First off, isn’t it remarkable how fast time flies? Thanksgiving Break is right around the corner, and the SIF team is working hard to close a couple of projects by the end of the year.
Today I want to take a brief moment to muse about the SIF program, its project management component, and how all of this relates to me personally as a PhD student in the humanities. I take inspiration from Ashley’s latest post which begins an examination of the ways various institutions of higher learning are responding to the “crisis in the humanities” and the need to revamp doctoral programs in the future (and rightly so if I may add). You can find her excellent and insightful post right here.
In her post, one item in particular caught my attention: the need to expand professionalization opportunities for grad students in the humanities and that departments should provide students with opportunities to develop their skill sets in various, but mostly traditionally non-academic areas, including project management. I agree with her assessment that the SIF program provides a great platform for humanities students to acquire project management experience, especially since they are the ones who usually occupy leading roles in the SIF project universe.
Yet, our role at SIF can both be seen as a blessing and a curse: a blessing because, for lack of a better phrase, we can get our hands dirty. Rather than confining ourselves to working on our own research, teaching classes for our respective departments, and assisting department faculty with their research tasks, the SIF program allows us not only to look beyond our own back yard but to engage in, manage, and supervise cross-disciplinary, cross-sector project activities. For someone like me who wouldn’t be opposed to the idea of seeking a career outside the academia, the SIF experience has been very rewarding. Then again, our role is also burdened by the fact that as grad students in the humanities we’re leading interdisciplinary projects without having gone through proper project management training first. Naturally, I cannot speak for other members of my graduate cohort, but as far as I’m concerned, I freely admit that most of the work I’m doing is based on the experiences I’ve gained as an instructor at Georgia State University, and not on knowledge I’ve gained through formal training in project management. My experiences as an instructor, i.e. syllabus design, semester planning, session prep, classroom dynamics, have been my main resource so far in terms of making project management related decisions. I’ve often drawn upon these experiences for guidance. It’s as simple as that, and things have worked out well so far. The thing that gives me solace and confidence, however, is that the projects I am or have been leading consisted of clear, manageable, and straightforward goals. If they hadn’t been, I might have encountered a few road blocks that would have left me truly exasperated. After all, teaching skills and classroom management experiences can only get you so far. Fortunately, problems haven’t happened yet, and I take further solace in the fact that I’m working with a great bunch of students whose work continues to amaze me. In fact, I might want to add this as an additional blessing here, actually.
Knocking on wood, here, but what if it does pose a problem? What if in our roles as project leaders we encounter times when we can’t draw on our experiences as instructors to resolve a project-related issue? As Ashley’s post illustrates, the field of humanities has, indeed, recognized the need to reassess doctoral programs and graduate student success. What this also means is that my doctoral cohort is located on the cusp of a major development in graduate education. While many still pursue a PhD degree to seek a career in academia, others are not so opposed to exploring alternative areas of employment that are outside the academy. For the latter group, the issue then surrounds the acquisition of proper skills that are applicable outside the academy while in grad school. And these are the kinds of skills that many of us, including me, are currently seeking and trying out in a, shall we say, rather messy way.
When I arrived at GSU, the first thing I had to do in order to be eligible for teaching was to attend a pedagogy class. That was mandatory, the pre-requisite. The same thing could and, as I believe, should be sought for graduate students who are eager to develop professionalization related skill sets. But from where? I’ve done some digging and the Robinson School of Business offers a certificate in project management. The certificate is awarded after the successful completion of a 4-day intensive class that helps participants to develop proper and successful project management skills. I think that the SIF program would benefit greatly if students who occupy roles as project leaders receive a more formal training in this area. The only and quite common problem, of course, is cost. Without question, this particular class is quite costly. But I still believe it would be a good idea to get into a conversation with Robinson faculty. My hope is that we can establish a single day workshop for the SIF program at the beginning of a semester that allows us to further develop and refresh our project management skills, not only in view of our personal professional goals in the future, but also in light of the projects we want to work on in the future. The better we are prepared as project managers, the more productive we can be in our roles as SIF fellows and the better we can manage our own responsibilities of finishing our degrees. As a current doctoral student who not only recognizes the need for a more wide-ranging training in the humanities but who also very much subscribes to proposed directions and goals, I’m very eager to participate in an effort to explore possible options for the SIF program to give its fellows a more formal training regarding project management.