As humanities scholars increasingly recognize the value of public engagement, and as the proportion of tenure-track faculty positions available to new graduates continues to decline, many humanities programs are focusing renewed attention on equipping graduate students for careers as scholars both within and beyond academe. To support those efforts, the Scholarly Communication Institute has carried out a study investigating perceptions about career preparation provided by humanities graduate programs. The survey results help to create a more solid foundation on which to base curricular reform and new initiatives by moving the conversation about varied career paths from anecdote to data.
The study consisted of two main phases: one public, one confidential. The first phase involved creating an exploratory public database of self-identified alternative academic practitioners. The database was built within the framework of the #Alt-Academy project (http://mediacommons.futureofthebook.org/alt-ac/) in order to leverage the energy of existing conversations. The second phase comprised two confidential surveys. The primary survey targeted people with advanced humanities degrees who self-identify as working in alternative academic careers, while a second targeted employers that oversee employees with advanced humanities degrees. Because we were working with a somewhat nebulous population, our subsequent distribution focused on “opt-in” strategies—especially social media, listervs, and traditional media coverage. While this method has limitations, we hoped to learn something not only from the content of the responses, but from the number and type of respondents.
The data obtained through this study represents an important step towards identifying and understanding the career preparation needs of humanities graduate students by examining particular issues facing the increasingly visible and vocal population of humanities graduates in alternative academic careers. Equipping graduate students with the skills and literacies needed for 21st century scholarly work—from technical fluency to an understanding of organizational structures—is critical to ensuring continued rigorous and creative research, scholarship, and teaching.