We believe good mentoring is the key not only to ensuring student success but also to alleviating some of the pressures of graduate school. Graduate school is meant to be challenging and requires that each student work the edges of what they can do in order to grow, but it is not meant to an experience of constant struggle and isolation. To help each student flourish, faculty closely mentor students from the day they arrive to the day they graduate through informal mechanisms and organized preprofessional workshops.
Preprofessional coursework at the beginning and end of graduate helps develop a collaborative and mutually supporting community among graduate students. First-year students can enroll in a graduate proseminar entitled Introduction to Graduate Study in Modern Languages and Cultures. This one-credit course offers an introduction to what it means to undertake graduate study in the field of modern languages and cultures. It helps students adjust to the graduate program at Pitt and covers the nuts and bolts of how to take seminars, do readings, teach, balance obligations, and meet the emotional challenges of graduate school. It also helps students begin to reflect on process and purpose in graduate education over the long arc of a masters or doctoral degree. Graduate study should not just be an ever-increasing set of requirements but as a series of opportunities to explore how to be a vibrant human being in the contemporary world. This is one of the most important things that the humanities have to offer undergraduates, and graduate education is a chance to begin an ongoing process of self-study and self-realization and learn how to facilitate that process for others. The proseminar aims to help first-year graduate students begin to begin to discover their own unique mode of being in the world and sense of vocation as well as develop good research, teaching, and work habits. The course is taken pass/fail and the final project is an Individual Development Plan that articulates short- and long-term professional goals. We then use this document as a part of the advising process and students update it over the course of their time in graduate school.
As students move into the comprehensive exam and dissertation prospectus stage, we encourage them to undergo mentee training by enrolling in the Mentoring Academy at Pitt’s Center for Mentoring. A series of four two-hour workshops help students understand the skills they’ll need as mentees to work effectively with the faculty mentors on their dissertation committees. Studies have shown that training positively impacts outcomes for mentors and mentees, especially at the dissertation stage.
For students at the dissertation stage, we offer a dissertation writing workshop each semester. This one-credit, faculty-led course allows students to share and discuss in-progress pieces of writing related to their doctoral dissertations, including prospectuses, parts of chapters, chapters, and revised journal articles that draw on material from individual chapters. The workshop format of this course is intended to practice the sharing of early writing and also the skills of responding constructively to peers’ written work. This workshop supports the person writing just as much as the product written. What is challenging about writing a doctoral dissertation is that it is unlike the forms of writing students have done previously in their graduate studies. Whereas seminar papers, conference presentations, and comprehensive written exam feel like sprints; the dissertation is a multi-year marathon. The length and intensity of a dissertation project requires fine-tuning each student’s writing process as much it needs discussions of their written words. To that end, students in the workshop also read and discuss essays about writing habits, task management, the psychology and emotional issues of writing, and accountability structures.
Finally, we offer a series of professional workshops throughout the year on preparing for the academic job market and exploring careers beyond the academy. There are also professionalization events throughout the year at the school level, especially through the Mellon-funded Humanities Engage project, and Pitt’s Humanities Center offers resources and funding opportunities to explore career options in the Public Humanities.