How to market your humanities PhDs to employers

The advice offered to PhD students by career diversity programmes often isn’t picked up by faculty members. Here Alfredo Cumerma proposes three tools faculty can use to make their students more visible to employers

三月 17, 2019
Apprentice journalist with microphone
Source: iStock

Congratulations! Your humanities department has been selected to participate in a university-wide initiative to professionalise its PhDs.

As a faculty member, anxiety fills your veins. “But I don’t know the first thing about the professional world,” you think.

This feeling is not uncommon. The recent expansion of doctoral career diversity programmes in the US often creates a communication gap between faculty and their career adviser colleagues in student services.

Faculty feel mired in their inability to prepare PhD candidates for professional employment. In contrast, career advisers struggle to engage this unique population. What practical steps can be taken to improve this situation? How can one design a modern, competitive PhD programme in the humanities that prepares students for a career?

Below are three tools for successfully marketing your humanities programme to employers:

1. Podcasts

The first aspect of a robust programme involves the student-to-student relationship. In order to build internal awareness about your new programme, it is important that students are able to hear about it from their peers. As your programme places more PhD interns, you will be able to interview them to glean insights for both quality control and prospective student recruitment. Platforms such as Podbean or Buzzsprout offer low-cost podcast hosting solutions for as little as $12 a month.

These podcast episodes should be kept short (about five minutes) and consist of questions and answers between a PhD intern from your department, and another student who has not yet completed such an experience. Questions could include: how has your humanities training helped you on the job? What have been the challenges and adaptations in taking on a new line of work? What are your day-to-day work tasks like? Which skills do you feel you need to improve after your experience?

With today’s concerns about tracking the career outcomes of all PhDs, this resource becomes an asset. Learning how to broadcast also develops student skills while generating an environment of knowledge-sharing on topics such as how to talk about workplace experiences to others; how to produce media content for the general public; and technological savvy that is useful in social media management.

2. Infographics

The second aspect of an attractive PhD programme relies on the student-to-business relationship. For this, students must develop a press kit for employers to quickly grasp the extent of their skills. After several internships, PhD candidates should be able to articulate a short personal history, followed by a list of their potential services to employers. Providing elegant infographics detailing the distribution of their workplace activities is an impressive way of communicating this.

Infogram or Canva allow a student to create graphics that break down, in percentage terms, the scope of their professional responsibilities. For instance, 30 per cent policy research, 30 per cent programme coordination, 20 per cent outreach/presentations, and 20 per cent writing/editing. 

This kind of distribution is the same as that listed in many job ads, and will enable humanities PhDs to better envisage themselves as professionals. When employers come to campus as part of your programme, students will be able to confidently speak about their abilities and ask questions about where they might fit in a given organisation.

3. A website with reviews

The third part of a well-rounded programme is the business-to-business interface. Every organisation needs a content engine, and every content engine needs a website.

Wordpress or Wix are user-friendly web development platforms where your PhDs can post short (1,000 word) blog pieces reflecting on their internship experiences. In addition to sensitising employers about each student’s work-life preferences, writing for your programme will hone their skills in appealing to a general audience. 

Topics could include: what their internship made them realise about their life direction; their best and worst moments on the job; instances where they helped resolve problems; examples of the teamwork involved in their job; how they developed their people and presentation skills; what a “project” consisted of in their job and how they worked on it. 

These are the answers to many of the questions that employers ask during an interview. Reflecting on them before will not only make students more comfortable during interviews, but will allow partner employers to screen and select their candidates based on fit.

Furthermore, by asking employers to provide feedback on their interns — through one of the many Wordpress “review” plugins — you will acquire assessment data to be both published online and used for grading within your programme. Think: Amazon user reviews for your PhD interns.

These will hold students accountable for their performance on the job, and get them used to how “grading” is done in the workplace. 

For too long, initiatives for the professionalisation of humanities PhDs have remained at the conversation stage. It is time for these programmes to move forward and compete with their peers. Doing so will require a strong marketing campaign, proving to the university (and society at large) that humanities departments produce capable, adaptable and skill-rich graduates.

Alfredo Cumerma is a Gilman Research Fellow at Johns Hopkins University, where he teaches Spanish language and conducts research on Latin American culture and US foreign policy.


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