Key to the process of professionalization is providing students with access to the opportunities and resources necessary to allow them to interact within the academic community as scholars in their own right. Of equal importance is their development as teachers, the building of professional contacts in their field, and acquiring the organizational skills needed to host and/or arrange conferences of their own.
Conference & Research Travel Funding
To encourage students to engage with the academic community, conference-travel grants are available both from the Graduate School and from the department for students presenting papers or participating in panels. Over the course of any given year, two such trips can be funded with the funds available between TGS and ourselves, in addition to funding available for travel to a single summer conference. For students in candidacy (and for those in coursework, if authorized by the DGS), one of these trips during the academic year can be research-oriented instead. Finally, in the case of those going to the MLA as job candidates, the funding for that research trip can be used to help offset the expenses of travel and attendance.
The mentoring of graduate students as Teaching Assistants, provided by our faculty, other graduate students, and Northwestern’s Searle Center for Teaching Excellence, give our students many chances to improve their teaching skills. The professors in charge of teaching assistants write evaluations of each TA after observing them leading their assigned discussion sections, and it’s not unusual for them to ask their more advanced TAs to present one of the lectures for the class.
During the fourth year of the doctoral program, students are typically assigned to teach their own courses in Expository Writing/Composition, after which they can also be assigned to develop their own topics as Freshman Seminars. Depending on availability from year to year, we will also provide opportunities to more advanced students to teach upper-level undergraduate seminars. As a result, students graduating from the program do so with a very well established teaching file, including a strong teaching letter, huge amounts of in-class experience, several tried and tested course syllabi, and a wide range of student and faculty evaluations.
Department Colloquia & Workshops
Finally, interested students in our doctoral program have the chance to take charge of the many colloquia and workshops that occur on a regular basis during the year (the groups currently extant deal in the fields of American Cultures, the Long-Nineteenth Century, Early Modern studies, and Medieval studies; there are also several similar events each year of broader scope and arranged by the English Graduate Student Organization). Taking advantage of these opportunities provides students with the chance to experience the practical side of pulling together such events, as well as giving them the chance to work/network with important academics in their field on a professional basis.