According to the American Philosophical Association, a PhD in the humanities takes on average 6.9 years. This extra time is not due to idleness, however. Each of us has a stake in finishing as quickly as we can and securing stable employment. We do not need the University to reduce funding opportunities to convince us of the value of this.
In order to succeed in a job market that becomes more cutthroat by the year, it is no longer sufficient just to have a completed dissertation. An established publishing record, numerous conference presentations, and teaching experience are all critical in order to have a chance at receiving an offer that provides even basic job security and benefits. Requiring students to rush to the job market with premature records will place Northwestern graduates at a distinct disadvantage relative to our peer institutions.
Further, pushing unprepared candidates onto the job market will affect the program’s long-term ability to recruit the best graduate students. It is standard practice for Comparative Literary Studies programs to post their graduate placement record. Prospective graduate students look at these placements when deciding among schools, and seeing a number of graduates still on the market due to lack of offers will not make the program—and by extension the university—look appealing.
Moreover, PhD students in the Comparative Literary Studies Program face unique challenges which, in many cases, prevent them from completing a degree in five years. For instance, the imperative of language acquisition (which often cannot be pursued in tandem with regular coursework) often obliges students to postpone their qualifying exams and/or dissertation research. Additionally, students in Comparative Literary Studies frequently require access to international archives and institutions as an essential component of their research. They may also study with scholars at universities abroad. All such opportunities provide invaluable enrichment to the scholarly work of our graduate students and contribute materially to their success on the job market. However, too often students must decide between taking advantage of these opportunities or enjoying the security of a fully-funded degree. These decisions between financial security and scholarly enrichment are especially urgent for the Program’s many and diverse international students, for whom funding difficulties can also become visa difficulties. The addition of a guaranteed sixth year of funding would ensure that all students in the Comparative Literary Studies Program may take advantage of these enrichment opportunities without incurring undue financial or legal burdens.
We acknowledge that the University has an interest in ensuring students do not take longer than they need to complete their degrees. The best way to do this is to ensure that we have the financial support to finish our degree on an appropriate schedule by guaranteeing sixth year funding. The guarantee of a 6th year of funding in no way disincentivizes students from applying for external grants and fellowships over the course of their graduate career. Not only do such opportunities often offer additional academic as well as financial resources, they are important components of a competitive CV. Indeed, six years is still well below the median time to completion for PhDs in Comparative Literary Studies (and in the humanities overall) yet provides graduate students crucial time to be prepared for the job market while also furthering the university's interest in incentivizing graduate students to graduate in a timely fashion.
Thus we, the graduate students of the Northwestern Comparative Literary Studies Program, join with Northwestern University Graduate Workers in calling on Northwestern University to guarantee sixth year funding opportunities for all current and future PhD students.