Preliminary Report of Faculty and Student Survey Responses

Posted On June 13, 2017
Categories Blog, Reflections

The core committee conducted seven surveys of graduate faculty and students in the departments of History and English at GSU over the period of grant funding.  These surveys were divided into three main groups:  Group 1 attempted to gauge general attitudes about non-academic careers for doctoral students in the humanities prior to the majority of our grant-funded initiatives; Group 2 measured the perceived value and effectiveness of two specific events and workshops organized as part of our grant initiatives; and Group 3 sought to assess student and faculty attitudes to non-academic career professionalization at the end of the funding period.  All surveys consisted of ten questions and were conducted via SurveyMonkey.

Group 1 Survey Findings:  General attitudes toward non-academic career preparation

To assess general faculty and student attitudes toward non-academic career professionalization, we conducted two early surveys—one each for faculty and students at the start of the funding period.

Our first survey of graduate students, conducted between October 14 and October 25, 2016, was sent to 357 students and yielded 101 responses, for a response rate of 29%.  Recipients were asked a variety of questions intended to gauge:  their view of non-academic career paths; the extent to which current doctoral education at GSU encourages/meets the needs of students seeking such paths; and the types of changes needed to make doctoral education at GSU more conducive to non-academic career preparation.

The key observation to emerge from the first survey responses was that, while students displayed a strong interest in pursuing non-academic careers and felt that their faculty mentors were supportive of their career aspirations, the structure of humanities doctoral education at GSU is not particularly conducive to success in this area.  For example, 80% of respondents indicated that they were equally if not more interested in non-academic careers than in academic careers after graduation; 85% of respondents indicated that humanities doctoral programs should play either a “substantial” or “major” role in preparing doctoral students; and 66% of respondents felt their individual faculty mentors were supportive of their career goals.  Only 30% of respondents, however, characterized their current doctoral training as meeting their desire for professionalization toward non-academic career employment.

Discursive responses most frequently identified internships and workshops on non-academic professionalization as the best means of improving their doctoral education.  One respondent writes that “[i]nternships are key to working toward a non-academic position”; a second observes that, “[i]nternships or fellowships that involve public organizations, NGO’s, community projects, etc. as part of the degree-seeking process would be ideal”; while a third writes that “I would love to see visitors, guest speakers and/or panels from the non-academic world at our school more often.”

Our first survey of graduate faculty, also conducted between October 14 and 25, 2016, was sent to 71 faculty members and yielded 32 responses, for a response rate of 45%.  On several key metrics, the findings from this survey were very similar to those of our graduate student survey.

For example, when asked if they would support doctoral students’ efforts to pursue non-academic careers, graduate faculty respondents answered affirmatively 71% of the time—a number that closely reflects the 66% of students who felt their faculty mentors would support such efforts. Likewise, faculty were in agreement with their students about the structure of humanities doctoral education at GSU:  only 29% of faculty respondents felt that this structure was “conducive to the pursuit of non-academic careers.”

Again, discursive responses most frequently identified internships as the best way of professionalizing doctoral students toward non-academic career paths.  In this vein one respondent speculates:  “Programs that offer, or perhaps require, internships would give students a broader sense of what they can do with a terminal degree.”  Another faculty member writes:  “In the English department, the first step would be to create internships and service learning opportunities for course credit.”  Several respondents also identified internships as a means of improving faculty mentoring.  One representative of this view writes:  “A greater understanding among faculty of what humanities graduates can actually do in the private sector would help.  For the most part, we literally don’t know.  Forging relationships with businesses and nonprofits where students could intern would help too.”

These numbers and responses suggest that there is substantial unmet need—recognized by both faculty and students—for programmatic changes to doctoral education that would facilitate non-academic career professionalization and heighten awareness of the marketability of humanities skills and degrees beyond the traditional academic path.

Group 2 Survey Findings:  Effectiveness of Grant-sponsored Initiatives

In this group we conducted a total of three surveys.  The first was sent to all humanities graduate students who attended our AHA Alumni Connections event on September 20, 2016; the last two were addressed separately to graduate student and faculty participants in our day-long Career Diversity workshop, led by Jim Grossman, on October 28, 2016.  Based on the results of these surveys, these two grant-funded initiatives appear to have been successful in exposing attendees to the opportunities afforded by doctoral education in the humanities and in providing ideas and strategies for fostering changes to existing doctoral programs.

The survey of AHA Alumni Connections participants, conducted between September 21 and 26, 2016, was sent to 34 attendees and generated 17 responses, for a response rate of 50%.  Of these respondents, 94% indicated that they were at least as interested in non-academic as academic career paths following graduation, and 71% either agreed or strongly agreed that “the advice and strategies provided by the alumni speakers can be usefully adapted to pursuing a broad variety of non-academic careers.”  Significantly, 82% of respondents indicated that they would be more interested in pursuing non-academic careers if their department tracked and publicized job outcomes like those discussed by the alumni speakers.

The two surveys directed toward attendees of Jim Grossman’s Career Diversity workshop were conducted between November 14 and 21, 2016:  of 32 graduate students, 6 (or 19%) responded; of 17 faculty attendees, 3 (or 18%) responded.  Results of both surveys were very similar.  For example, both faculty and graduate student respondents were unanimous in their view that their interest in non-academic careers either increased or remained consistent following the event; 100% of faculty and 83% of graduate student respondents indicated that, based on the data provided at the workshop, they either agreed or strongly agreed that “doctoral programs in the humanities should add courses specifically geared toward non-academic skills/knowledges.”  Faculty and graduate student respondents also unanimously supported the idea of alternative funding models not tied to teaching.

Group 3 Survey Findings

Our concluding surveys, both conducted between April 30 and May 8, 2017, were sent to the same lists of graduate students and faculty members as the first surveys.  While response rates dropped significantly for these (11% for graduate students; 28% for faculty), they tended to reinforce earlier results.  Graduate students and faculty who attended at least one of the grant-funded initiatives were unanimous in either agreeing or strongly agreeing that the workshops “provided advice and strategies that can be usefully adapted to pursuing a broad variety of non-academic careers”; likewise, these respondents were also unanimous in agreeing that the workshops “provided information relevant to changing the model for humanities doctoral programs at GSU.”

When asked to choose from among five strategies employable by humanities programs to help improve professionalization toward non-academic careers (faculty mentorship, workshops, internships, restructuring of dissertation formats, and degree concentrations focusing on non-academic professionalization), faculty and graduate students both chose “regular advising and workshops” and “internships” more frequently than any other options.  For faculty, the least-selected option was “degree concentrations,” while for graduate students, “restructuring of dissertations” was the least popular option.  These results suggest that, following our grant-funded initiatives, the value of regular workshops and internships has been recognized by humanities faculty and graduate students as particularly effective strategies for broadening employment outcomes among humanities Ph.D.s.