Feedback request! On Best Practices for Supporting Junior Scholars in Academic Organizations

Dear friends and colleagues,

I’ve been working on a document, text shared below, on Best Practices for Supporting Junior Scholars in Academic Organizations.  I invite any feedback, comments, and edits you may have by May 15 since I’m rotating off the committee this summer. I hope this will become an official document under the MLA Committee on the Status of Grads in the Humanities. Please feel free to email or Tweet at me! — Xine


Graduate students and junior scholars are vital to the thriving of academic organizations and the health of the related academic fields. This document calls attention to support for their participation and well-being within academic organizations and societies as opposed to under the aegises of specific institutions and departments. Junior scholars, particularly those who are underrepresented minorities, are structurally precarious in the profession; relevant policies, responsibilities, and appropriate best practices can be unclear in the context of academic conferences and the scholarly community beyond the home institution.

This document serves as a general point of reference for academic organizations to assess their current practices and to encourage the development of further support for junior scholars towards their long-term flourishing. One hope is that junior scholars looking to develop a caucus or to advocate for more support may find this a useful resource to guide their work and an authoritative reference to demonstrate to their organization what standards exist across the profession. However, although grassroots junior scholar engagement is critical, we do not want them to bear the burden for their own well-being: we urge the organization’s officers and members who are faculty to act as allies who are committed to mentoring, sponsoring, and advocating for junior scholars.

Graduate Representation and Organization

  • Are there graduate students on any of the organization’s committees?
  • Is there a graduate caucus or similar body? If the organization is large enough for formal representatives, what regions or types of institutions are represented?
  • Does the caucus have a constitution or other relevant documentation to make official its structure and purview? Are these documents reviewed on a regular basis in case updates are needed?
  • What access does that body have to the organization’s resources, communications etc?
  • Does the caucus have any say in organization policy? Can the caucus issue its own statements and proposals?
  • Are there open lines of communication with the organization’s president and other governing bodies?
  • Does the caucus have a presence on the organization’s official website? Are there clear descriptions of the caucus’s roles and officer positions if any?
  • Does the caucus have its own website or social media accounts so it can directly manage its relationship to its constituents?
  • What structural measures are in place to ensure the continuation of the caucus? Are positions, nominations, and elections advertised?
  • Is there formal or informal attention to the experiences and needs of junior scholars who are underrepresented minorities?

Graduate Support

  • Is there a graduate student rate for membership and conference attendance? How does it compare to the rates for contingent/non-permanent, tenure-track, tenured faculty?
  • Is there a fund or prize for graduate conference travel?
  • Is there a prize for best graduate student essay/presentation? Thesis/dissertation?
  • Is there a collation of research fellowships, archival grants, awards, and other resources in the field specific to graduate students? What about resources for professionalization and or advocacy and activism?
  • Is student mentoring incentivized by the organization? Formally recognized through an award?
  • Does a spotlight series or other initiative exist to raise the profile of junior scholars?
  • What formal measures, codes of conduct, and procedures are in place to prevent abuses of power? If not through the organization, are people made aware that policies may exist through their institutions?
  • Are there formal/informal mentors and advocates among faculty for the caucus itself?

Graduates at the Conference

  • Is there an active awareness of conference attendee rank demographics?
  • What is the likelihood that a graduate student would have their presentation accepted from the general pool? Are graduate students included in pre-organized panels?
  • Likelihood a graduate student can organize a panel/session and have it accepted?
  • Are there any policies or recommendations about panel composition in terms of rank?
  • What is the conference atmosphere like for junior scholars?
  • Do senior scholars have formal or informal opportunities to mentor or meet juniors?
  • Does the caucus have any say in the conference program?
  • Does the caucus have a meeting/social/reception formally scheduled during the conference? Is there a sense of junior scholar community?
  • Are there graduate-specific workshops or resources? Can the caucus sponsor sessions or workshops?
  • Are junior scholars made aware of the resources available to them through avenues like the conference listserv, website, programme?