“The Other Replication Crisis: Collaborative Mentoring to Avoid Faculty Clones”

Guest post by Emily Shreve (University of Nevada, Las Vegas) & Jenna Lay (Lehigh University)

Reproduction haunts the advising relationship. For decades, an apprenticeship model has been treated as a given in humanities graduate education: doesn’t everyone who gets a Ph.D. want to be a professor? The evidence—including the diverse career paths pursued by humanities Ph.D.s both before and after 2008—makes clear that the answer is no. And yet mentoring of graduate students can still all too easily reproduce the interests, methods, gestures, pronunciations and fashion sense of the faculty advisor, not to mention the career path.

We believe that this path of least differentiation is neither a viable nor an ethical option. Instead, in this post (which builds on our presentation for a MLA panel sponsored by the Committee on the Status of Graduate Students in the Humanities) we advocate for a collaborative advising model that enables students to identify and learn from multiple mentors, and we note the practical steps that can be taken now to expand graduate students’ mentoring networks. Our suggestions are shaped by our own collaborative experiences, first as graduate student and graduate director, then as dissertation advisee and dissertation advisor, and now as colleagues working across faculty and student affairs at different institutions—and we would love to hear your suggestions in the comments!

Multiple mentoring relationships can offer students alternatives to the apprenticeship model of graduate education and thereby disrupt two assumptions inherent to much doctoral advising in the humanities: first, that all graduate students are primarily interested in a tenure-track career, and second that advising and mentorship happens automatically through a process of modeling and imitation. In other words, we question the idea that a successful advisor is good at what they do (tenure-track professor at a research-oriented university), and thus provides—through example, storytelling, and direct advice—a model that the graduate student advisee simply needs to follow. In a primarily dyadic model, those assumptions can limit graduate students’ professional possibilities, either by providing a single, institutionally-specific vision of what a tenure-track position will entail or by narrowing students’ ideas of what fulfilling careers are possible within and beyond academe.

There are many practical and accessible strategies for expanding beyond traditional dissertation mentor-mentee relationships, such as committee service, informational interviews, graduate assistantships, and other professional networking activities. These collaborative activities create opportunities to meet and engage with a range of potential mentors beyond one academic department—including peers, work supervisors, and alumni. At their fullest potential, they can also open new spaces for intellectual development and career exploration:

*Committee service educates students concerning the workings of the university and provides opportunities to build skills essential to self-governance and collaboration.

*Informational interviews introduce students to the variety of intellectually satisfying and meaningful humanities-based careers.

*Graduate assistantships can provide hands-on experience in those possible careers and create opportunities for robust self-reflection concerning the graduate student’s professional ambitions.

*National conferences and other professional networking activities also provide opportunities to learn about the variety of work possible within and beyond academe, witness the wide-ranging work of higher education professionals, and meet new people from various institutions.

In sum, networked mentoring relationships developed through deliberate investment in co-curricular partnerships and extra-departmental collaborations can help graduate students think about a broader range of professional possibilities—and potentially also mitigate (or provide avenues for addressing) abuses of power.

Ideally, these practical steps can be facilitated by individual faculty or—even better!—incorporated into the curriculum of a graduate program, whether through departmentally supported GA partnerships, readings on mentorship assigned in an Introduction to Graduate Studies course, or through innovative configurations for dissertation committees. Graduate students themselves can pursue many of these opportunities and use resources like the mentoring map created by the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity to build a deep mentoring network.

We know there are many other wonderful ideas for supporting graduate students’ individualized development. What beneficial mentorship opportunities have been created at your institutions? What might graduate students themselves do to expand their network, especially at institutions that might frown upon or discourage moving beyond the dyad? What type of support from faculty mentors do you feel is most needed and appreciated? We welcome your feedback and discussion in the comments and, we hope, at future conventions.

To conclude, we offer this reminder: these strategies are most successful and meaningful when put into place by mentors and departments that are invested in seeing their graduate students not as mini-mes, but as unique and specific participants in humanistic inquiry, who will take their training in new and as-yet unimagined directions.


