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Collaborative Work, Academic Training, and Alt-Ac Careers

What might a Ph.D. program for alternative academics look like?

July 28, 2019
 
 

Alternative academic work is mostly a team sport.

The challenge is that there may be a mismatch between how alternative academics are trained, and how alternative academics work.

Training to be an academic is a profoundly individualistic effort.  At least in the social sciences and the humanities, and perhaps in the biological and physical sciences, one’s PhD research is mostly a solitary endeavor.

The whole point of getting a PhD is to learn how to create knowledge.  (Anyone want to argue this assertion?)

Graduate training, in a traditional academic discipline, is designed to create the next generation of research productive faculty.

This is somewhat ironic given the academic job market.  A relatively small proportion of newly minted PhD’s will go on to tenure track jobs at universities that resemble the school’s in which they trained.

Most will go on to careers that mostly involve teaching.  Many will work outside of academia.

And a growing proportion will move into alt-ac roles.

For most PhD students, the road to the terminal degree involves long hours of solitary work in the library or the lab.

There is only one name on a dissertation.

A PhD thesis may be part of the broader research agenda of the student’s dissertation chair.  And every dissertation is part of a larger academic conversation that is occurring within the discipline.

But getting to the finish line in a PhD program requires that individuals persevere past all obstacles.

There is no committee to write-up one’s dissertation.  No research team that a PhD student can rely on to conduct the research.

Today’s PhD’s are not generalists, but instead exquisitely trained super sub-specialists.

None of this training matches the work of an alternative academic career particularly well.

Alt-acs not only do almost all of their work in collaboration.  They must be academic generalists.

Alt-acs need to be fluent in the language of a range of academic disciplines.

What might a PhD program designed specifically for alternative-academic careers look like?

Can the best parts of traditional PhD programs - the aspects that involve creating new knowledge - be preserved in our imaginary training for an alt-ac terminal degree? We need to remember that many alternative academics are also scholars.  The scholarship side of an alt-ac’s career is well served by their training in a traditional PhD program.

Do you know of any PhD programs for those interesting in building an alternative academic career?

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