At this historical moment, the challenge facing academic humanists is conceptualizing a 21st-century doctoral education. Such education must be adequate to the lived realities of the academy now; to the energies of students who make the choice to pursue a doctorate; and to the intellectual, affective, and social attachments that drive the pursuit of excellence in scholarly inquiry and teaching. For me, the place to focus attention is on the capstone project we call the dissertation. I argue for breathing life into doctoral programs by expanding the repertoire of possible kinds, media, and modes of the dissertation, so that the proto-monograph is only one model of success. Other transformations will relate to the goals, organization, and results of coursework, as well as the opportunities for doctoral students to gain new skills and competencies important for scholarship and transferable to other careers. I am convinced that, through a 21st-century vision, doctoral programs will become more innovative, inclusive, and vibrant.
Sidonie Smith is Mary Fair Croushore Professor of the Humanities, Professor of English, and Director of the Institute for the Humanities at the University of Michigan. Well-known for her work in autobiography studies and feminist theory, Smith is a longstanding advocate of innovative approaches to doctoral education. As President of the Modern Language Association (2010-2011), she inspired a national conversation on new forms for the dissertation. Her book Manifesto for the Humanities: Transforming Doctoral Education in Good Enough Times (University of Michigan Press, 2015) outlines a comprehensive vision for PhD program reform. She also served (with Kathleen Woodward) on the MLA Task Force on Doctoral Study in Modern Language and Literature. See its 2014 report.
Reception to follow.