Reimagining the PhD Blog

A forum on new approaches to graduate education, teaching, and scholarship.

Black and White photo of Rebecca Taylor and Joe Wilson

By Rebecca Taylor and Joe Wilson

July 14, 2021

As former English instructors in overseas contexts ranging from Indonesia to Kazakhstan, both of us have cultivated experiences working with multilingual students who want to leverage their diverse linguistic repertoires to engage new publics. This shared investment has motivated our collaborative work at multiple points in our graduate program, including through our current Mellon Collaborative Fellowship for Reaching New Publics. We both also teach composition courses at UW specifically tailored for multilingual students, and this year, we have enjoyed the privilege of teaching the uniquely positioned studio courses (English 115) designed to center topics in TESOL and translation studies with the goal of helping students revise and rethink their current writing. These elective, 2-credit courses are advertised by students’ advisors, the Myplan catalogue, and the English Department’s website to attract international as well as resident multilingual writers. Students who take the class often report their gratitude for the opportunity to share community with other students from diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds. 

This sense of transnational community keeps both of us excited to return to these courses as instructors, especially given the isolating context of the global pandemic. This year, however, both of us were surprised to find a new kind of student self-select to join these communities: students well beyond their first year of study, many of whom had already earned their required composition (C) course credit. These transfer students enrolled in ENGL 115 despite a catalog description that specifically articulated the course as intended for first-year students concomitantly enrolled in a first-year writing course. Moreover, they had little experience using a language other than English, despite 115’s advertising as specifically for “international and multilingual” students. 

We of course reiterated the translational and linguistic aspects of the class from the first week of the quarter, yet these transfer students expressed interest in remaining enrolled. As instructors, we both agreed that the transfer students would benefit from the course topics if they were willing to use the studio to address their writing occurring in other courses. We even witnessed many of our multilingual students gain greater confidence in their writing and linguistic abilities by working collaboratively with the transfer students. Previously insecure in their academic English usage, multilingual students in the studio gained confidence by engaging as peers with these local transfer students. Still, we couldn’t help but wonder what might motivate this latter group of students to initially enroll, even as we were encouraged by their growth as writers and participation in conversations about antiracist, translational praxis. In a course that continues to fly under the radar of many...

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Photos of Maral Atayeva (top left), Jessica Bachman (top right), Katia Chaterji (bottom left), and Yara Musad (bottom right). They are each smiling at the camera on a Zoom call.

By Katia Chaterji and Jessica Bachman

June 16, 2021

In 2019, Shoreline Community College in Washington State became the first 2-year college in the United States to award international students a #youarewelcomehere scholarship. As part of the nationwide #youarewelcomehere campaign, which aims to combat xenophobia and affirm diversity on U.S. college campuses, the scholarship provides selected international students with a 50 percent tuition reduction for two years of study. In the inaugural year of the scholarship, Shoreline Community College’s International Education office extended scholarship offers to Maral Atayeva from Turkmenistan and Yara Ibrahim Abdalla Musad from Sudan. Maral Atayeva grew up in the Mary province of Turkmenistan where she attended a Turkmen-medium high school and worked for American Councils for International Education before applying to study at Shoreline. Sudanese Yara Musad was born in Malaysia and completed her high school education in Saudi Arabia before arriving in Washington State. 

As 2020-21 Collaborative Mellon Fellows for Reaching New Publics, we are invested in learning how higher education institutions can better meet the evolving needs of a diverse student body, and in identifying what institutional supports exist to meaningfully reduce barriers to academic success. The #youarewelcomehere scholarship seemed to us to be an excellent example. International students are confronted with a set of unique challenges and systemic barriers: they must pay for an external agency to evaluate their transcripts and diplomas in order to establish credit equivalency in terms of U.S. educational standards; they must search for institutions that offer financial aid and scholarships to non-U.S. citizens; they must find local guarantors or co-signers to secure housing in tight rental markets; and finally, they must perform rigorous educational financial planning that takes into account their inability to work anywhere off campus while on a student visa.

