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Humanities PhD Journalist Project

The Humanities Ph.D. Journalist Project serves two purposes: to promote the humanities at Stanford and to train Stanford Ph.D. students in humanities fields to write for a broad audience.

Graduate students from humanities departments serve as reporters for the Stanford News Service, working with Chris Kark, the director of humanities communications, to develop and produce each story. The aim is to produce news stories about the humanities for a broad, non-academic audience. Stories average between 900 and 1,000 words, and student journalists receive payment for each completed story.

Each story later features on Stanford humanities social media platforms and in the monthly humanities newsletter. The stories continually garner attention well beyond campus, catching the attention of reporters, bloggers, and social media outlets, which have repurposed, shared and/or covered Stanford humanities news as a direct result of seeing stories written by graduate students. To date, humanities Ph.D. students have written dozens of stories that have been published by the Stanford News Service. The majority of the stories appear in the Stanford Report and are issued as press releases, both of which are read by audiences worldwide.

Graduate students can also contribute to the Stanford Humanities Review (SHR), a Medium-based publication that champions humanities scholarship aimed chiefly at the curious public. Modeled on the traditional book review supplement, it fosters conversation about ideas in brief essays and book reviews of approximately 1,000 words, as well as audiovisual media and interviews with humanities scholars at Stanford. SHR curates informed opinion from humanities scholars at Stanford University and prizes the rigor and passion that animate the written word. 

SHR furnishes graduate students with the opportunity to mature as prose stylists and gain experience promoting their research among non-specialists. For graduate students discerning their vocation, such experience is key: learning to distill complex ideas into crisp prose yields professional and personal dividends. For future faculty, honing a sharp prose style boosts the likelihood of clinching book contracts from university presses, which increasingly seek to broaden their readership. Students with sights set on careers outside of academia must learn to write across different registers by necessity.

The program receives generous support from the School of Humanities and Sciences and the SCORE (Strengthening the Core) Academic Innovation Funds program, which is administered by the Office of the Vice Provost for Graduate Education.
 
Student journalists are accepted on a rolling basis and should contact Chris Kark if they are interested in joining the journalist project: ckark@stanford.edu.


Here’s what a few Ph.D. journalists had to say about the news writing experience:
 
“The process of writing short, informative pieces about the humanities for audiences well outside my discipline has pushed me to think more creatively about how to better communicate my ideas and arguments.”
 
“Whether angling for a non-professorial career post-graduation or seeking to become a public intellectual, training oneself to write clear, limpid prose for a lay audience proves a hugely productive enterprise.”
 
“Speaking from the graduate student perspective, we are shaped to be so highly specialized that occasionally we lose sight of the larger conversations within the humanities.  Writing about faculty research therefore strengthens the scholarly community through public communications.”

“Thanks in part to my experience with the Ph.D. Journalism Project, I now write regularly for a variety of major national publications, including The Atlantic and The Chronicle of Higher Education, and I will continue to write for general audiences throughout my academic career. The Humanities Ph.D. Journalism Project made me a better communicator, more confident writer, and more interdisciplinary humanist!”
 
“It has really been eye-opening to see the amazing research that other humanities scholars are doing. But don't be mistaken: this is not just a distraction from my thesis; quite on the contrary: it is in fact very, very inspiring to see the other sort of work that humanities professors are doing, and it inspires and influences me to do as well as possible, and to be even more demanding, with my own writing. Moreover, the stylistic and tonal elements that I have acquired have been directly useful in my clarity of writing in my thesis.”
 
“The project represents one of the best aspects of the Stanford experience: interdisciplinary collaboration. I've worked with Creative Writing, Ethics, and History, with Art History on the horizon. I've learned an enormous amount and made some generative intellectual connections that I'm sure will inform my dissertation. Perhaps best of all, it's just been plain fun to work with such an enthusiastic team of writers and editors and to hear colleagues and faculty say, 'By the way, I really enjoyed reading your article!'.”
 
“One of things that the Humanities Ph.D. Journalism Program has taught me is how important communication is for the humanities. We cannot be effective scholars without exercising good communication skills. However, sometimes disciplinary boundaries within the academy, and especially discrepancies between academic and public writing, make it difficult to share our thoughts with the general public. In my experience, reframing scholarly ideas in a journalistic style increases the accessibility of intellectual innovation. Moreover, reporting for Stanford News has led me to reflect further upon the impact that humanities scholarship has in the world around us.”

“Sometimes academia can feel more like a mosaic than a melting-pot, with each scholar trapped in her silo of expertise instead of drawing on a wide range of disciplinary methods. However, writing for the Humanities Center has reminded me that there are rich rewards to be reaped from reaching beyond one’s so-called area of focus. The skills that I am cultivating as a Humanities Center writer—in particular, that of making highly specialized research digestible for the lay reader—will certainly prove valuable if I pursue an academic career. But reporting for the Center has also piqued my interest in additional potential career paths, such as journalism, public relations, and freelance writing.”

“My articles for the SHC challenged me in different ways—for the first, I had to summarize an abstract project into a form that would be both readable and interesting to the public, for the second I had to select and describe aspects of an event that would be both informative and meaningful to general readers. Both projects helped me understand that the skills I’ve cultivated in my PhD—a critical eye, attention to writing, and an awareness of audience, are transferrable outside of an academic context.”


Below are few recent stories in the Stanford Report:

Medieval songs reflect humor in amorous courtships, Stanford scholar finds
 
Complex view of Islam found in poetry of Iran, Stanford researcher shows
 
Stanford music scholar explains Beethoven’s rise as a cultural icon in China
 
Stanford historian examines age-old inquiry about what it means to be 'living'
 
Stanford Literary Lab uses digital humanities to study why we feel suspense