Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Career-based English PhD Proposed

After a failed attempted to create a doctorate program in English in the 1990s, the English department has drafted a new proposal to create an English Ph.D. program that will prepare its students to enter careers both inside and outside academia.

“We’re trying to do something really different. We will be the first new English Ph.D. program in the country in many, many decades actually,” said Ricardo Ortiz, associate professor of U.S. Latino literature and culture, who was involved in crafting the proposal.

Georgetown is one of the only major universities without an English Ph.D. program.

“It’s kind of shocking that a place with the statute of Georgetown and the reputation of our department does not have a Ph.D.,” Georgetown English professor and supporter of the proposal Henry Schwarz said.

Unlike standard English Ph.D. programs, this one proposes an increased focus on interdisciplinary study and work experience, as well the option for students to choose alternative final projects over a traditional dissertation such as digital projects, translations or public scholarships.

“We would imagine the Ph.D. in English, which would also be a Ph.D. in the critical study of culture, would be a really great foundation for somebody wanting to do museum work, somebody wanting to do a certain kind of culture-based writing in journalism, which I think there’s more of than there used to be … anybody who wanted to work for culture-based nonprofits or NGOs, and even sort of in the public sector,” Ortiz said.

The program proposal was approved by the English department faculty in March and is still awaiting approval from the administration and the board of directors. If given the green light, the program would accept three students a year with an eventual cap of 12 participants in the program at a time. Applicants to the program are required to have a bachelor’s degree, a master’s

degree in English and a developed and focused research project in mind.

The proposed Ph.D. program reflects several of the suggested improvements to doctoral programs listed in a recent report from the Modern Language Association, which was released shortly after the proposal was drafted.

“The MLA report suggests that our program reflects contemporary thought about what a doctoral education in English ought to look like in the 21st century,” associate professor and Chair of the English Department Kathryn Temple said.

In order to make sure the Ph.D. candidates graduate from the program prepared for a competitive job market, participants will be required to complete a three-credit humanities-related internship, such as working as the curator at a museum or working at a cultural organization like the Folger Shakespeare Library.

“We’re really thinking about what we’re doing as kind of providing a model for doing doctoral level work in literary and cultural studies that will be relevant to the 21st century,” Ortiz said.

Students interested in a career in academia who are seeking a more traditional English Ph.D. experience are also welcome to participate in the program.

“We’re offering students certainly the opportunity to pursue traditional topics. It’s possible to come into the program and do a very standard Ph.D.,” Temple said.

Other changes to the traditional Ph.D. program include a more concentrated completion time estimate of four years, as opposed to 10 to 12 years spent in some Ph.D. programs.

“I know that there are current faculty that think that even students who are working very hard, more than full-time, on the degree can’t finish in the four-year period, but I suspect they can,” Temple said. “My view is that a lack of structure tends to encourage people to stay in Ph.D. programs way too long.”

According to Temple, the program would be funded partly by the departmental funds within the English master’s program, as well as by other programs within Georgetown that want to work with Ph.D. students and through internships. If the internships the Ph.D. students complete for university credit happen to be paid, the money will go into the program. She added that the program’s small size will allow the department to provide closer mentorship and to provide adequate funding.

“Unlike some Ph.D. programs, we’re not going to accept anyone unless we can stipend them, and give them full tuition scholarship,” she said.

Temple said that she thought the doctorate program would benefit other English programs at Georgetown, such as the master’s program, because the English Ph.D. students could work as teaching assistants or tutors.

“It’s a natural thing that if you’re in a program where some of the students are more advanced than you, you’re going to have a stronger program and you’re going to get a better education,” Temple said. “I guess it’s controversial in that some people think that when you bring in a Ph.D. program, it weakens the commitment to the undergrad program or to the master’s program, and I tend to think it makes for a stronger program for everyone.”

Daniel Shore, an associate professor of English at Georgetown, questioned whether the program actually fulfilled the definition of a Ph.D. in an interview with The Chronicle of Higher Education.Shore declined to comment to The Hoya.

“What we’re planning to call a Ph.D. program is, in essence, an advanced master’s program,” Shore told the Chronicle. “It’s enriching them. It’s teaching them, which is valuable. It could potentially give people other career opportunities outside of the tenure track. But it is not accomplishing the job for which I understand the Ph.D. to exist.”

However, current master’s students in the department were receptive to the proposal.

“Given the academically rigorous and supportive nature of the M.A. program, the Ph.D. program would undoubtedly offer students a meaningful experience that would result in more post-graduate, professional opportunities,” Caitlin O’Leary (GRD ’15) wrote in an email.

Although she acknowledged the current strength of the department, Samantha Reid (GRD ’16) thought the Ph.D. program would attract more qualified students and better resources, but noted that it might also constrain resources for the rest of the department.

“In other graduate programs, the Ph.D. students typically have access to the best resources, often prioritized over any M.A. students. That obviously does not occur in our department. However, a Ph.D. program might attract more resources for the department, providing more access and benefits for the entire program. Difficulties might include lack of funding and strains on current staff and faculty,” Reid wrote.

In particular, students applauded the proposal’s career-minded focus.

“An English Ph.D. program that doesn’t tout itself as focused on job preparation is seriously out of touch,” Reid wrote. “I think it shows strategy and marketing.”

She said she would be interested in a Ph.D. program at Georgetown in order to further her education in English beyond a master’s degree.

“Well, barely six weeks into the M.A. and I’m already distressed I’ll only have two years at this program, which has some incredible offerings from very strong professors. Everyone says an English Ph.D. is for future academics and professors only — maybe a job-preparation Ph.D. would help me find other avenues to use the knowledge base that comes with a Ph.D,” Reid wrote.

Schwarz said that he thought an English Ph.D., even in today’s job market, is an invaluable education that can provide students with key skills, such as reading and writing, advanced critical research and organization.

“I think a humanistic education is its own reward. I honestly don’t think you can get the life skills and the intellectual and spiritual insights of an advanced humanist education anywhere else, and I don’t think we should deprive people of that opportunity,” he said.

Hoya Staff Writer Maddy Moore contributed reporting. 

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