Friday, October 30, 2009

Ph.D. Research and the Beginning Scholar

I've been thinking about the last four years of my Ph.D. experience and wondering if it was worth it and what a humanities Ph.D. actually accomplishes. I came by an interesting article on the future of Ph.D. programs in Harvard Magazine. One section was quite telling: 'That it takes longer to get a Ph.D. in the humanities than it does in the social or natural sciences (although those fields also have longer times-to-degree than they once did) seems anomalous, since normally a dissertation in the humanities does not require extensive archival, field, or laboratory work. William Bowen and Neil Rudenstine, in their landmark study In Pursuit of the Ph.D., suggested that one reason for this might be that the paradigms for scholarship in the humanities have become less clear. People are uncertain just what research in the humanities is supposed to constitute, and graduate students therefore spend an inordinate amount of time trying to come up with a novel theoretical twist on canonical texts or an unusual contextualization. Inquiry in the humanities has become quite eclectic without becoming contentious. This makes it a challenge for entering scholars to know where to make their mark.'

I remember having a discussion with a colleague concerning the way we subject canonical texts to various interpretive grids and wondering if it actually results in any new knowledge? Well, how should we think about the task of research and the search for 'a novel theoretical twist'? More importantly, how can 'entering scholars' figure out 'where they can make their mark'? Any thoughts or words of wisdom for beginning scholars?

No comments: