We’re excited to report some results from a series of focus groups we held last month through the Zeidler Center for Public Discussion. (Thanks, Zeidler!) Part of our planning efforts involve gathering more information about career outcomes and preferences, through surveys and data collection that we’ll be reporting on in months ahead. But we also wanted more qualitative information from the various stakeholders about how they currently understand doctoral careers.

We organized a series of small focus groups made up of non-academic employers, faculty and graduate students in order to identify areas of mutual interest and benefit. We also wanted to learn more about how they communicate with each other, and how they perceive each other.

Zeidler produced a detailed ten-page report, but a few results are worth highlighting:

First, the non-academic employers clearly wanted doctoral students to have experience in organizational settings beyond the academy, whether as a part of their own research or through internships, practicums, or other means. “Get students off campus.” “Connect with community.” “Get exposure.” “Learn the culture of an organization through placements.” One noted that UWM’s public history grad students are required to do internships, and have high placement rates.

Second, non-academic employers valued doctoral students’ writing ability, but they expressed concern about their ability to adapt to non-academic audiences, shorter deadlines, briefer forms, and more collaborative processes. “Know how to…reach any audience.” “Not all about academic talk.” “Brevity is important.”

And third, non-academic employers wished for better technical skills and more quantitative literacy. “Learning how to do a spreadsheet, learning tech.” “Work with quantitative analysis.” “Data analysis.” “Financial admin courses.”

Some of this tallies with the results of other research, such as the AHA’s Five Skills for Career Diversity, but some of it suggests new opportunities. Are there ways that advising or colloquia could incorporate “small cycles to get constant feedback,” which one employer said businesses value? What would a viable, broad-based model of humanities internships look like, and how could it be sustained? And if employers want more quantitative literacy, how might that be incorporated into doctoral work? (As equivalent to a second language requirement? Through more diverse research methods? Required courses?)

We’ll be using this information to prioritize our ideas so we can build on those that promise the greatest benefit and highest likelihood of success. Don’t hesitate to contact us if you’d like to learn more.