How Do We Fix the Advising Model for Humanities PhD Students?

AHA Session 60
Friday, January 4, 2019: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Waldorf Room (Hilton Chicago, Third Floor)
Edward Balleisen, Duke University

Session Abstract

AHA Annual Meeting Session Proposal, 2019

How Do We Fix the Advising Model for Humanities PhD Students?

Chair: Maureen McCarthy, Director of Best Practices and Advancement, Council of Graduate Schools


Leonard Cassuto, Professor of English, Fordham University

Rita Chin, Professor of History, University of Michigan

Maria LaMonaca Wisdom, Director of Graduate Student Advising (Humanities), Duke University

Ricardo Ortiz, Associate Professor of English, Georgetown University

In The Graduate School Mess: What Caused It and How We Can Fix It (2015), Leonard Cassuto devotes an entire chapter to the question of how the academy can make PhD student advising truly “student-centered.” Noting the diversity of graduate students and their needs, he argues, “graduate education needs to shed its one-mold-fits-all design, and advising, if it’s to be worthy of the name, must avoid the dogmatic form that follows such inflexible design” (106).

A major point in Cassuto’s chapter—echoed in the many conversations enriched by Mellon and NEH-funded initiatives--is that students need encouragement and guidance for multiple career paths. On a national level, the Consortium for Graduate Schools and the Graduate Career Consortium have been particularly keen advocates for graduate students in this regard. Accordingly, graduate student professional development teams and (in some cases) career services offices are hastening to fill the void at their respective institutions.

But what about PhD faculty advisors and Directors of Graduate Study? As faculty traditionally form the lodestar of the graduate student experience, what can be done—at individual institutions and across the academy—to help faculty members engage consistently in forms of advising that are both “student-centered” and responsive to the diversity of graduate students and their needs?

Moreover, while efforts to advise students for a full range of career options are valuable and necessary, graduate school reform conversations have largely skirted around fundamental questions of what advising can and should be for students, from the first weeks and months of a PhD program, through the midpoint of comprehensive exams and dissertation prospectus, through graduation—and perhaps beyond. At a time when the endeavors of research, publication, teaching (and increasingly, outreach beyond the academy) are undergoing rapid changes, faculty and DGSs may be called upon to do more for students than simply shepherd them through coursework, exams, exposure to teaching, and the dissertation defense. Excellent doctoral education increasingly requires sensible integration of co-curricular experiences with the more traditional dimensions of graduate study.

This panel includes two speakers (Cassuto and Chin) who can provide faculty perspectives on the issue from within PhD programs in English and History, respectively. Two others (Ortiz and Wisdom) represent grant-funded initiatives to create innovations in humanities PhD training, in which improved advising structures play a key role. This session proposal will also be submitted to the program review panel for MLA. The organizer (Maria Wisdom) has already been in conversation with Stacy Hartman and Steve Olsen of MLA, who are currently considering integrating this panel into a new MLA workshop for graduate faculty.

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