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ACLS News

ACLS, Member Societies Support Careers Beyond the Classroom for Ph.D.s

10/21/2013

Once a neglected topic, alternative or non-academic career paths for Ph.D.s are finding increasing support within the scholarly community. Through a variety of programs and initiatives, ACLS and a number of its constituent learned societies are working to recognize and support the careers of humanities Ph.D.s outside of the classroom.

In 2010, ACLS launched the Public Fellows program, a fellowship initiative designed to expand the reach of doctoral education in the humanities by placing recent Ph.D.s in two-year positions at a variety of nonprofit and government agencies. Since its inception, the program has grown from an initial cohort of eight fellows to 13 in the second year, and 20 in the third and most recent competition. Interest in Public Fellows among recent Ph.D.s continues to mount as well, with the number of applications more than doubling between the second and third competitions.

ACLS Public Fellows take on demanding portfolios as they hone the skills necessary to succeed in their respective fields. Among other endeavors, recent fellows have contributed to major outreach and advocacy campaigns for the Union of Concerned Scientists and Human Rights Watch, managed research projects for the National Conference of State Legislatures and the U.S. Department of State, and have overseen digital initiatives at the Newberry and the Digital Public Library of America. (A full roster of ACLS Public Fellows is available here.

In addition to ACLS's own initiatives, several ACLS member societies have begun to incorporate non-academic perspectives into their professionalization activities, including sessions in their annual meetings devoted to exploring paths to non-professorial careers. The American Historical Association's "Malleable PhD" mini-conference at the AHA annual meeting in 2013 is just one example of annual meeting sessions designed to draw on the expertise of so-called "entrepreneurial" Ph.D.s working in the media, business, government and nonprofit sectors to highlight diverse career possibilities for Ph.D.s. Other sessions took place at the meetings of the American Philological Association, the American Political Science Association, and many others.

But the societies' efforts extend far beyond their annual meetings. In 2013, the Modern Language Association and the AHA received twin grants from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to pursue parallel projects that will track and highlight the non-academic careers of their members. A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education (September 30, 2013) profiled these projects.

In sum, these activities constitute a new and welcome wave of recognition for the value of advanced humanities training to non-academic careers. As universities grapple with the challenges facing graduate departments in the arts and sciences, a more inclusive understanding of what constitutes a "successful" Ph.D. outcome has the potential to expand the role of doctoral education into fruitful new directions.  

The ACLS Public Fellows program is made possible by the generous support of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Further links:

ACLS Public Fellows Program

American Historical Association’s “Malleable Ph.D.” mini-conference

University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Public Humanities Fellows

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