Last year, Maral and Yara spoke to Shoreline’s International Education department about how they learned about the #youarewelcomehere scholarship, why they chose to study at Shoreline College, and what their academic plans and goals for the years ahead were. You can view the filmed interview on YouTube. But we wanted to glean their insights at the close of the community college experience—and to learn how the shifting social, political, and educational lanscape may have shaped their experience since the outset of their college journey. Here are some highlights from our conversation.

Last March, shortly after you arrived in the U.S. to study at Shoreline College, the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States....

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Photo of the author, a white woman with dark hair.

by Anna Bates

June 1, 2021

As one of the Mellon Fellows for Reaching New Publics, I’ve been researching the experience of UW graduate students in the humanities who chose to teach at two-year institutions during their graduate studies. My fellow cohort member, Joe Wilson, has also written about graduate students teaching at community colleges on the Reimagining the Humanities PhD Blog. He argues that departments should “compensate and otherwise support the cross-institutional labor of graduate students working as community college instructors,” which is an area of exploration I elaborate in this post.   

My discussions with current and former graduate students in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Washington haven’t uncovered anything surprising. Teaching classes at a different institution turns the already demanding schedule of a graduate student into a nearly impossible balancing act. Committee members frown on the “extra” or “distracting” work of community college teaching. Fellow graduate students may be more sympathetic, but still view community college teaching as, if financially driven, professionally unnecessary—even unwise, in that it amounts to time spent teaching that should be spent writing the dissertation or preparing a paper for publication. 

Yet if graduate students are expected and encouraged to spend time on professional development, shouldn’t that extend to teaching at two-year colleges? We present at conferences, we publish in journals, we work as teaching assistants, and we apply to fellowships, summer institutes, and so forth. All of this labor is recognized as commendable rather than distracting. If the career goals of a graduate student include teaching at a community college, then gaining the opportunity to teach at a community college during graduate school is a good thing. But few people undergoing or advising doctoral training think this way.

Interpellation is powerful: even I have hesitated to pursue community college teaching, though I hope to teach at a two-year institution someday. My faculty mentors know about and support this plan. Even so, I’ve absorbed the message that I probably shouldn’t talk about it too much around the department. I’m fortunate that I am receiving instructive and affirming mentorship from community college professors as a Mellon Fellow for Reaching New Publics. However, this fellowship will no longer be available after this year, and, ultimately, a limited opportunity like a fellowship is not able to structure graduate education to include community college career pathways. If teaching at a two-year institution is a meaningful and commendable professional...

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Author Katia Chaterji wearing orange and red standing in front of green flora

by Katia Chaterji

May 19, 2021

A few years ago, dance scholar Dr. Ratna Roy (Ratna mashi, as I called her in dance practice) told me that she was co-teaching a class with a brain scientist at Evergreen College, and I swallowed my gulp of water a little too fast. Imagining a course in which students simultaneously learn the anatomy of the brain and classical Indian dance movement evoked an exciting picture in my mind of progressive pedagogy. At that time, I had recently joined the University of Washington’s graduate program in History with an expressed interest in interdisciplinary research, but my encounters with interdisciplinarity in the classroom were notably slim. I wanted to ask Ratna mashi more, but after several hours of dance practice, the tightening of my tired quadriceps and the ache in my rotator cuff were driving me down the steps of Velocity Studio on Broadway toward home—my curiosity stayed for the time being by the promise of a hot shower.

When I applied for the Mellon Fellowship for Reaching New Publics last year, it was the potential for new encounters with interdisciplinary teaching and learning that inspired me most. Since starting my fellowship last autumn, I have explored interdisciplinary approaches to teaching at the Seattle Colleges, especially through the Integrated Studies program. As an educational philosophy, integrated studies (sometimes called interdisciplinary or coordinated studies) encourages dynamic classroom learning in which students approach a specified theme from the perspective of different disciplines. This pedagogical model emerged as a K-12 curricular innovation around the turn of the century. Because society is not neatly divided into distinct subjects, connectivity across disciplines in the classroom was believed to better prepare students for the problems they would encounter in the future (replicating “authentic” real life scenarios).[i] A well-known 1997 report by Sandra Mathison and Melissa Freeman, “The Logic of Interdisciplinary Studies,” details the many “positive educational outcomes” for both students and teachers in K-12 integrated studies programs.[ii] Despite the significant research and the attention of K-12 educators, however, integrated studies has not become a leading model for most schools in the United States.

