In 2016, Duke University was awarded a three-year Next Generation PhD implementation grant from the NEH. A key piece of Duke’s NEH-funded project (Versatile Humanists at Duke) is the creation of a new full-time staff position, a Director of Graduate Student Advising and Engagement, to supplement advising that humanities students receive from DGSs, dissertation directors, and other faculty. The advisor works closely with both students and with graduate faculty; the goals are to bring about short-term improvements in the experiences of current graduate students, and to seed long-term culture change in humanities PhD programs at Duke.
Maria LaMonaca Wisdom provides an overview of challenges, surprises, and successes from her first two years in the role. In particular, two challenges will be highlighted: 1) the establishment of an “in-betwixt, in between” staff position that has credibility with both PhD students and their faculty advisors; and 2) promoting a vision of supplemental advising that supports students’ academic and extra-curricular development from 1st-year orientation to dissertation defense and beyond.
To limit advising to “just-in-time” career counseling would be to miss a key opportunity to improve the humanities PhD student experience and outcomes. There are, moreover, a number of advantages to adding an advising resource beyond PhD programs. Not only can students access a “safe space” to talk freely about their academic and professional goals, but such an advisor is well-placed to help students locate co- and extra-curricular resources that exist outside a single PhD program or academic discipline.
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