Normally, the Thesis Whisperer strives to be all things to all PhD students because I know there is a wide readership across all ages and stages – and all disciplines.
However, if you forgive me, this post is an exception and speaks mostly to those studying in the humanities. Science, design and engineering students might want to stop reading now… I hope you’ll stay however, because I think this is an interesting project.
What will happen to you after you finish your PhD? Will you get the employment outcomes you want? My own research has been focussed on this area for some time, so I know that there are many unknowns after you graduate. We try to make them clearer, but it’s hard.
A friend of mine who studies PhD student career outcomes says that trying to get good data on student career destinations is like ‘chasing a rat up a drainpipe’. To be frank, most universities find it difficult to stay in touch with their alumni and find out what happened to them, 10, 15 – even 20 years down the track.
That’s why I was excited when Professor Paul Yachnin from McGill university visited ANU from Canada and found time to drop by my office and tell me about the Trace Project. I caught up with Paul when I visited Canada and persuaded him to write this post about the project so you know about the work and you might, if you are interested, participate.
Humanities PhDs and PhD students: we want to know where you are and what you are doing. We want to know your stories. The TRaCE project aims to develop an infrastructure for a new community of humanities teachers and researchers, inside and outside the academy. We are starting in Canada, but our goals are international.
Twenty-four Canadian universities have got together to develop the project. The project is headquartered at the Institute for the Public Life of Arts and Ideas (IPLAI) at McGill University in Montreal.
We have four goals:
(1) to track humanities PhDs;
(2) to report on where they are, whether inside or outside the academy, and on what they have achieved;
(3) to connect them with each other and with faculty and students inside the academy; and
(4) to sponsor exchanges of knowledge and knowhow among PhD students, faculty members, other academic PhDs, and PhDs pursuing careers in non-academic sectors.
We have tracked ten cohorts of PhD graduates (2004-2014) from 60+ departments or programs across Canada. The universities are reporting the results on their websites, engaging with the PhDs in order to connect them with each other and with students and faculty, and inviting the grads back to take part in graduate programs in a number of ways, including lecturing or leading seminars with students and/or faculty, mentoring students, co-teaching, contributing to research supervision, advising about program reform.
To facilitate exchanges of knowledge and knowhow among humanities PhDs inside and outside the academy, to serve as the gathering place of a new, public-facing humanities community, and to make the new community visible to itself and others, we’ve created the TRaCE website– http://iplaitrace.com/. The site has space for up to 100,000 registered users. It makes it possible to see the whole range of career pathways that lead from the PhD, to learn from others how it is possible to get from point A, not merely to point B but rather to points B through Z, and to network with other PhDs across the spectrum of careers.
The TRaCE project cultivates both statistical and narrative kinds of knowledge. Universities, society, and PhDs themselves need as much measurable data as we can gather about how students progress through doctoral programs and about the careers PhDs cultivate—what they do, where they work, how much money they earn, etc. But we also need narrative knowledge. By telling the stories of their educational and professional lives, PhDs are raising the profile of the many pathways that lead to and through the PhD and into a wide range of fields of work and action, including but far from limited to higher education.
TRaCE is an experimental pilot project. It has not yielded a complete data-based account of humanities PhD outcomes in Canada. It has developed a new design and methodology for data gathering and knowledge creation about the humanities PhD, one that is actively interrelated with community building among humanities PhDs and PhD students.
What are the benefits of the TRaCE project?
- Universities are able to undertake well-informed graduate program reform in light of the clearer picture of the career pathways of humanities PhDs.
- PhD students and faculty members can develop a broader, evidence-based understanding of how the PhD leads to multiple career pathways rather than to only one.
- TRaCE enables exchanges among humanities researchers inside and outside the academy in ways that benefit faculty members, other academic PhDs, PhDs in non-academic careers, and doctoral students, and in ways that can reorient the culture of the university toward a more dynamic relationship with the world outside the academy. The benefits flow both ways—from doctoral-level teaching and research into many sectors of non-academic work and action and from knowledge and knowhow in business, media, the professions, and public and political work into humanities departments and programs.
- If people generally are to understand and appreciate the value of humanities research and teaching at the top of its form, they need to know much more about what humanities PhDs do inside and outside the university.
- The long-term goal of the TRaCE project is to create an infrastructure for a new national and even international humanities teaching and research community that will include the universities and multiple non-academic sectors of work and action
If you want to join the TRaCE project, please contact email@example.com