3 thoughts on “Placeholder: Future of the Humanities PhD

  1. I’m against the five-year PhD and the 150-page dissertation because they would have put an end to my career before it got started, and I think (self-indulgently of course) that academia is better off with people like me in it. By that I mean people who stopped what they were already doing to learn another language or two, who had to figure out how to make their concerns meaningful to people in a different professional field, who wrote one quasi-dissertation on a different subject but bagged it because it didn’t have an audience and started over again– that sort of thing. Putting tighter limits on time to degree just ensures that departments won’t take on any students whose application essay isn’t already an outline of their dissertation. And those dissertation outlines will most likely be conventional, pre-approved projects. Ever more efficient progress toward ever more predictable scholarship– is this what we need?

  2. The benefit of the “old” way of doing things was that students had the potential to make meaningful contributions to scholarship — to write works that actually extended knowledge, however long it took to do the job right. Yes, the edges of that path have been littered with the bodies of the troubled and the disorganized, but the basic pattern of acquiring knowledge and creating new knowledge depends on having the requisite time and space. With the Stanford plan, you will graduate knowing less and having done less; the entire process is sacrificed to that sacred decanal dream of normative time.

  3. Happy to disagree. I, too, was one of those grad students who fumbled about for the first few years until I found my interest and my scholarly self. But it took me as long as it did — which was too long — in part because it could, and I knew it. (Admittedly, the reasons for my lengthy-but-still-below-average time to degree are numerous, but still.) A fairly hard time limit would no doubt have spurred me, and others responsible for my development, on appropriately.

    I’m also not convinced that “you will graduate knowing less and having done less…” More time does not always translated into more knowledge acquisition. In fact, the opposite may occur. With the time (more) specified from the outset, students may very well devote more of their lives during that time to their studies. Now, many students have funding only for their initial years and then must work through their final ones, which inevitably draws the whole thing out. To the “doing less”: What’s the purpose of graduate school? Presumably it’s primarily an initiation into a specific field and a general form of life, one that requires an initiate to demonstrate an ability to meaningfully participate in that field and form of life. Let the dissertation be a demonstration and not a meaningful contribution (where “meaningful” means something like “substantial”). It’s frankly odd in my field, philosophy, to focus so early on writing a book when most scholarship these days takes place in the journals.

    But okay. Five years is too short. A decade is too long, particularly if you have to find yourself something else to do. Six years? What’s a good goal?

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