Arslan and Oyekole-Smith Named Humanities Without Walls Fellows

Author: Nora Kenney

Caitlin Smith Oyekole Headshot jpg 1mb Caitlin Smith-Oyekole

Sevda Arslan Headshot jpg 200k Sevda Arslan

Two Notre Dame graduate students in the College of Arts and Letters have been named 2018 Humanities Without Walls (HWW) pre-doctoral workshop fellows, Caitlin Smith-Oyekole, a fourth-year doctoral student in English, and Sevda Arslan, a second-year doctoral student in Anthropology.

Supported by funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, HWW is a consortium of fifteen Midwestern humanities institutes fostering cross-institutional collaboration in humanities-based research, teaching, and scholarship. Its central initiatives include funding research teams of faculty members and graduate students from different universities, and facilitating summer workshops for pre-doctoral students such as the one Arslan and Smith-Oyekole will attend.

This summer’s workshop will take place over a three-week period in Chicago and will focus on the theme of doctoral career diversity. It intends to expose graduate students to career paths outside of the traditional tenure-track trajectory, such as in public humanities, academic publishing, academic administration, and nonprofit work, while also providing enrichment for traditional academic scholarship.

Smith-Oyekole was drawn to apply for the fellowship because of her interest in public humanities. “My research focuses on representations of doubt in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century American literature, so I deal with many issues still contested today: religious pluralism and fundamentalism, Darwinian science and debates about race as a biological or social construct, and political polarization,” she explained. “After my dissertation, I want to work in public humanities to establish a common dialogue about America’s past and national narrative. The HWW workshop will give me a firm sense of the kinds of careers available in the public humanities and teach what I should be doing now to attain them.”

Arslan, too, is interested in improving her ability to communicate academic findings to non-academic audiences. She currently uses qualitative methods and ethnography to study Zazaki-speaking diaspora minorities in Germany and western Turkey, focusing on transnational identity expression through the lenses of space, language, music, and religion. She hopes to apply her doctoral research towards contemporary issues, such as community-building among migrant populations, so when she received the call for applications from Graduate Career Consultant, Erik Oswald, she knew she wanted to apply.

“I started the doctoral program with the aim of becoming a professor, but as I am progressing with my degree, I have also developed an interest in non-tenure track options,” Arslan said. She reported that she’s looking forward to sharing the workshop’s lessons with her peers in the Anthropology Department.

The students’ participation in a career diversity workshop aligns with current national trends in post-doctoral career paths, which are seeing more doctoral graduates entering non-tenure-track roles. In fact, the Graduate School recently won funding to participate in the Council of Graduate Schools’ (CGS) PhD Career Pathways Project, supported by the Mellon Foundation and the National Science Foundation, which will collect data on non-traditional career aspirations and outcomes of current students and alumni.

“Our involvement in the CGS PhD Career Pathways Project, coupled with vital conversations with our alumni, has served as a powerful testament to the message we’re always telling our students, which is that your research matters. Whether our graduates are entering tenure-track roles or blazing paths outside of the academy, their research at Notre Dame positions them to contribute to our world in meaningful ways,” explained Laura Carlson, vice president and associate provost and dean of the Graduate School.

“I’m thrilled to see students boost the versatility of their professional skill sets through opportunities such as the HWW workshop,” Carlson continued. “It reinforces the idea that the best career outcomes are those that empower students to apply their research towards their passions in concrete, collaborative ways.”

Arslan and Smith-Oyekole follow in the footsteps of Natalie Sargent, a fourth-year doctoral student in the History Department, who represented Notre Dame during the 2017 HWW pre-doctoral workshop.

“HWW puts you into conversation with humanities graduate students of various disciplines whom you might never otherwise encounter, enriching the interdisciplinarity and intellectual rigor of everyone’s work,” Sargent said. “It’s also an intensive experience centered on both hearing about career opportunities and professionals’ personal narratives, and practicing new strategies to better present your own narrative and skills. Finally, it’s wonderful exposure to a wide variety of humanities-engaged organizations and institutions, and in particular Chicago’s rich cultural heritage.”