Writing Projects in Graduate School: Writing With and Through Anxiety

Friday, January 10

5:15 PM – 6:30 PM

WSCC—Skagit 1

Anxiety associated with writing is a topic that is likely relevant for many graduate students as we navigate the responsibilities we have as grad students and as people, and as we approach the challenge of putting our ideas out into the world and creating a sense of ethos for ourselves as scholars.  This panel will explore what anxiety looks like for graduate students and discuss ways to combat writing anxiety from several different perspectives.

Jen McConnel will explore how developing metaphors for our writing can help us to reframe and work through writing anxiety in encouraging and creative ways.  Dr. Kayla Walker Edin will discuss how the spaces in which graduate students write can impact their work.  She will also offer some “best-practices” for graduate students to consider in choosing and creating workspaces.  Finally, Anna Barritt will examine the impact of writing anxiety on first-generation, working-class graduate students, drawing on her research with these students to offer ways to support them.

It is our hope that this panel will allow us to have a frank and fruitful discussion on the often fraught relationship graduate students have with writing projects and offer practical solutions and strategies for surmounting anxiety throughout the writing process.  We will continue our conversations in Saturday’s 5:15 PM panel, “Empowering Graduate Student Writers: Theories and Strategies for Writers and Their Advisers” in Skagit 1, as well.


Finding your way at your first MLA – the 2020 Seattle Edition

One of the most common things first-time graduate student attendees report about MLA is feeling overwhelmed by the sheer size of the convention. Unlike a graduate student conference or regional conference, the MLA has dozens of panels running simultaneously–and you just might find that you wish you could attend several talks in the same hour. And few first-time attendees realize that there is a lot to do at the MLA convention aside from attending sessions.

Our best advice? Know that you simply can’t do it all, and try not to get overwhelmed by that fact. Try using the MLA 2020 app to plan out your days. (Here are the links for downloading the MLA 2020 app for Android and for Apple. And here is the online program if you need it.)

In the app, you can browse by day, session type, subject, and more. Try browsing by subject first. Look for topics related to your dissertation, project, or research (and that includes papers you might be writing for seminars if you are still in coursework!). When you click in a subject title, like “Spanish literature,” you’ll further get to select by date–so you can ensure you’re only looking at panels for the days you plan to attend. While the title of the session can help, they are often (necessarily) a bit general. We find that clicking on the title and reading the titles for each individual presentation is most helpful. This will give you a firmer sense of what will be discussed in the session.

When you find a session you can’t miss, use the app to add it–along with the date, time, and location–to your in-app convention schedule. That way, you’ll have each day planned out and you won’t have to wonder where to go each day. Our best advice is to do this a few days before the convention, or as you travel to the convention so that you don’t need to worry about where you will go each day.

Try to focus on choosing two to three sessions a day to start. Any more than that can feel overwhelming for a first-time attendee, and you will likely find that there are other things you’d like to do during the day at the convention as well.

What else can you do at the convention? We’ve culled a list of things to do from the MLA website and compiled it here for you:

  • Visit the graduate student lounge in the Washington State Convention Center (602, level 6) to connect with other grad students attending the convention–and to charge your phones or devices between sessions and interviews. Hours are 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. on Thursday, 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and  9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on Sunday. We’ll have door prizes at 11:45 a.m. daily!
  • Join an MLA cultural excursion or explore Seattle on your own. We like this site that posts free and budget-friendly things to do in Seattle, from museums to cultural centers to historic sites.
  • Prepping for an interview, or job applications in general? Visit the MLA Career Center (Washington State Convention Center, Tahoma 4-5, 3rd floor) from Thursday-Saturday. You can sign up for job counseling taking place on January 10 and 11, or just find a space to sit and relax.
  • On the topic of careers… if you’re thinking alt-ac, or simply want to expand your sense of what you can do with a masters or Ph.D., definitely check out the Career Fair. Here, you’ll find organizations outside academia that are eager and interested in hiring grads with humanities training.
  • Ready to publish? MLA members attending the convention can sign up for a 20 minute chat with an editor who is a member of the Council of Editors of Learned Journals (CELJ), an allied organization of the MLA. The service gives scholars the opportunity to meet one-on-one with an experienced editor to discuss any aspect of the publication process. Location: Washington State Convention Center, 609. Sessions are by appointment only and happen on Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. – 12 p.m. (but don’t worry–there are many editors available during these times!). Sign up on the CELJ MLA Commons site.
  • Find out about mentoring opportunities, and tons of other great grad-themed workshops and events, here, or check out this listing of career-themed panels happening throughout the convention.

