By Edward Balleisen
Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies
As the new academic year approaches, and as we begin the second year of Versatile Humanists@Duke, I’d like to take the opportunity to welcome our incoming doctoral students in the humanities and interpretive social science to Duke. Supported by a major three-year grant from the Next Generation program at the National Endowment for the Humanities, VH@Duke encourages our doctoral students to build on their disciplinary training—through exposure to collaborative, interdisciplinary research; outreach beyond the academy; and the development of diverse communications skills. This program also provides doctoral students with guidance in thinking through the career trajectories that will best fit their talents, aspirations, and capacity to make a difference.
As you begin your graduate studies, I would like to offer some advice for how to make the most out of your time in Durham (doctoral students further along may also find these reflections of interest). In a series of three posts, I will touch on the following interrelated areas:
- the advantages of seeing yourself as a member of the complete university, rather than just your department;
- recommendations for how to find mentors that make sense for you; and
- the advisability of getting exposure to some collaborative project and honing communication skills that reach beyond purely academic audiences.
I’ll tackle the first of these now, and the other two over the next few weeks.
Keep your eyes and ears open to the many facets of Duke beyond your department. As was likely the case during your first months at college, there will probably be moments this year when the array of options seems overwhelming. You are going to find a wealth of resources and opportunities here, including
- truly stellar faculty;
- a rich array of departmental graduate seminars and reading groups;
- a panoply of Triangle-wide work-in-progress seminars;
- superb library holdings and archival/reference librarians second to none;
- vibrant interdisciplinary communities at the Franklin Humanities Institute, Kenan Institute for Ethics, Center for Documentary Studies, and numerous centers that focus on the social and cultural experiences of specific religions or world regions;
- and a host of interdisciplinary research teams and projects (I’ll be coming back to these in the third post of the series); and
- numerous resources at The Graduate School, such as a certificate program in College Teaching, the Preparing Future Faculty program, an Emerging Leaders Institute, and many other professional development workshops.
As you get settled, you will naturally want to focus on establishing connections in your new department. Let me suggest, however, that you keep the wider university in view even in the early stages of charting an intellectual path.
Doctoral training will of course involve the honing of expertise and the achievement of real intellectual depth. But if you look across campus you will discover many endeavors that will stretch your skill sets, widen your horizons, and possibly ignite new intellectual passions. Be willing to take some intellectual risks—and keep in mind that failures can be at least as instructive as successes, providing insights for subsequent endeavors, as well as clarifying what you most enjoy and where your comparative advantages lie.
One great way to explore the many avenues at Duke that pique your interest is to meet with Dr. Maria LaMonaca Wisdom, Duke’s director of graduate student advising and engagement in the humanities. You’ll be hearing from her weekly through an email update that lets you know about upcoming workshops, grant competitions, opportunities to apply for interdisciplinary research teams and internships, and much else that is going on in the Duke ecosystem. She is also available for advising sessions to discuss what opportunities outside your department you might want to investigate, when such experiences might make the most sense, how you are thinking about potential career trajectories, ways to prepare for a variety of academic and non-academic job markets, and other dimensions of the graduate student experience.
Duke’s intellectual vitality depends greatly on the creativity, inventiveness, and collaborative spirit of its doctoral students. It will be great to see how you chart your paths in the years ahead.