Caltech has run a small but highly successful program for postdoctoral scholars in the humanities for two decades, patterned after the postdoctoral programs that are common in scientific disciplines. Each year one or two scholars have been recruited to spend two to three years on campus, teaching Caltech's extraordinary undergraduates and working with professors in history, literature, and philosophy. Plans are currently underway to expand the program, in partnership with the nearby Huntington Library, to encompass positions in Romanticism, Asian America, History of Gardens and Botany, and American History.
This steady stream of researchers with fresh ideas and approaches has been extremely important both to the permanent faculty and to the undergraduates. Because Caltech's humanities faculty do not as a rule advise graduate students, they have both time and enthusiasm to mentor and learn from younger scholars. In addition, our students have enjoyed a richer curriculum. Finally, the program has given the postdoctoral scholars themselves the opportunity to hone their teaching skills, broaden their intellectual horizons, establish professional contacts, and transform their dissertations into books -- a great advantage in the competitive humanities job market.
Postdocs typically teach three one-quarter classes a year and they get a chance to design at least one new course, an experience that makes them more attractive to future employers. To help them further with their research, Caltech has furnished computers, provided secretarial support, and paid for trips to archives and libraries and travel to conferences -- all vital for younger scholars trying to establish national and international reputations. The placement record of our postdocs is outstanding. Some of our own faculty -- for example, Jim Woodward in philosophy -- came to us initially via the postdoc program. And, at a time when fewer than half the recent Ph.D.'s in the humanities can find tenure-track jobs in their fields, nearly eighty percent of the Caltech postdocs have done so. Indeed, many of them have gone on to faculty jobs in leading universities, including UC Berkeley, University of Michigan, Princeton, and MIT.