The debate on the structure, value, numbers and future of the US PhD in Modern Language or Literature continues. The Report of the Task Force on Doctoral Study in Modern Language and Literature, produced by some of the great and good in the field, has now been published and is available here in full. http://www.mla.org/report_doctoral_study_2014 This authoritative discussion is well-worth looking at in more detail.
Its recommendations are:
Redesign the doctoral program. Departments should review their programs to
align them with the learning needs and career goals of students and to bring
degree requirements in line with the evolving character of our fields. Noncourse-
based activities are essential in today’s career environment.
Engage more deeply with technology. Doctoral programs should support technology
training and provide ways for students to develop and use new tools and
techniques for the study and teaching of languages and literatures.
Reimagine the dissertation. An extended research project should remain the defining
feature of doctoral education. Departments should expand the spectrum
of forms the dissertation may take and ensure that students receive
mentoring from professionals beyond the department as appropriate.
Reduce time to degree. Departments should design programs that can be completed
in five years. Individual trajectories vary, and some students’ programs
may take longer, especially those that require specialized linguistic, archival,
or technological knowledge.
Strengthen teaching preparation. As a central component of doctoral education,
preparation for teaching should include course work, practical experience,
and mentoring. Pedagogic training should introduce students to the diverse
missions, histories, and demographics of a wide range of institutions.
Expand professionalization opportunities. Departments should provide students
with ways to acquire skills necessary to scholarship and future employment,
such as collaboration, project management, and grant writing. Internships and
work with professional associations can provide transformational experiences.
Use the whole university community. Professionals in universities who may not
be regular faculty members can provide useful mentorship to graduate students.
Departments should tap the expertise of librarians, informational
technology staff members, museum personnel, and administrators.
Redefine the roles of faculty advisers. The director of graduate studies should be
a leader of change who helps transform the program to meet the objectives
outlined in this report. The placement officer needs to marshal expertise in
nonteaching careers, alumni networks, and career development resources.
Validate diverse career outcomes. Departments must give students a full understanding
of the range of potential career outcomes and support students’
choices. Prospective and new students should have information about the
program’s placements, the academic job market, and the casualization of the
Rethink admissions practices. Departments should calibrate admissions to the
changing character of doctoral education and the broadened range of career
opportunities, taking care to build the pipeline of applicants for small fields
and subfields and from underrepresented groups.
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