The department of English has been selected to participate in a national research project to improve doctoral education at institutions across the United States. As part of this study — the Carnegie Initiative on the Doctorate — the department will be joining other schools in evaluating and refining its own graduate program.

“Part of what pleases me about our involvement is that we get to stand alongside these other premier institutions,” Director of Graduate Studies in English Thomas Hahn said.

Participants in the study include the English departments of Columbia University, Duke University and Michigan State University.There are two levels of institutional participation in the study — partner departments and allied departments. Partners are expected to participate at an intensive level while allied departments, like UR’s English Department, retain more flexibility over their involvement. “The difference between a partner and ally is intensity of engagement. As an ally, we will be in contact with other institutions but may not go to as many conferences,” Hahn said.

The project is organized by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching — a center for research and policy studies in education headquartered in Menlo Park, Ca.

Through previous studies, the foundation concluded that concerns exist regarding the preparedness of new doctorates in many disciplines. The multi-year initiative will address these concerns through research and experimentation at departments across the nation as well as through continued discussion at conferences.

“[The purpose of the study] dovetails nicely with our department’s efforts over the last few years to organize itself under three different conceptual areas — text and medium, contemporary writing and literature and history,” graduate student Brandon Barr said. Barr is one of two students who were directly involved in the department’s application to be part of the Carnegie Initiative.

Through the study, UR hopes to focus on several aspects of its doctorate program, including teaching initiatives and dissertation writing. “It is very difficult in humanities to write a dissertation because it is often an isolated and lonely endeavor,” Hahn said.

As part of the study, the department will hold workshops to help doctoral students work together on their research. It will also bring professors and graduate students together to learn from each other’s teaching styles through critique and observation.

Developments and changes in the program through the years will also be a focus of the study. “We already have some serious changes underway, but [the study’s] focus is on how we can be more conscious and proactive about these changes,” Hahn said. To assist in this, the department has planned a conference focused on the conceptual nature of the degree, on its history and future.

“Hopefully, our participation in the Carnegie Initiative will continue to foreground the need to keep asking the questions we’ve been asking ourselves lately,” Barr said.

According to Barr and Hahn, a benefit of participating in the study is a gain in national recognition for the English Department. “I think that the department’s participation in the program will, hopefully, raise the department’s profile,” Barr said.

“We’re one of the smaller departments involved so this represents a real opportunity for us to show what’s distinctive about UR,” Hahn said.

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