In higher education, on the other hand, integrated studies has gained significant traction as a pedagogical movement since the 1980s. At its core, integrated instruction is about cultivating connections across traditionally separated disciplines in order to work towards answering a question using a wide variety of tools. And it’s about learning how to learn, rather than achieving rote memorization. Students participate in a learning community, where the topics, skills, and assignments from two (or more) classes...

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Angled window ceiling as a backdrop to a close up of Rebecca Taylor smiling at the camera. She has red-brown long hair and bangs.

by Rebecca Taylor

Apr. 12, 2021

Every transfer story is different.

Heather Simpson, for example, always knew she would transfer to the University of Washington to major in English. That journey began in Oklahoma, routed through Highline College, and took nearly a decade. Ewan Cameron, on the other hand, knew within his first quarter at Gonzaga University in Spokane that he wanted to transfer to UW as a sophomore. Trevor Little, to take another instance, weighed the options of transferring while attending a college in South Dakota, where they began to imagine Seattle as offering an environment that would be more liberal and inclusive and allow them to discover a sense of belonging: “I started to lean into the feeling deep inside myself that I was going to transfer.”

Choosing to transfer along whatever pathway, though, appears to be the easiest part of transferring to the University of Washington. Indeed, all of the transfer students I interviewed reported some degree of confusion about at least one aspect of the transfer process. From wondering about housing options to navigating the advising process to completely missing information about financial aid and scholarships, each of these students expressed a sense of being adrift at some point during the transfer process. This perceived lack of support is concerning, especially in light of a report put out by the UW Office of Educational Assessment (OEA) nearly a decade ago. This 2014 report explores undergraduate retention rates via a survey asking students about reasons they had left UW. The report found that nearly 50% of the transfer students who left did so before they completed their first year. When asked what would have helped them choose to remain at UW, the majority answered, “high quality, consistent advising.”

Many of the issues identified in this 2014 report continue to affect transfer students; most of the students with whom I spoke echoed this same desire for advising support. In looking back at the process of transferring, Ewan Cameron said that he “would have really liked to have had an academic or departmental advisor.” Heather Simpson explained that when she transferred to campus, she had to find an advisor herself. “That was pretty much up to me,” she says. “I sought out the department and got a little sheet of paper with all the English courses that were needed to graduate, and that was about it.” Trevor Little echoed this need to be proactive about seeking information, identifying a major difference between advising at their previous university and UW. “I had to seek her out,” they say. “I wasn't quite used to that because I always just had a general advisor who I could go to for everything.”

Humanities Academic Services Associate Director Nancy Sisko explains that there are orientation days...

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Author photo of Joe Wilson. He is close up smiling at the camera and has short blonde hair.

by Joe Wilson

Mar. 24, 2021

For many graduate students in the humanities, teaching is the primary way to secure funding and gain valuable experience for the competitive academic job market. The pedagogical training graduate students receive varies widely, but at the University of Washington, I’ve benefitted from the robust instructor training offered by the Expository Writing Program, which prepares incoming graduate students to teach the department’s bread-and-butter courses, i.e., first-year composition. Even so, the first message many new graduate students receive about their funding and teaching appointments generally includes a clause like this one (drawn from orientation materials provided by my former institution, a large research university in the American Southeast):

Permission of the Director of Graduate Studies is required for any employment, whether in the university or outside it, beyond the duties of the associateship.”

In the vast majority of cases, this permission is not granted. The underlying assumption here is that graduate students should be focused on research and teaching at their own institution—work that  amounts to (and often exceeds) the labor of a full-time job. This message was actually deemed so critical by my former institution that it was the only clause delineated twice in the handbook, highlighted in bold at each iteration to ensure that incoming teaching assistants would recognize the seriousness of their contractional obligations to the department. Yet these same graduate students are still encouraged to join professional organizations on campus, to serve on graduate student committees, to apply for research grants, and the like: they just cannot receive compensation. My current department recommends rather than enforces such regulations, but it has become standard practice in humanities graduate programs across the country to circumscribe the extra-institutional labor of graduate teaching assistants.

