can we ensure our students have greater access to many kinds of expertise and people who can facilitate a transition to employment without and within the university environment? Should there be a more focussed approach to research training at the undergraduate level in Humanities disciplines in order to accelerate students progress in graduate programs? The University of Windsor held the UWill Undergraduate Research Conference in Winter semester 2015 in order to focus attention on building undergraduate students research experience and capacity. For information see The White Paper on the Future of the PhD in the Humanities makes reference to the high drop out rate from doctoral programs. Should our focus be on ensuring all doctoral programs have identified exit points to enable students to leave with a credential; for example, the MA after completing the course work component and the MPhil after completing both course work and comprehensive examinations as in many American doctoral humanities programs? By structuring doctoral programs in the Humanities with exit points, students will gain the opportunity to choose whether or not to continue to complete knowing that they will have a graduate credential to support their access to employment. 6

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