Project Management and Graduate Training

As if on cue, right after I posted last week to call for clear, concrete goals for Prism this semester, Bethany began last week’s meeting by asking for a Project Manager. Sarah Storti and I quickly volunteered for the job, probably because we share a love of deadlines, self-imposed or otherwise, and work at similar levels of anxiety without them. Bethany assigned us some weekend reading on Project Management and we convened for “Projectmanageapalooza” yesterday to discuss the material and devise a plan for managing this semester’s hefty workload.

The readings were extremely helpful (see the “Intro to Project Management” section of Praxis topics for our short list of most helpful resources), especially Brian Croxall’s “12 Basic Principles of Project Management” and Sharon Leon’s “Project Management for Humanists.” Both articles stress the PM’s need to assess the viability/sustainability of a project before it’s begun, the importance of a clear and flexible workplan that is derived collaboratively and realistically, and the PM’s responsibility to manage and encourage frequent communication amongst team members and partners. Both articles also begin with a point that has been made quite frequently, but that has not necessarily been my experience as a graduate student so far: that humanities graduate students are not trained to work collaboratively.

While I wholeheartedly agree with Leon, Croxall, and most of the DH community that graduate education must be transformed to formally, explicitly transmit this kind of training to humanities scholars, for the sake of the individual scholar and the profession as a whole, there are many opportunities to work collaboratively as a graduate student, but they must be sought out and are often extracurricular and small-scale. I recognize that it can be very easy to become the scholar/hermit in a graduate program, especially because programs have not yet adapted to encourage collaborative research in the traditional sense (like a tag-team digital dissertation), but collaboration on the most basic level has been ingrained in my daily experience in UVA’s English department – from discussion in grad seminars that leads to new research, to collaboratively editing papers and personal statements with peers and faculty mentors alike, to extracurricular activities like the Graduate English Students Association and its conference committee (groups that require quite a bit of PM-type skills).

This is not the kind of training Leon and Croxall are calling for, but my graduate education (so far) has trained me to seek out opportunities to collaborate with others within the department and outside of it (in my work with Praxis and IATH, for example). I have to stress that I do not disagree with the inadequacy of graduate methodological training; if I did, I wouldn’t be a Praxis Fellow. But I think we can find the basic principles for collaborative research happening already on a very small scale, and it’s up to graduate students to make collaborative research a priority – that is, to find those opportunities, seize them, and ask their programs to support them. Pardon the lengthy post; I know I’m not saying anything new here and I may be totally off-base, but I thought I’d respond with my experience as a nascent scholar and even-more-nascent member of the DH community.

Brooke is a 2011-12 Praxis Fellow and MA candidate in the Department of English. She is currently working on a thesis which investigates Virginia Woolf's moment of being as a biographical, historical, and narrative phenomenon in Woolf's fiction and essays. Brooke is also a graduate research assistant in IATH, working on Alison Booth's Collective Biographies…


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