Current Challenges in Graduate Education with Paul Yachnin

Higher education is under pressure, these days. It has been for a while, now, but the COVID-19 pandemic may well be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back, and this test is bringing to light some of the fragilities that have been under the radar until now. With me, this week, I have someone who has a deep love for higher education and for students and graduate researchers, and who has explored the question of professional outcomes of PhDs in different domains – Paul Yachnin.

What you’ll learn about in this episode:

  • Why suspending PhD intake is dangerous for the future of humanities departments
  • How deep-rooted the tenure-track culture is in academia and in faculty
  • The importance of showcasing career outcomes of PhDs in normalizing non-tenure track/non-academic career paths
  • Why graduate researchers should reach out and engage in conversations with peers from other departments and faculties and increase their intellectual mobility

Do you enjoy Papa PhD? Leave me a comment here – one short sentence is enough! And be sure to include your Twitter handle – that way, I can thank you personally!

Bearded man with gray hair smiling and looking into the camera

Paul Yachnin is Tomlinson Professor of Shakespeare Studies at McGill University. From 2013-2019, he was Director of the Early Modern Conversions Project. Before that, he directed the Making Publics Project (2005-2010). His ideas about the social life of art were featured on the CBC Radio IDEAS series, The Origins of the Modern Public. In 2009-2010, he served as President of the Shakespeare Association of America. Among his publications are the books, Stage-Wrights and The Culture of Playgoing in Early Modern England, editions of Richard II and The Tempest, and edited books such as Making Publics in Early Modern Europe and Forms of Association. His book, Making Publics in Shakespeares Playhouse, is forthcoming. For the past eight years, he has been working on higher education policy. He leads the TRaCE McGill Project, tracking the career pathways of 5,000+ PhD graduates from across the university and telling the stories of 150+ of them. He publishes non-academic essays about Shakespeare and modern life, including titles such as Alzheimers Disease: What would Shakespeare Do? and Tragedy as a Way of Life. Paul has also recently participated as an expert in the preparation of Degrees of Success, a report by the Council of Canadian Academies on the current state of the labour market transition of PhD graduates in Canada.

Thank you, Paul Yachnin!

If you enjoyed this interview with Paul Yachnin, let him know by clicking the link below and leaving him a message on Twitter:

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Paul’s pearls of wisdom:

“So, if I say to a young PhD researcher – “So, have you thought about the different careers that might be open to you when you graduate?”, it’s as if I’m saying “I don’t think you’re good enough for an academic job”. And I’m afraid that the person will also take it that way. So, how do we change thinking about the PhD, as well as the programs? And there is one very good way to do that, and that is to get as many stories, as many voices of people who have graduated and who say: “Yeah! I’ve got a PhD in English – I’m Executive Director of CBC Ideas”. That is an actual case that we’ve covered a great deal with TRaCE. That person conveys to people doing PhDs now that there are other pathways. Not only are they entirely legitimate and respectable – they’re to be sought after.”

“I think that it’s very important to start conversations with faculty at departments that you’re interested in if you’re thinking of doing a PhD. And those conversations include just what you said: “How will this PhD help me fulfill my aspirations? How will it help me fulfill this desire I have to know more and to be productively curious in this area of study?” And then another thing that I’ve learned from many people that I’ve interviewed – and I’ve learned it slowly over my own life – is that it’s important, also, to cultivate work outside the academy as well as inside the academy and work outside the academy that can dovetail with work inside the academy.”

“Nobody who completes a PhD should ever, for one second, think that they are a failure.”

“Anybody who is doing a PhD is already a grown-up. They should think of themselves as grown-up. They should undertake to make their voices heard – inside the academy and outside the academy.”

This episode’s resources:

You might also like the following episodes:

Chris Humphrey – Career Counseling: PapaPhD.com/73

Emily Roberts – Finance for PhDs: PapaPhD.com/8

Falisha Karpati – Skills Development: PapaPhD.com/30

Rebecca Maymon – PhD Recruitment: PapaPhD.com/75

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