Our vision of a KU History PhD
majority of KU PhDs end up at four-year colleges: sometimes Research I
institutions, but more often undergraduate colleges. They have to be
comfortable teaching ordinary students in a broad range of courses.
They also need to maintain an ongoing research profile, and to be "good
citizens" of their institutions.
of our students follow careers as historians for the military, or enter
"think tanks" or non-profits. For them, "service" skills take on
Profile of a KU PhD in History
Advising: the Heart of Our Program
in higher education agree: the relationship between faculty members and
the student is the single most important element in successful degree
completion. We have taken steps to enhance advising:
Assigning advisors at the time of admission. This assures a good field match, and allows professor and student to become acquainted over the summer.
Teaching mentors. Students working as Assistant Instructors (teaching their own courses) choose faculty members to consult and evaluate them.
Every entering student is paired with an established one, who can help
the newcomer navigate the program, the university, and the town.
Placement officer. A faculty member assists students who are on the job market prepare their dossiers and practice interviews.
A couple times a year, the History Graduate Students Organization holds
an open meeting with the Graduate Director, to keep lines of
Incompletes: the Silent Killer
students fail out of graduate programs in history, but many find
themselves in irremedial academic difficulties because of Incompletes.
Students who take Incompletes by definition aren't making progress on
their degrees. And Incompletes engender more Incompletes, when students
fall behind in their current semester's courses while trying to finish
up the work for a previous semester's.
at KU, we had students with as many as 6 (!) Incompletes dating back as
many years. The Graduate School had no policy, and the department
policy was lax in design (only more than 3 Incompletes were a problem)
and non-existent in enforcement.
our new policy: Students may now carry an Incomplete for no more than a
semester and a summer. An Incomplete taken in the Spring must be made
up by the end of the following Fall semester; an Incomplete in the Fall
must be completed by the end of the following summer. If students fail
to do so, they are put on probation for a semester, during which they
must find a solution, such as a leave of absence or a retroactive drop,
if they want to remain in the program.
For more information:
Contact Eve Levin, Director of Graduate Studies: email@example.com.
Or visit our website:
Shooting a Sacred Cow: Portfolios v. Written Exams
exams are a mainstay of graduate programs, but what purpose do they
serve? Once graduate students become ABD, they never take sit-down
exams again. Historians never compose essays on the spot, without books
or notes. "Comprehensive" exams aren't; the secondary literature is so
vast that the exams do no more than a random spot-check. Yet our
students were spending a year or more preparing for exams, and then
another year taking them, stressed out the whole time. What were
gaining from the experience?
benefit of the written exams, we realized, lay in the reading and
synthesis students undertook to prepare, rather than in the exams
themselves. Why not emphasize that experience, and convert the "exam"
from an undergraduate-style exercise to a professional one?
the Portfolio was born. It is modeled on the tenure file, minus paper
overload. Physically, the Portfolio is a 3-inch binder. Beginning from
their first semester, students fill it with the materials that
demonstrate their command of their fields. Through annotated
bibliographies and historiographical essays, they show their command of
the literature. Through synthetic essays and course plans, they
demonstrate an ability to impart material. Through seminar papers,
grant proposals, and the dissertation prospectus, they show research
and interpretation skills. The work students produce in their courses
go into the portfolio, as well as other evidence of
Portfolio takes a lot less time to complete than the old exams;
students present it the semester after they complete coursework. From
the Portfolio, professors see clearly exactly how much students know.
The Portfolio forms the basis of the Oral Examination--a Graduate
School Requirement--which then focuses on conceptual issues, rather
than recall of factual detail.
Portfolio Exam Requirements
Regularizing the Research Seminar
we began the CID, research seminars were already a mainstay of our
graduate program. But the department's standard, production of a
"publishable quality" paper, was too vague. Some students wrote papers
on original topics with primary sources; others wrote only
historiographic essays or undergraduate-style papers based on a few
sources in translation.
standardized our policy, and clarified that the research seminar was a
place for graduate students to try out an idea for dissertation
research. We now ask for a "professional quality" paper, suitable for
consideration for publication in a scholarly journal, with the
following characteristics:a significant topic.original insight into that topic.a source basis consisting of primary sources in the original language.integration into the historiographical context.full scholarly apparatus.accurate and graceful prose.length of 20-60 pages.
encourage students to fulfill the seminar requirement in a classroom
setting, where they can hone their ideas in discussion with their
peers, gain practice in presenting their work formally, and learn to
critique their fellows' work. We have consolidated half a dozen
nationally-defined seminar courses into a "Pan-Europe" seminar, and we
are creating a "Global" research seminar is well.
The Dissertation Prospectus
now get our students started in thinking about their dissertations from
their first semester in the program. That doesn't mean choosing a
topic, but rather learning what makes for a good topic, and how to
develop a concept into a workable project. Research seminars are a
place to try out a topic and begin exploratory investigation. The
dissertation proposal forms a key element in the Portfolio that
substitutes for written exams.
Dissertation Prospectus Guidelines
Progress Grid: A Roadmap for Timely Completion of the PhD
students were taking a long time to complete their degrees in large
part because nobody showed them how to do it more expeditiously. The
Progress Grid lays out a model program, showing year-by-year what
curricular requirements a graduate student should complete. While the
Grid is not a department policy, it does serve as a standard of
comparison to help determine whether students are on track for graduate
in 6 years (for students entering with a BA) or 5 years (for students
entering with an MA).
Professionalization Grid: Extra-Curricular Experiences
that professional historians need to know isn't taught in any courses.
Instead, graduate students learn about these things along the way,
through experiences gained outside of class. But what sorts of
experiences should students seek out in order to position themselves
for career success? Our "Professionalization Grid" is designed to
complement the "Progress Grid," laying out year by year the sorts of
professional activities graduate students should have.
help students gain these experiences, the department's History Graduate
Student organization arranges informal seminars, workshops, and
gatherings on specific topics.
A Rational Foreign Language Requirement
traditional foreign language requirement--"reading knowledge" of two
languages, usually French and German--dates back to a century ago, when
a lot of important scholarship wasn't in English and every "doctor" was
supposed to know the major European languages. Graduate students rarely
went further than their university library to conduct dissertation
research, so needed no more than to pick their way through
publications, dictionary at hand.
the old requirement isn't suited to our day. For historians whose
sources are in a language other than English, a semester of (say)
"Russian for Graduate Students" doesn't begin to provide them with the
command they need. In order to conduct archival research and
participate in foreign academic communities, they need advanced reading
skills, and speaking, and writing, and often paleography, too. For
students whose sources are in English (primarily American history), the
"reading knowledge" courses represented only a hurdle. Students did not
become comfortable enough to seek out foreign secondary works, or gain
cultural knowledge. But we believe strongly that all professional
historians study another language, in order to have the experience of
perceiving the world through a different linguistic interface.
policy now differentiates between the two purposes for foreign language
training: usable skill and cultural breadth. The faculty in subfields
now determine what languages (maximum of two) and what level of skill
their students must possess. Students who need foreign languages in
order to study their chosen areas must now demonstrate a higher level
of skill. We make usable reading capacity a requirement for admission
to the graduate program, even at the MA level, recognizing that
students can make little progress on their degrees without it. Students
who won't be using foreign languages in their studies have to
demonstrate that they once studied one; usually they did, at the
Foreign Language Policy