To examine the pool of adjunct labor for community college humanities programs—particularly those in areas geographically close to larger public or research institutions— is to understand that the target of such policies is community college teaching. Indeed, community college teaching on the part of graduate students is a common practice, understood to serve under-resourced institutions dependent on adjunct labor to account for budgetary constraints. Graduate instructors, for their part, cite inadequate graduate stipends and the need to make ends meet as their underlying motivation for taking on the herculean task of teaching upwards of 80 students across multiple campuses while pursuing graduate study.

As part of my research for the Mellon Collaborative Fellowship for Reaching New Publics in the Community Colleges, I’ve interviewed multiple community college instructors and found the story to be more complicated. Almost every instructor recalls...

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Adrien Kane Close-Up Author Photo on the Left. Jorge Bayona Close-Up Author Photo on the Right.

by Jorge Bayona and Adrian Kane-Galbraith

Mar. 2, 2021

The University of Washington’s Department of History, like the majority of History departments across the country, trains its graduate students as specialists in specific geographically-defined fields. For instance, we were admitted to the program not so much as “History” students but as an historian of Britain and the British Empire (Adrian) and as an historian of Southeast Asia and Latin America (Jorge). As transnational historians, we embarked on our Reaching New Publics fellowship with the thought that, on reaching the end of our program, we might apply to community colleges as specialists in world history and other non-U.S. regional courses. One of our main goals, then, was to learn more about the landscape of world history teaching in access-based institutions.

However, as we met with mentors in the history and humanities departments of Seattle Central, North Seattle, and Centralia Colleges during autumn 2019 and winter 2020, we quickly learned that historians at these colleges are asked to teach U.S. history much more frequently than they teach histories of other regions. Several professors with whom we spoke surmised that this trend was influenced in part by the Running Start program—a system through which Washington State high school students can dual-enroll in community college courses for both high school and 4-year transfer credit—which encourages students to take U.S. history courses rather than world and non-U.S. regional histories. Given that the total number of Running Start students has increased by 56% in the last decade and continues to grow, this regionalizing effect may become even more pronounced.[1]

We wondered, however, to what extent these perceptions reflect the reality across Washington state, as evidenced by the data on the number and regional focus of history courses offered at access-based institutions. We also wanted to draw more informed conclusions about how History departments are, or are not, preparing their graduate students for the reality of teaching outside 4-year research institutions. To answer these questions, we collected information from the 34 community and technical colleges in Washington state, taking note of both the courses that appear in their catalogues and the classes that were offered during the 2019-2020 academic year.[2] We then grouped these courses into two geographic categories: U.S. history and non-U.S. history.[3] We omitted methodological classes and classes with a geographic scope that could not be determined. While the move to online classes in the spring and summer may have skewed data in...

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By Kaelie Giffel and Caitlin Postal

In the midst of a global pandemic, it can be tempting to forget that the oft-hailed return to “normal,” as Francis Eanes and Eleni Schirmer argue in their recent essay, would mean, in the context of higher education, the resumption of “all kinds of harms: spiking debt, precarious work, and social protections that fall somewhere between elusive and imaginary.” This is true for the full ecology of workers on college campuses: adjunct and assistant professors; graduate students; undergraduate student employees; and facilities, maintenance, and food service workers—in sum, all who make life on college campuses function. Every aspect of working life has been transformed by this moment. And we must reckon with the reality that the university is not organized for the benefit of the vast majority of people who move through and adjacent to it. 

In this post, we explore an emerging structure of feeling amid COVID-19 around university power structures that has been insufficiently examined. Let us be frank: the structure of feeling which we term “crisis pedagogy” begins with anger, exhaustion, and helplessness, and it predates COVID-19. Yet the inequities which undergird neoliberal education have produced, as Simon Torracinta describes it, “a genuine, albeit incipient militancy, and even a tentative sense of solidarity, across the ranks of academia.” The feelings which we embody, as graduate students, and which we discuss in extensive conversation with others, register the damage enacted by individualist paradigms prevalent in our culture—in academia, in particular. We see (or at least hope) that workers within the university are motivated by these feelings to act in our collective, rather than individual, interests. Different forms of mutual aid and support are emerging between teachers and students, advisors and advisees, which indicate a sense of collective responsibility. In our view, the return to normal—per usual prizing of individual research above all, back to banking models of education, lack of accountability to local communities—would be a return to the harms that we believe are better left behind.

