By Elizabeth Labiner
Graduate students’ work and study are rarely, if ever, bound by the benchmarks of the academic year. May doesn’t usher in an idyllic three-month respite; many of us continue working, either on campus or remotely, and continue pressing forward in our research. While UArizona’s campus and programming do quiet down during the summer, students looking for scholarly and professional development opportunities might consider summer institutes.
Dr. Derrais Carter, an interdisciplinary scholar and professor in the UArizona Department of Gender & Women’s Studies, encourages graduate students to consider participating in summer institutes for a number of reasons, including the expansion of their scholarly community, learning about emerging research, and practicing giving and receiving constructive feedback amongst peers. A seasoned participant in summer institutes himself -- he has taken part in two National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institutes (one as a graduate student and another as a junior faculty member) and various others in Ireland, Germany, and Italy -- he explains:
In terms of academic learning, [graduate students] benefit from working with and learning from scholars who aren’t directly tied to their exam or dissertation committees. For me, this gave me the room I needed to try new methods and have one-on-one conversations with other participants and faculty members about their own approaches. Summer institutes are great for professional development because they tend to be smaller, which for me means more manageable. Conferences can be particularly overwhelming, so having close-knit learning communities where scholars can focus on the specific interventions they are trying to make, for me, also instills greater confidence in participants. There are certainly scholars who I’ve met in workshops that I likely would have never approached at an academic conference.
In addition to the smaller size and tighter focus, summer institutes are typically also longer than a standard academic conference, which can provide space to form deeper professional relationships with one’s co-participants.
Dr. Carter advocates casting a wide net when looking for institutes, particularly for those doing interdisciplinary work. Your department may be able to point you to some opportunities, but if not, or if you’re looking for an institute outside your immediate field, start with an internet query. “When in doubt, Google!” Dr. Carter says, noting that combining search strings of your specific discipline or interests along with “summer institute” will likely yield results. Another place to look, he says, is in the acknowledgements of books, as authors might thank peers or institutes. (Yet another benefit of mining acknowledgements: finding possible avenues for funding based on what you see other scholars have received.)
When it comes to choosing a summer institute, the primary consideration should of course be your area of study and your goals, though the focus of the institute shouldn’t be the only element on which you base your decision. Think about secondary or non-programmatic benefits of where the institute will be and who may be there, Dr. Carter recommends. He elaborates:
I have a rich archival practice, so I’m always looking for special collections libraries and/or research repositories. If a summer institute that I’m considering is located near an archive that I’d like to visit, then I’m much more likely to attend. Similarly, if it is being hosted at a school where a number of scholars I would like to visit with are teaching, I make it a point to reach out and consider whether I might be able to meet with them. This isn’t always guaranteed to work, but I’m generally of the mind that no one opportunity is going to do everything we need or want it to do. For this reason, I’m always thinking about ways to maximize the opportunity.
Summer institutes offer exciting potential for learning and growth, as well as the opportunity for improving your scholarly and professional knowledge, experience, and network.
A few places to start looking into summer institutes include:
Major libraries such as The Newberry (consider both their Center for Renaissance Studies and their Center for American Indian and Indigenous Studies), The Folger Shakespeare Library, or The Huntington Library