Graduate Student Professional Development at SMU and Greater DFW

By Kyle B. Carpenter

When I first entered graduate school, one of the last things from my mind was how to develop as a professional historian. I was worried about classes, keeping up with the readings, trying to maintain some semblance of a family life, etc. However, during my first semester it became apparent that participating in professional development outside the classroom was one of the most important activities to build my career in academia. I came to see that conferences, outside speakers, interdisciplinary events, and numerous other occasions help graduate students to learn from other scholars how the craft works. These events all help young historians make important contacts both within and outside their field that can pay dividends in the future. Even historians have to network. It can seem overwhelming, though. How can one totally swamped grad student keep up in the classroom and do all this stuff? Travel can seem totally out of the question as it would take way too much out of necessary reading time, therefore I thought it would be helpful to put together a brief and wholly unexhaustive overview of some the most accessible professional development events at SMU and in DFW.

At SMU, the Clements Center for Southwest Studies offers a variety of resources to build professional historians. The center brings in a group of four fellows of very high academic standing every year and each one gives a free public talk about their research. Further, their offices are located right on SMU’s campus in Dallas Hall where graduate students can pick their brains or just get to know them. The Clements Center also puts on an evening lecture series that hosts some of the best scholars from across the world. Additionally, the center organizes annual symposia of scholars who focus on the Southwest and borderlands who get together and produce a book of essays that relate to given theme. Last year, the “Understanding Global Migration” symposium delivered a two-day public event where scholars of world migrations shared their research.

For those interested in topics outside the Southwest and borderlands, there are similar academic centers located throughout SMU. Anyone interested in politics should definitely check out the Tower Center. The SMU Cox School of Business has the O’Neil Center which often has events about contemporary and historical economic issues. Finally, the Dedman College Interdisciplinary Institute produces several lecture series and fellowship opportunities for graduate students across campus.

SMU also offers resources for graduate students to become better teachers and to achieve funding for research. The Center for Teaching Excellence has multiple programs, workshops, and even a symposium designed to aid new and seasoned faculty in becoming more effective instructors in both the physical and online classroom. The Office of National Fellowships and Awards guides graduate students to the often-complicated processes of applying for scholarships and funding opportunities. In addition to their comprehensive online guides, the office also provides services to review grant applications so that you submit the best possible application to get the research funding you need.

If you want to meet some outstanding scholars in the DFW area and get out of the SMU bubble, there are plenty of opportunities to do so. Most conveniently DASH (Dallas Area Society of Historians) meets monthly in locations at SMU and at TCU in Fort Worth. The organization draws in historians at all levels of the profession, from full professors down to graduate students, that allows for a comfortable atmosphere to socialize and present research. It really is a wonderful way to meet local historians, make connections, and learn how our craft is practiced at the highest level. Additionally, for those interested in religious history should attend the annual conferences of the Southwest Commission on Religious Studies in Irving, Texas every March.  Their annual meeting marks a great way to interact with scholars across disciplines in religious studies. DASH and SWCRS make up two excellent local organizations to network and develop professionally.

Another great organization that is inviting and provides an excellent setting for professional development is the Transatlantic History Student Organization at UTA. Not only is THSO a great organization to meet other graduate students at neighboring universities, they host an annual graduate student conference that draws in grad students from all over the country. Their annual conference is a highly professional event that is well organized and allows for young, inexperienced historians to get their feet wet to learn how history conferences work. Whether you want to present a paper or just attend to get the conference experience without having to travel, THSO’s annual event remains a fantastic resource for grad students in DFW.

Obviously, this brief blog post is not an exhaustive list of all the professional development opportunities in DFW. These organizations and opportunities are the those I know about or have experienced first-hand. Those I have experienced have all not only helped me become a better scholar but taught me some of the most important aspects that go into being a professional academic. For those who read this and have additional suggestions, please contribute in the comments.

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