Dear Students:  

I write on behalf of the faculty, first to tell you we think you are splendid and know it is our great good fortune to talk and read and think and write with you.  Across the various conversations we’ve had throughout this year, and as explicitly noted on several occasions, that we collectively harbor this sense of our student colleagues has been resoundingly clear.  We know you keep us working and reading in interesting ways, and that it’s working with students that energizes our intellect and remains for most of us the best thing about academic life.  So, first, you are splendid and we are grateful for it, for you.  

Second, whether we’ve been discussing the formation of oral and dissertation committees, or mentoring and advising more generally, that it is decidedly not your responsibility to worry about us and our workload has been a steady refrain. That you’re aware of the structural inequities characterizing the consortial model within which our program exists is to us a sign of your great political intellect and commitment to collegiality; that that awareness shouldn’t dissuade you from asking to work with any given member of the faculty is part of what we hope you’ll fold into that political intellect.  That is, please don’t talk yourself out of asking someone to work with you on a list or dissertation or whatever, and, relatedly, please trust that we will decline if and as we need to.  

Third, on occasion, we will decline to serve on a committee.  Timing, fit, and workload are factors in such decisions.  This is the worst that can happen if you ask someone to serve on a committee, which is to say, again, ask.  

Fourth, we know some of you want more proactive contact from faculty.  It’d be helpful for us if you would let us know that as we begin our work together.

This can be part of clarifying expectations and developing a working relationship.  We will do our best to be clear as to expectations, but some of us will be better at doing that than others, so we’ll have to rely on you to help us figure out this bit and create practices that work on both sides.  

Relatedly, please don’t think that not hearing from a faculty member is a sign of disregard or lack of enthusiasm for your work or for you.  Rather, some of us try deliberately not to get in your way, content to let you work independently; and some, and sometimes, are simply overloaded by work and life.

Fifth, kind of relatedly, please shape your committees in the ways that will help you best pursue your questions and research, which is to say, if you need/want to make changes to the constitution of a committee, or to shift the roles of faculty member from chair/director to member/reader, do it.  (You need/should/ought not tend to faculty egos, and frankly, if your committee members seem to require that kind of attention, that’s an awfully good prompt to rethink the group.)  The conversations might feel sticky or require 30 seconds of courage to initiate; you can do it!  And we want you to.  

Sixth, we know you don’t much like having to ask for letters of recommendation, and we know you have no choice but to ask.  Please ask for letters at least three weeks in advance of a deadline in recognition of the fact that if you’re asking, there are many others who will be, too.  If you’re planning on finishing the degree and doing a full scale job search in the coming academic year, let your letter writers know at the end of spring so we can figure your plans into our own late summer worklives.  

Finally for now, we think you are splendid and we are grateful for you – a refrain worth repeating.  

With admiration, affection, and appreciation,

Kandice, as EO on behalf of your faculty, and just as myself
Dear Faculty:  

I write to convey some of what our students wish us to know, gathered through the various conversations we’ve had throughout the year, first to tell you they very much appreciate our time and attention, and especially so that of consortial faculty, mindful as they are of the attenuations that characterize GC worklife for you.  What follows also rehearses some of the ideas generated and/or discussed at last week’s faculty meeting.   

Second, given that so many of you have participated in the open/program conversations we’ve staged throughout the year regarding mentoring, committee formation, diversity, admissions, and so on, many of you know already that one of the things most helpful to students is clarity of what they can expect from us.  They are concerned about asking too much, about being a bother, about not knowing what or how or who to ask as they find their way into scholarly and teacherly and academic life. 

I think many of us assume agreement to serve on an exam or dissertation committee is tacit agreement to provide regular and engaged guidance and write letters and the like; the more explicit we can be on this matter, the better the likelihood of precipitating conducive, drama-free working relationships with students.  

Such clarity could range from expectations regarding preparation for oral exams, say – how frequently will you want to meet? In what forms (written, oral) will you want to help prepare for the exam? What is your sense of the function of the exam? – to how much lead-time is necessary for you to write a compelling letter of recommendation, to what relationship you want to have to dissertation chapter drafts, and so on.  This information of course serves us really well in being able to plan our work lives.  

Third, one of the points of clarification might be around whether you will check in with students, or they should with you. Not surprisingly, some want proactive guidance and structure and others work best when left alone.  Those who most want/need proactive guidance might for a variety of reasons be least likely to ask for it – our wonderfully heterogeneous student body means we have people accustomed to individualized guidance and those for whom such guidance is unfamiliar and perhaps unwelcome.  How do you want to work with students, and do they know?  The new mentoring model Nancy has innovated and that we’ll be piloting next year offers structured guidance around such questions and meetings so, again, encouragement to participate if you can; working with and through these practices will remain a point of focus in the years to come, of course.  

Fourth, it’d also be helpful if you’d note explicitly your understanding that oral exam committees and dissertation committees may feature different members and/or ask us to inhabit different roles from one to another. We know such changes are vital to the flourishing of a project, and conveying that sense to our students would, I think, help to alleviate their nervousness about making such changes.  (The care of our egos of course need/should/ought not be the responsibility of our students.)  

Fifth, we’ll have other faculty meetings where we discuss things like expectations and practices that correlate with being a second or third reader on a dissertation committee; the crafting of compelling letters of recommendation; strategies for working with the fact of being stretched between institutions and the differential/inequitable math regarding workload and credits correlating with the consortial model; and throughout all of this and as its own thing, too, how best the program can support the scholarly lives of its faculty.   

Finally for now and as ever, I note my appreciation for your efforts, engagement, intellect, ethics, and energy, to accompany the appreciation of our students.  I think you are splendid and am grateful to work with you.  

With admiration, affection, and appreciation,
Kandice, as EO channeling student input, and just as myself    

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.