#alt-ac · #post-ac · experiential education · transition

Making Transferable Skills Visible

My Facebook feed is a wondrous place, and it’s most recent treasure was the news that UBC is piloting a co-op program in its English PhD program. Say what? Experiential education in the humanities, particularly of the co-op sort, is not as common as it could be. And from my experience–correct me if I’m wrong–it’s almost unheard of in Canadian humanities graduate programs. I’m thrilled that UBC is giving its students opportunities to, in their words, “widen their range of professional skills through paid work experience in fields such as academic administration, communications, project management, and archival, government, and NGO research” and “build valuable skills and experience that will extend and enrich their career options in both academic and alternative workplaces.” Yes, there are conversations to be had about the infiltration of the corporate world into the university, about resisting the demand to shape programs to meet the job market, about the implications of co-op programs for PhD completion times, about why an employer would want a PhD over a cheaper MA, and about whether co-op will just add to the already-strenuous requirements for a PhD or if it represents a new kind of #post-ac focused doctorate. And those are conversations I’d love to have, and I hope we have in the comments.

But for now, I’m focusing on the positive. One, it’s refreshing that UBC is doing what everyone should be doing, which is openly acknowledging that many of its graduates will be going the #alt-ac and #post-ac route. This is an ever-so-necessary step toward doing away with the stigma of quitting academe, and yet it is ever-so-rare a practice–I regularly interact with hundreds of graduate faculty in my job, and I can count on two hands the number of them who do the same. Two, if PhD students are going all sorts of places other than academia after they graduate–and they are, in hordes–then graduate programs should be providing them with opportunities to get the skills and experience they’ll need in those jobs, and that they’ll need to get those jobs. Not only am I pleased that UBC has recognized this, and acted on it, I’m pleased that they’re engaging in an open conversation about the skills their English PhDs have, and touting those skills both to the organizations they’re partnering with and to the general public. Perhaps my favourite part of their co-op website was this:

It’s that easy to articulate what PhDs do well, what we do every day, in terms that help grad students make sense of their skills and the world make sense of grad students. No PhD should feel like the only thing they’re good for is the professoriate, and one of the best ways to squash that feeling is telling them, from the moment that they start their degree, that there’s a whole world of things they can excel at. Let’s do this more. 

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