Publication Date

November 1, 2002

On Thursday, January 2, 2003, the Committee on Graduate Education (CGE) will sponsor a panel discussion on the "three R's" of doctoral education today"Rethinking, Reviewing, and Reforming. The first American PhD was awarded in 1861, and these "three magical letters" (as William James called them, with a mixture of despair and derision) have been the subject of lively debate ever since. What should a doctor of philosophy know? What, exactly, does the PhD signify? Is it the best preparation for college teaching, or, indeed, for any other profession? In the last few years, the debate over doctoral education has intensified. The AHA’s investigation of graduate training for historians is part of a much larger reexamination of the doctorate, now being pursued by graduate deans, national foundations, education researchers, and other disciplinary associations.

The CGE-sponsored session in Chicago will describe and discuss three national initiatives on doctoral education, point out some of the specific implications (and opportunities) for history departments as these projects move forward, and offer a preview of the CGE's forthcoming report to the historical profession. The panelists include:

Earl Lewis, professor of history and dean of the Rackham Graduate School at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, who will talk about the “Responsive PhD&” project launched by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation in 2001. Lewis is the national chair of this project, which has brought together graduate deans and other representatives from fourteen different universities to discuss substantive reforms in doctoral education under three broad rubrics: new paradigms (such as “interdisciplinarity&” and “scholarly citizenship&”), new practices (especially in the areas of professional development and pedagogical training for graduate students), and new people (with a particular emphasis on encouraging minority students to pursue advanced scholarly work). For more information on this project, visit the Wilson Foundation’s website at

Charlotte V. Kuh, deputy executive director of the National Research Council, will discuss the NRC’s upcoming assessment of research doctorate programs, which is scheduled to take place in 2005. In the past, the NRC’s decennial rankings have been criticized for placing too much emphasis on both subjective assessments of “reputation” and supposedly objective measurements of research “productivity” for historians (see Robert Townsend’s two articles in the September 2002 Perspectives). Nonetheless, they provide an important opportunity for reviewing the effectiveness and quality of PhD programs. In preparation for the 2005 survey, the NRC has convened a Committee to Examine the Methodology of Assessing Research Doctorate Programs, with Kuh as staff director. Among other issues, this committee has been exploring the impact of cross-disciplinary studies on individual fields and the appropriate evaluation of doctoral program goals and outcomes (including the career preparation and placement of graduate students).

Chris Golde, senior scholar at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, will describe the Carnegie Initiative on the Doctorate, a “multi-year research and action project [designed] to support departments’ efforts to more purposefully structure their doctoral programs.” The project is built around a simple but profound question”What is the purpose of doctoral education?”and will focus on the role of doctoral programs in producing “stewards” of the various disciplines (that is, scholars who are engaged in the generation, conservation, and transformation of knowledge in their particular fields). The foundation plans to work closely with four to six departments in each of a half-dozen disciplines, including history (starting in 2003), with the goal of promoting local experiments in graduate education and discipline-wide conversations about best practices and outcomes. For more information on this initiative, visit Golde was also the principal investigator for a recent study of graduate student attitudes and aspirations, At Cross Purposes: What the Experiences of Today's Doctoral Students Reveal about Doctoral Education (coauthored with Timothy M. Dore and published by the Wisconsin Center for Education Research in 2001).

Thomas Bender, professor of history at NYU and secretary of the CGE, will introduce some of the themes and recommendations from the CGE’s upcoming report on doctoral training for historians; he will also discuss the committee’s work in relation to the larger currents of reform in graduate education. Bender is principal author of the report, which is slated for distribution early next year. The session will be chaired by Colin Palmer (Princeton University), who also chairs the CGE.

Please join us for this important and timely discussion. Graduate students are especially invited to attend.

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