Training grad students for a new scholarly landscape

Here’s what I just said about graduate student training at a workshop (with Daniel Chamberlain, Mary Francis, Tara McPherson, Leslie Mitchner, and Patrice Petro) on “the changing profession” at the Society for Cinema and Media Studies annual meeting:

As we watch the academy change around us, I think it’s becoming clear to us that the way we prepare grad students has some inadequacies. We talk about preparing them for the job market, but I think we’re all aware that calling this crisis a “market” — implying that there’s some basic equity between supply and demand — is becoming increasingly perverse. I know you’ve seen good, smart, hardworking people washed up on the rocks. I know I have.

What can we do, as the ground shifts underneath us, to prepare these people whom we care so much about? By now, it should be obvious that it is no longer humane or sufficient to tell ourselves that our best students will get jobs. This is a fiction that helps us sleep at night.

But neither is it humane or sufficient to simply despair. So I offer four suggestions:

We need to get serious about tracking statistics about our students once they graduate. What kind of labor are they doing, how secure is it, where is it happening? Entering students need to be able to make better-informed decisions about the programs they choose.

We need to start seeing that caring about our grad students requires caring about the issue of adjuncts and other casualized labor in the academy. We need to see that this is part of mentoring, too.

We need to start countenancing the possibility that not all students will want to be professors. I want to be careful here, because I know not all students will want to follow a path like mine. But you might be surprised at how many grad students are quietly curious about other kinds of jobs. We need to help graduate students see that these paths are OK, too, and part of helping them to see this is visibly taking seriously the intellectual labor of other academic professionals in our orbit — the librarians, archivists, technologists and others.

Finally, I would like to see a reconsideration of methodological training for our students. Students are highly aware that they need different kinds of skills — digital skills, collaborative skills, administrative skills, budgeting skills — and we should see it as our job to meet these needs. For reference, I offer the example of the Praxis Program, at the University of Virginia, where graduate students work in teams alongside developers and administrators to accomplish projects collectively.

I know you’re here because you care about your students, and I know we’ve all been doing everything we can to prepare them for this new landscape. What I hope to say, more than anything, is that truly advocating for grad students requires understanding and intervening in the larger academic ecosystem.

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4 thoughts on “Training grad students for a new scholarly landscape

  1. Dear Ms. Posner,

    I write to thank you for this very helpful expression of a tension I have sensed as I acquaint myself with the new insurgency of the so-called “digital humanities.”

    As you may know, I’ve recently embarked on an analysis of the movement in my New York Times column (not to say, blog) and the fourth essay in the series — http://bit.ly/H4Suf4 — makes reference to your writings both on diversity in the field and on graduate training. I offer, I’m afraid, a bit of a challenge to the simplistic conclusions you draw.

    Sincerely,
    Stanley Fish

  2. Miriam: Yes. Yes. Yes. And also: thanks above for that compelling comment, Stanley.
    At another recent SCMS workshop (sorry I missed this one), Sarah Banet-Weiser and I were so concerned about the way that “self-branding” was being sold as the tool into the market (as opposed to the skills being offered in the Praxis Program for instance) that we penned “Academic Labor| Feminist Labor in Media Studies/Communication: Is Self-Branding Feminist Practice?” part of the IJOC special issue on Academic Labor: The Politics of Academic Labor in Communication Studies: A Re-Introduction, Jonathan Sterne, ed. I think his issue is also a great resource.

    (PS: how to I subscribe to your blog, can’t find traces of that…)

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