A few final things:

  • Don’t forget to bring your badge or pick it up when you arrive–and don’t lose it! There is a $20 replacement fee. You can get your badge, or register on-site, at the Washington State Convention Center (Atrium, level 4).
  • You can find a convention guide online with 12 pages of great information that will help orient you.
  • Check out the Convention Daily each day. People get sick, cancellations happen, new events arise, and sometimes rooms change.
  • Follow us on Twitter at @MLAgrads. You can also follow other MLA accounts, such as @MLAConvention and @MLAConnect, for updated information on the convention daily. And don’t forget to add your two cents: you can post about your convention experience and connect with others with hashtag #mla20.

460A – Mentoring Graduate Students

Saturday, 11 January 10:15 AM-11:30 AM, Skagit 5 (WSCC)


Today’s graduate students navigate an increasingly difficult world. The academic job market is in a free fall. Anxiety is on the rise. And very few people have any hope for a future that resembles the roles that their advisors know and understand. But in the midst of questions about what to do about a professional world that treats students as “waste products” who will temporarily fill courses without adequate compensation or anything resembling stable employment, this panel seeks to shift our focus from this apocalyptic future to the present. We will focus not on the uncertain futures of both graduate students and the profession in general but on the actual experience of graduate school and the people who attempt to navigate it in these troubled times. It is important, we think, to consider not just “the market” but the quality of graduate students’ experience. What are students getting out of graduate school if its purpose is not to help students procure stable employment as professors? What should advisors be doing to help? What can students do when their needs aren’t being met? And what can they do if they are actively being harassed, bullied, or sabotaged?

The goal of this panel—sponsored by the MLA’s Committee on the Status of Graduate Students in the Humanities—is to reflect on mentoring graduate students. And our goal, to that end, is to simultaneously share advice for faculty members who are attempting to learn how to advise graduate students in our moment—and for graduate students who are working to build productive relationships with faculty mentors. To do this, pairs of advisors and former advisees will share ideas about productively responding to challenges in advising relationships. Their presentations will be prefaced by members of the MLA’s Delegate Assembly Organizing Committee will address their work to consider these experiences, including the “Power Differentials in Graduate Education” survey that was sent out and the forum that followed at MLA Chicago. We will conclude with an honest discussion about advising problems and possible solutions. Ultimately this panel will address two questions: what can faculty members do to more ethically advise and help graduate students? And what can students do to help themselves?


Angelika Bammer (Emory U and MLA Executive Council) & Michelle Brazier (Raritan Valley Community College and Chair of the MLA Delegate Assembly Organizing Committee)

The panel respondents will contextualize the discussion with a focus on the of “power differentials in graduate education” which led to the creation of the MLA Task Force on Ethical Conduct in Graduate Education.

Asha Nadkarni (University of Massachusetts at Amherst) & Neelofer Qadir (University of North Carolina at Greensboro)

In their short presentation, Dr. Asha Nadkarni (now associate professor) and Dr. Neelofer Qadir (recent PhD beginning a tenure­-stream position, which includes mentoring graduate students, in Fall 2019) will discuss their mentor­/mentee relationship with a specific focus on what it means to mentor and be mentored in a community of women of color.

Jenna Lay (Lehigh University) and Emily Shreve (University of Nevada, Las Vegas)

In their talk, Jenna Lay and Emily Shreve discuss the necessity of moving beyond an apprenticeship model of graduate school mentoring (in which the dissertation advisor-advisee dyad functions to replicate faculty interests, methods, and career pathways); instead, they emphasize the importance of developing multiple mentoring relationships through graduate assistantships, committee service, informational interviews, and other professional networking activities.