Illinois selected to help rethink doctoral education and career pathways

Three LAS departments will participate in PhD Education Initiative
Students at Illinois
The University of Illinois has been selected to participate in a new nationwide initiative to rethink doctoral education and career pathways. (Photo by L. Brian Stauffer.)

Three departments in the College of LAS are part of a new nationwide initiative to change the culture surrounding doctoral education and career pathways. Led by the Association of American Universities (AAU), the PhD Education Initiative promotes student-centered doctoral education that will make the full range of career pathways available to PhD graduates visible, valued, and viable.

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is selected as one of eight universities to participate in the initiative. Four academic departments that span STEM and the humanities/arts at the U of I will participate in the initiative: English, history, mathematics, and physics.

“Some doctoral students go on to careers in academe, but many pursue successful careers in a wide range of employment sectors outside of the academy. It can be difficult for those who are interested in careers beyond academe to understand how to embark on that path, and there is often stigma involved in doing so. We want to make exploring and pursing a variety of career options more transparent and we want to empower graduate programs to prepare students for viable career options,” said Wojtek Chodzko-Zajko, dean of the Graduate College, who will lead the project at Illinois.

The University of Illinois is one of the largest producers of doctoral recipients in the nation. Currently, more than 5,000 graduate students are enrolled in doctoral degree programs at Illinois.

The long-term goals of the PhD Education Initiative are to affect institutional change broadly among AAU institutions by providing PhD students with knowledge, skills, and abilities to be successful in careers both within and beyond academia; to provide transparent data about career pathways and employment trends; and to encourage effective strategies and programs among universities, disciplinary societies and federal agencies to better meet the needs of PhD graduates.

Teams from the four participating departments will include the director of graduate studies, at least one additional faculty member, a current PhD student, and an alumnus or alumna.

The teams will spend 2019-2020 identifying key barriers and opportunities to student-centered doctoral education and diverse career pathways. From 2020-22, the teams will establish action plans and begin piloting new departmental initiatives or changes to the structure of their PhD programs, and share the outcomes with campus.

According to the Graduate College, the Departments of History and Mathematics participated in the Carnegie Initiative on the Doctorate in the early and mid-2000s, and both made changes to their doctoral programs.

“In the past few years, the Graduate College has pursued similar goals through the work of our student success and career services units, launching of several new data tools, and implementation of student response surveys.  We are very pleased to partner with AAU and the selected institutions to create future change in graduate education that will benefit doctoral students,” says Chodzko-Zajko.

Other institutions selected include Boston University, Duke University, Indiana University Bloomington, The University of Iowa, University of Missouri, The University of Texas at Austin, and University of Virginia.

Founded in 1990, the AAU is composed of America’s leading research universities, who collectively shape policy for higher education, science, and innovation; promote best practices in undergraduate and graduate education; and strengthen the contribution of leading research universities to American society.

The Initiative is funded by Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the Charles Koch Foundation.

For more information about PhD Education Initiative, visit AAU’s website.

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The Graduate College and the College of LAS