New program offers path for postgraduates

Under the guidance of Steven Lamy, vice dean for academic programs and professor of international relations, Dornsife has created an inaugural preceptor program for postdoctoral humanities and social sciences students.

Applications for this program opened in February, and doctorate students began their contracts with USC this semester.

“This post-doctorate position allows students to be mentored by faculty and also teach their own course,” Lamy said. “We wanted them to teach one course each semester and then work with a senior faculty member as a discussion leader in four sections.”

During the time of their contract, which lasts two years, students will still be able to apply for jobs and finish their dissertations.

“There is 25 percent less workload than non-tenure track professors,” Lamy said. “So they still have time to work on their dissertation and still have contact with their advisers.”

Alexander Young, who recently finished his Ph.D. in English, is one of the post-doctorates in the pilot year of this program. A total of six out of 20 applicants were accepted, three in the social sciences department and three in the humanities department.

Young believes that this program will improve his job application process, which is often difficult for recent Ph.D. graduates.

“The academic job market is tightening, and it is increasingly difficult to get a tenure track position out of grad school,” Young said. “The hope is that we will be going on the job market with better resumes than we would have had had we not had this teaching position.”

Administrators believe both Ph.D. students and undergraduates will benefit from this program.

“You get someone teaching your class who is brand new, closer to your age, excited about it and have a lot of energy,” Lamy said. “And they want to do really well, so they will be more likely to focus on the course.”

Ph.D. Elizabeth Ann Logan, who is teaching American Legal History, said she appreciates the opportunities the program provides.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity to lecture and mentor USC students in the area of legal history in the context of the law history and culture major,” Logan said. “I’m getting a chance to blend history and law in a way I haven’t before — an opportunity that this program is affording me.”

“Representing the Global War on Terror” is one of the required freshman general education seminars taught by Young.

“[The preceptor program] has created some new course offerings and put some younger instructors in the classroom,” Young said. “I have the opportunity to work with students on a new project that is evolving as it is unfolding in the classroom.”

Young is grateful for being a preceptor at USC, considering the struggle for most post-doctorates.

“The crisis in academic hiring has made it tough for recent Ph.D.’s,” Young said. “Now, Ph.D.’s can stay at USC and earn reasonable salary and benefits and job stability.”

Young’s situation is different than most Ph.D. students, who, after graduating, must teach at multiple institutions to make a livable wage.

“They are freeway flyers,” Lamy said. “Often, they must teach at four institutions to make a living.”

The aim of the program is to prevent the need of that lifestyle and allow young doctorates to develop their skills.

“We want them to be much more competitive in the job market,” Lamy said. “That’s our goal.”

While many other universities have opened up these types of postdoctorate programs to everyone, USC’s preceptor program is reserved for USC students.

“That’s what makes it different,” said Lamy. “We are trying to find ways to expand our relationship with the liberal arts.”

From an outside perspective, this program gives Ph.D. students more opportunities than usual.

“This kind of program at USC can give the young scholar an opportunity to get broader teaching experience, especially if they receive mentorship and professional development opportunities,” said Russell A. Berman, professor of German studies and comparative literature at Stanford University, to Inside Higher Education.

USC’s program takes its roots from one introduced by Woodrow Wilson at Princeton. Other universities have implemented similar programs since then, and USC has recently caught on.

“But we’re are in the middle of the parade — not behind or ahead,” said Lamy.

As this is the first year, Lamy expects even more growth and development.

“We try to meet with the preceptors every semester to get feedback from this first group,” Lamy said. “We are hoping that if it works well we will see the program grow.”

Lamy said he has high hopes for the preceptors.

“Hopefully today’s preceptors are tomorrow’s full-time professors at a major universities.”