We do not want to seem overly sanguine. On the one hand, the rapid shift to online learning has foreclosed a slow consideration of how technology can (or should) be integrated into our classrooms. If we are to learn to use digital tools quickly, how can we question them? This elision of critical thinking around the adaptation of technology is exacerbated in certain institutional positions—that of graduate student workers, for instance. We have had to swiftly adapt to the conditions of our employment in crafting remote classes and developing online versions of community workshops....

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This webinar—originally held on May 22, 2020—is geared towards doctoral students who are interested in applying for jobs at community colleges or other teaching-intensive institutions. Washington state community college faculty share their knowledge and expertise, communicating job search strategies gleaned from their own experience and responding to moderated questions from participants across the country. Organized by Reimagining the Humanities PhD and Reaching New Publics: Catalyzing Collaboration. 

Panelists: 

Originally from Puerto Rico, Dr. Cristóbal A. Borges earned his Bachelor of Communications and International Studies from the University of Washington (1999), Master of Science degree in Radio, Television and Film from the University of North Texas (2003), and doctorate in History from the University of Texas at El Paso (2014). While pursuing his degree, Cristóbal worked with the Oral History Institute at UTEP in the Bracero Archive Program and on the H-Borderlands website and listserv. This is Cristóbal's third year as a mentor in the Mellon Reaching New Publics program at the Simpson Center for the Humanities at the University of Washington. Cristóbal is a tenured faculty member in the History Department at North Seattle College where he teaches US, Latin American, and Pacific Northwest history. 

Kate Krieg is currently the Executive Director of Pathways Initiatives at Seattle Central College. Having started at Seattle Central College in 2010 as a part-time faculty member in the Anthropology department, she became Associate Dean in the Division for Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences at Seattle Central College in 2014, and has played a central role in strengthening the partnership between Seattle Central College and the University of Washington through the Mellon program. Her path in education started with her...

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By Sofia Huerter 

In applying to the Mellon fellowship, which places teams of doctoral students in the humanities in mentoring relationships with community college faculty, the central question on my mind had to do with democratic values—how they can either be fostered or hindered by institutions of higher education. To answer this question, though, requires a deeper understanding of democratic values themselves. Historically, such ideals as liberty, equality, and public-spiritedness have been heralded as key democratic values. But all of this invites a simpler, more rudimentary question: What is democracy, anyway?

The most straightforward definition, “rule by the people,” leaves something to be desired: Who are the people? What does it mean for them to rule? And what is the role of educators in facilitating that rule? Perhaps the most illuminating aspect of this fellowship has been exploring these questions alongside community college instructors, and coming to appreciate why they, by virtue of their occupational position, might have useful insights for someone like myself, who until this point have solely worked in the context of a four-year university.

In any society, the ruling class holds the majority power to influence the conditions of shared life that constitute a community. Democracy thus requires, in Noam Chomsky’s words, that everyone has “a meaningful way of developing and articulating their own ideas and putting them forward in the political arena and controlling decisions.”[1] More than that, however, a healthy democracy requires collaboration across social differences in order to achieve goals that are conceived cooperatively, rather than unilaterally imposed. Supposing that the necessary skills for participating in and preserving democracy are not entirely inborn, one obvious objective for instructors would be to inculcate these skills in our students, and to impart, as Bertrand Russell put it, “a sense of the value of things other than domination,” such as mutual empathy, trust, and compromise.[2]In this sense, education becomes indispensable to the transformative mission of democracy: the alteration of oppressive conditions and imagining future alternatives.

During a visit to South Seattle College, for example, I observed one instructor, Larry Cushnie, fighting the good fight for democracy in a lesson on COINTELPRO, the FBI counterintelligence program aimed at infiltrating, surveilling, and (ultimately) discrediting political organizations such as the Black Panthers. Cushnie’s lesson was democratic in content because it contextualized learning around civic ends, like fighting the erasure of institutional racism from our collective historical consciousness. However, the lesson was also democratic in instruction because it gave students firsthand, participatory...

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