Notions of What ‘Success’ Entails in a Doctoral Program Are Antiquated

To the Editor:

I was pleased to see Jim Grossman’s terrific article, “Imagining Ph.D. Orientation in 2022” (The Chronicle, August 28).  I feel compelled to add, however, that I attended a Ph.D. program (the Editorial Institute at Boston University) which explicitly pioneered the kind of program that Grossman imagines. The director of the program said during orientation that we should not expect to have a traditional career on the tenure-track, but rather to learn principles of editing, textual studies, and bibliography to prepare for alternative academic careers. Last year, Boston University decided to stop admitting students to the Ph.D. program at the Editorial Institute. One of their reasons for closing off the program: Not enough graduates had secured tenure-track positions, despite the fact that it has a successful record of placing its graduates in full-time positions in libraries, archives, and university presses. Could we see more discussion of programs which are successfully sustained once they envision new career tracks? At Boston University, the very good reasons for one program’s doctoral malleability might also be the grounds for which administrators decide to shutter that program. It would be good to hear from university administrators who have creative ideas for evaluation metrics that supplant the antiquated notions of what “success” entails in a doctoral program.

Christopher M. Ohge
Associate Editor, Mark Twain Papers & Project
​University of California at Berkeley​

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