Leonard Cassuto Talks about Preparing English Graduate Students for Diverse Careers

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Leonard Cassuto

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Leonard Cassuto

Fordham University’s Leonard Cassuto recently visited virtually with graduate students and faculty from the Department of English about the need for career diversity to be emphasized in humanities graduate programs.

Cassuto, an English professor and authority on the topic of career diversity in higher education, has published numerous articles in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

He has also written the books The Graduate School Mess: What Caused It and How We Can Fix It, published in 2015, and The New PhD: How to Build a Better Graduate Education, due out this December.

Most graduate students in the humanities will be getting jobs outside of the academy, said Cassuto during the Sept. 10 talk. This means that we should be taking a “reverse engineering” approach to teaching them, designing graduate education that looks backwards from the current reality that graduate students now face as they go on the job market.

Teaching graduate students, for this purpose, requires a collective responsibility, with many different advisors participating. It likewise involves a focus upon specific skills that are valued in both academic and nonacademic careers.



Clockwise from top left: English doctoral student Dana Blair, English professor Sean Dempsey, English master’s student Dylan Henderson, and English professor Dorothy Stephens, some of the attendees who asked questions at the event.

According to Cassuto, humanities graduate faculty should stress career diversity by finding ways for graduate students to develop a range of skills that nonacademic as well as academic employers will value. Allow graduate students to work in teams to hone their collaboration skills. Let them experiment with the traditional dissertation structure. Offer them flexible assignment formats that can accommodate digital technology components, social media features, etc.

Innovative assignments, based upon what the students want to do and the skills they want to learn, do not even require that the professor have to have experience with the new assignment format.

“All you need to know how to do is how to assess it,” Cassuto said.

Graduate students in the humanities may find applying for jobs outside of the academy challenging, but, Cassuto insisted, they already “have the skills to do this.”

He said the skills one develops in graduate school “are readily applicable to the task of applying for jobs outside of the academy.”

Concluding his talk, Cassuto encouraged his audience, especially those graduate students preparing to go on the job market, to “live creatively – to think about the work that will make you happy and to try to generate job choices on the basis of that.”

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