2000 Faculty Awards for Excellence in Graduate Teaching
By Arthur Fournier
Martha Ward, Associate Professor in Art History, remembers her undergraduate days as a time in her life when she first experienced the deep cerebral thrills she now associates with teaching graduate students at Chicago. My friends and I would stay up until 1:00 in the morning having these rap sessions, she recalled. It was my first taste of what I suppose you could call intellectual adventure.
Ward, who is a recipient of a 2000 Faculty Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching, said working with graduate students is different than those rap sessions from her past, yet it provides a similar sense that something significant is happening.
My greatest moments of satisfaction are the ones when Im sitting in my office with a student going over a dissertation chapter, and suddenly, we both see a new structure, or an argument or an insight, she explained.
Sometimes you just feel it come into being÷there are these moments when your minds suddenly connect, and there it is, she continued. Its what I like best.
Ward said she believes graduate teaching is at its best when the level of engagement is one-on-one. The adviser-student relationship can be quite an extraordinary opportunity to work with somebody, she said. You get to watch them grow and watch yourself develop and change through the lens of that relationship.
Joel Snyder, Professor and Chairman of Art History, said that over the last decade, Ward has participated extensively in the process of redesigning the programs graduate-level curriculum to better suit the needs of students. The character of the art history program at Chicago really bears her stamp, he said.
In a certain way, Marty is the intellectual compass of the department, said Snyder. She is an art historians art historian.
Ward said her scholarship on painting in 19th-century France is guided by a sense of how her own life and personal interests intersect with certain problems in the discipline. For me, even when Im teaching, there has to be something at stake, she explained. It may not be the subject of the class itself, but it always has to generate an issue or a problem that I relate to on an intuitive level.
I want my graduate students to have that same kind of relationship with the material, in the sense that their own interests and experiences should motivate the work, she continued.
Ward believes advisers have a responsibility to look down the road further than their students can see. Youre always trying to leave room for unexpected things to happen, but you also realize that they have to go somewhere, theyve got to fit into a certain project.
I spend a lot of time just asking my students questions like Where do we want to be in a year? and How are we going to get you there? I see it as a big part of the job÷a basic collaboration to structure a set of horizons. Its not the same for every student, and whats easy or difficult can vary wildly from person to person, she explained.
When she first started working with graduate students at Chicago, Ward said she thought back to her experiences working on her Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins.
I thought a lot about my adviser, Michael Fried, she said. The things that Michael did provided the nuts and bolts of the experience. He found me the money I needed to conduct my research, he wrote letters of recommendation, and he did all of the other basic things that an adviser ought to do. Whats more, he did them on time, and he did them well.
She said those are the kinds of things that can add up to make a huge difference in the life of a graduate student. Its essential to feel like theres somebody whom you can count on, somebody who will do the best they can for you, Ward continued. The integrity of the relationship is crucial; its absolutely crucial. It has to be based on trust.
In a sense, your students are entrusting you with their lives. This is their lives, their careers, and I think they need to have every reason to believe that youre going to do the very best you can by them.
By William Harms
Michael Silverstein begins teaching a new group of graduate students by thinking about the culmination of his experience with them.
The most important thing to consider is that students enter as students and emerge as colleagues. The way youre able to achieve that goal is to treat students as colleagues all the way along, said Silverstein, the Charles F. Grey Distinguished Service Professor in Anthropology, Linguistics and Psychology and a recipient of a 2000 Faculty Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching.
Silverstein said the quality of University graduate students, no less than faculty colleagues, stimulates his own work in research and teaching. We have the best students in the country here, and their interest, their engagement, is what keeps me interested in being a faculty member at the University, he said.
I have been very engaged always with the questions they raise in class and in conversations. My own published work is sprinkled with references and footnotes of observations that students have made during these discussions, he added.
Silverstein, a faculty member at Chicago since 1971, has students in human development, divinity, social thought and comparative literature in addition to his designated departments. He is an expert in the relationship between linguistic forms and their cultural functions; indigenous languages and cultures of North America and Australia; and linguistic anthropological analysis of contemporary American society.
My students and I have been working in the direction of a real anthropology of language, or linguistic anthropology, the systematic study of language as it is used in and constitutes sociocultural context, Silverstein said.
Silverstein and two Emeritus Professors in Anthropology, Paul Friedrich and Norman McQuown, who both also held appointments in linguistics, established a joint Ph.D. program in linguistics and sociocultural anthropology.
In the joint program as well as in departmental programs, the course of graduate studies has three distinct phases, Silverstein said.
The first phase involves a high degree of stipulated work, required courses and preparation for exams. The middle phase is one that involves qualifying exams, and by the end, students are writing and doing research much the same way faculty members do, he explained.
Together with Susan Gal, Professor in Anthropology and Linguistics and Chairwoman of Anthropology, Silverstein offers an introductory course, Language in Culture, and works closely with several graduate students who begin their study together and eventually develop dissertation-yielding studies and multi-authored volumes.
In the introductory course, Silverstein provides students with a wide variety of viewpoints, including those with which he disagrees. I certainly add my own evaluative opinion, but I want to give them exposure to all the different perspectives that can be brought to particular problems, he said.
In the middle of graduate training, when students begin preparing for qualifying exams, I try to get them to take responsibility for conceptualizing the issues they are studying. We spend a great deal of time organizing reading lists of material they need to read as they prepare, he said.
By the time students have reached the research phase of their work, they begin to take on activities normally associated with professionals in their fields.
They undertake a major research project and must learn and use all of the skills faculty members use to accomplish their tasks, Silverstein said. For instance, they need to apply for grant money, they need to systematize their data, and they must write a major piece.
At this stage, they are making presentations at conferences and also having articles and book chapters published, he said.
Silverstein said the impact his work and that of his students has had throughout the field of linguistic anthropology is a very satisfying result of his teaching.
Several generations of graduate-student advisees, postdoctoral colleagues and affiliated graduate students from other institutions have moved the field of linguistic anthropology through various issues to its present condition of resurgence in departments of anthropology, education, communications and linguistics, he said. That activity has further fed Silversteins work.
I have found my own work has been a cumulation of interests, each gradually finding a place in a theoretical architecture. I have cyclically returned to issues and aspects of language rather than working on them once and for all and then moving on, he said.