Events, Mentoring, Research

Some Reflections on the MFFC Dissertation Workshop

Before I offer my reflections, I want to thank both Roderick Ferguson (Professor of African American and Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago) and Brent Edwards (Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University) for making room in their busy summer schedules to help facilitate the first Mentoring Future Faculty of Color (MFFC) dissertation workshop. Thanks also to Herman Bennett (Professor of History at the Graduate Center, CUNY) for helping us organize this event, and of course to the Office of Educational Opportunity and Diversity Programs (OEODP) and the Institute for Research on the African Diaspora in the Americas and the Caribbean (IRADAC) at the Graduate Center, CUNY for contributing the funds that made this workshop possible. Last but not least, I want to thank my co-conspirators in the Mentoring Future Faculty of Color project for dedicating their time and energy to planning this event and, more importantly, for agreeing to share pieces of their truly exciting work.

This dissertation workshop was a rare opportunity to participate in a critical conversation about our research with established scholars of color. Professor Ferguson and Professor Edwards engaged us in a discussion about what it means to frame and write a dissertation, asking tough but important questions about exigency, methodology, and text selection. The comments and suggestions I received on the opening pages of my first chapter will be a great resource as I move forward with writing (and revising) my work. It was a rewarding experience to be able to discuss my project among such a supportive group and to receive candid advice about framing my dissertation, especially as I begin to think about navigating the job market.

Perhaps the best parts of this workshop though were the unplanned moments when our conversations strayed from the specifics of a student’s research to address broader questions about writing, publishing, and mentorship. It was invaluable hearing about Professor Ferguson and Professor Edwards’s experiences during graduate school and the various challenges they faced. While I won’t divulge their stories, I will share some of the excellent mentoring advice we received:

  • Don’t try to be brilliant; instead, work on something someone else can use
  • Don’t allow others to define what categories you (or your research) fall into; assuming that you don’t belong can also be a liberating position
  • People will willfully misread your work, but you can use these misreadings to your advantage by turning them into generative teaching moments
  • The theoretical component of your dissertation should come from your own unique analyses, not from the framework another (well-known) scholar provides
  • Putting in an hour of writing a day can develop into a productive lifestyle habit during and after your graduate studies
  • Learn how to juggle multiple projects and different styles of writing at once
  • You should publish an article not just for another line on your resume, but to make a discrete intervention that you feel needs to be made at a particular moment
  • Reading habitually from journals will help you determine where to send your articles, i.e. what scholarly conversation your research is a part of

I know these short bullet points cannot capture the depth and multilayered dimensions of our conversations in the workshop, but I hope that they may be of use to you in your endeavors. If anything, they are a reminder to find pleasure in the work you do and to have confidence in your own voice and ideas as a scholar and teacher.

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