At a Crossroads

Changing the curriculum to prepare students for non-academic careers could be a gross mistake.

Pam Hall, Associate Professor of Philosophy and Women's Studies

Academic Exchange
September 2000
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At a Crossroads: The Future of Graduate Education at Emory

"We need to develop a broader curriculum . . . to better prepare students for non-academic career paths."
--Bryan Noe, Director of the Graduate Division of Biological and Biomedical Sciences.

A tale of three Ph.D.s

New findings on Emory graduate students

Pam Hall is also the Massee-Martin/NEH Distinguished Teaching Professor and director of graduate studies in women's studies. Her current research concerns ethics.

The Academic Exchange
Where would you say is the greatest need of reform in graduate education today?

Professor Pam Hall One change I would like to see is greater attention paid to matters of professional expertise. Things like putting together job application materials are left to ad hoc mentoring-the student's advisors or some friendly faculty mentor. And with the dearth of job opportunities, it's a matter of conscience to teach students those processes.
Graduate students are really hungry for a better understanding of how universities work as institutions. This is also important to teach them.

AE How would you characterize the state of mentoring at Emory?

PH I--and I know many of my colleagues--take mentoring very seriously. But I think faculty also feel caught among a number of obligations-teaching, research, service, and then mentoring on top of all that. So from a graduate student's perspective, I think it's hit or miss in terms of who they end up working with and how seriously that person takes those responsibilities. Perhaps advising responsibilities could use some reinforcement. And by reinforcement, I mean something fairly crass: how you tenure, promote, reward. Mentoring should be taken very seriously as part of faculty evaluation.

AE You mentioned the dearth of academic jobs for humanities Ph.D.s. Do you think departments bear some responsibility to prepare their graduate students for alternative careers?

PH As faculty members, what we know is faculty life and what it means to be an academic. If we took up other topics, we would just do them badly. And changing the curriculum to prepare students for non-academic careers could be a gross mistake. It might disadvantage students in their search for faculty positions. After all, there are only so many resources, so many courses they can take.

On the other hand, there may be ways to accommodate some of those concerns without warping the graduate curriculum. I would like to hear more sustained conversation about what kinds of jobs outside the academy might be viable for our Ph.D.s.
If we're going to bring in Ph.D. students at the same level, we need to think very carefully about what they are going to be doing to earn their living. That seems at least our responsibility, morally.

AE Nationally, graduate education has been criticized for the increasing narrowness of training and emphasis on research. Do you think we're doing a poor job of preparing people for what many will be doing every day in the classroom, especially with the growing emphasis on undergraduate education in the higher education marketplace?

PH That's hardly a new problem. We've always had to narrow and specialize, but how that is construed is sometimes a problem. I think for graduate students and faculty, it would help to bring to bear more philosophical or theoretical imagination in forming research questions so that they are more readily opened up to other issues and more deeply related to one's teaching.

I'd like to see more experientially based learning used to enrich graduate education. A number of us who teach undergraduates have benefited from participating in the Theory/Practice Learning initiative run by Bobbi Patterson in religion. That facilitates applied learning in a number of curricular contexts and bridges the gap between classroom and community. Such experiences could really advantage our students on the job market because experientially based learning is becoming of great interest nationally.

AE Do you think the booming general economy is luring desirable students from graduate school?

PH Women's studies is holding pretty steady, though I've heard that enrollments have declined somewhat across the graduate school. I'm not altogether disturbed by that, given the scarcity of jobs. I'd like to hear a serious, sustained conversation across the graduate school grappling with job placement statistics and how many Ph.D. lines we should have.
One thing that is increasingly needful--just in terms of brass tacks---is enhancing the stipend substantially. I'd like to be able to offer students support for five years and health insurance. There seems to be heightened competition from other schools for our top candidates. It used to be Emory could outbid anyone, but that's no longer the case.

AE What do you think is needed in graduate education to cope with these changing contexts?

PH I'd like to see the academy become more open to innovation in graduate education. We can always find ways to accomplish our traditional goals more effectively. And the world has changed so much in recent decades in terms of what the Internet has made possible and in terms of international issues. We need to consider how our curriculum is fitted to those environments. I'm not saying you become trendy. I'm a big believer in tradition. But I believe in a tradition that is alive as opposed to mummification.