The overall goal of the TRaCE Transborder project is to enable PhD graduates in the humanities from nine different nations and academic cultures to contribute more effectively to their own well-being and to the well-being of their (and, possibly, other) societies across multiple sectors of work. The project will build an international mentoring and networking community of PhD grads and PhD students and will work with that community to develop recommendations for change in humanities doctoral education. The driving engine of this new community and of the research we will undertake will be the stories that the grads recount to the graduate student researchers (GSRs) about their PhD programs and their lives after graduation. The project aims also to
- gather quantitative information about humanities PhD programs and career outcomes from partner universities in Nigeria, Ghana, India, USA, England, Netherlands, China, and Australia as well as in Canada and thereby provide a larger and more informative account of humanities PhD outcomes than has been produced by university-specific, discipline-specific, or national studies;
- make possible the first major study of the international mobility of humanities PhDs;
- contribute to enhanced equity, diversity, and inclusion across PhD programs by featuring the stories, faces, and voices of Black people and People of Colour and thereby help to recruit more diverse PhD cohorts;
- elevate public recognition of the value of the humanities PhD degree and the employability of PhD grads across multiple sectors by sharing stories of PhD success by way of social and mainstream media;
- make possible the transformation of Individual Development Plan programs into user-centred design workshops where PhD students are able to map their pathways through the PhD and their postgraduate careers in dialogue with a selection of PhD roadmaps drawn from the grads’ narratives. Students will be able to reach out to the grads themselves for counsel at particular decision points;
- produce research deliverables including (1) an online, publicly-accessible archive of PhD outcomes, including both quantitative and qualitative information, for ten graduating cohorts, 2013-2022, from the partner universities; (2) a quantitative, international study of humanities PhD career paths; and (3) “a storybook for PhDs”—a collaborative study of the problems and solutions for humanities PhDs seeking fulfilling and valuable careers. The study will be based on the narratives, and will include the narratives, of nine PhD grads from nine countries.
July 2022-Aug 2023 conduct planning meetings; begin to grow a transborder PhD community; build the project website; undertake a full literature review; work with the partner universities toward the creation of flexible quantitative tracking instruments and flexible interviewing templates
Sept 2023-Aug 2024 organize the statistical tracking and interviewing of humanities PhD grads at partner universities; produce (1) an online, publicly-accessible archive of PhD outcomes, including both quantitative and qualitative information, for ten graduating cohorts, 2013-2022, from partner universities and (2) a transborder quantitative study of humanities PhD career paths; Oct 2024 submit full Partnership grant application (stage 1) to SSHRC. The full Partnership application (stage 2) to be submitted Oct 2025, with results announced Spring 2026. If successful, a 5- to 7- year TRaCE Transborder project, tracking PhD grads across all the disciplines, will begin Sept 2026.)
Sept 2024-Aug 2025 produce a paperback/online book of stories from humanities grads, from different nations and academic cultures, and on different career pathways; critical reflections on those stories; and recommendations for change that issue from the stories and reflections; and work with faculty, administrators, students, grads, and stakeholders to implement recommendations for change; develop a toolkit of innovative starter projects; partner universities agree to adopt one or more of the starter projects.
TRaCE Transborder builds out from three previous projects—the TRaCE pilot project, 2015-16; TRaCE 2.0, 2017-19 http://tracephd.com; and TRaCE McGill, 2019-21 http://tracemcgill.com. The previous TRaCE projects
- gathered quantitative and qualitative data in order to track the career pathways of approximately 9,000 PhD graduates from McGill University and from universities across Canada;
- reported on the grads’ career outcomes by way of statistical analyses and by interviewing and telling the stories of approximately 650 grads;
- connected grads with each other and with in-program PhD students in order to build a networking and mentoring community able to foster the exchange of knowledge and knowhow among this highly educated and previously largely invisible constituency.
The pilot project focused exclusively on humanities PhDs, the second project expanded the research to include Social Sciences and Fine Arts; the third, TRaCE McGill, tracked 4,500 PhDs from all Faculties at McGill University and across all disciplines.
We learned that the career narratives emerging from the interviewing process were able to supplement the statistical side of the research in substantial ways. Quantitative data can answer three questions: what grads are doing, when they landed the jobs they have now, and where their careers have taken them. Only narrative can answer three other critical questions: why they chose their career pathways—and indeed why they chose to do PhDs in the first place—and how they got to where they are now. The narratives bring subjects to life, make the PhD programs and postgraduate career pathways of the grads mappable (so that others are able to follow in their footsteps), attract the interest of in-course PhD students and prospective doctoral students, and inform program and cultural change within graduate education.
We discovered that PhD grads who were invited by PhD student researchers to tell their stories began both to recollect their doctoral training in vital detail and to reconnect with the cohort of PhD students in their disciplines—that the story-telling itself in the presence of keenly interested student interviewers worked to engender a sense of responsibility and community between grads and student researchers. Over the six years of work on the TRaCE projects, we have been impressed by the capacity of the grads’ narratives to help in-program students think more clearly and with less anxiety about their postgraduate careers, to foster solidarity among grads and students, and to generate ideas for the renovation of doctoral education.
While the integration of quantitative data, qualitative knowledge, and community-building made TRaCE unique among the several PhD tracking projects in Canada, and while the third TRaCE project expanded its range to include all academic disciplines, the work nevertheless focused exclusively on Canadian universities and Canadian PhD career pathways. That seemed far-reaching enough until the Covid pandemic brought home to us, among other hard lessons, that we in Canada share the planet with many other nations and cultures. The virus spread massive destruction around the world in a matter of months. Why cannot knowledge and research skills move as readily toward the work of repair? Let us imagine how PhDs across the world—on their own individual career paths and also belonging to a community of shared interests—might be able to mobilize their learning widely and develop their research and problem-solving in the company of others internationally. We note that PhDs represent a small proportion of the population in any given country, but also that they are the bearers of a large proportion of expert knowledge and research and problem-solving skills.
And as the experience of the three previous TRaCE projects has taught us (with the actual work of tracking and interviewing being done by PhD student researchers), the process itself of creating the database will engender a networking community of PhD grads and students that will open new career horizons and provide direction and support as young researchers move forward along their chosen career paths. TRaCE Transborder will make the PhD community international by developing opportunities for student researchers to work across borders, joining with student researchers at other institutions in other countries to track and interview grads.
The three previous TRaCE projects produced quantitative and qualitative reports (see http://tracemcgill.com/poll) and published a series of essays in journals such as the Canadian Journal of Higher Education, University Affairs, and The Conversation. TRaCE Transborder will build on this record of research and publication, expand it, and develop a focused research program that works with the quantitative data and especially with the narrative knowledge that is brought forward by the PhD grads.