Digital Presence and Public Scholarship: Empowering Graduate Students as Professionals


The Digital Presence and Public Scholarship Initiative engages scholars and artists with approaches to conveying their work to the broader public. We have built this Initiative at our large, public, research university using a grassroots approach that began with the College of Arts and Letters, where the Initiative is still housed, and has extended beyond the edges of our disciplines to involve collaborators and participants from Education and across the sciences. While at first working exclusively with faculty, the Initiative has expanded over the last year to work with graduate students.

Graduate students sit at the edge of a career as a student and professional life. Aiding that transition is important as they enter professional life - inside or outside of the academy - in order to ensure they are able to be successful in communicating their work and goals as well as ensuring that colleagues and employers understand what they have to offer. In many ways the whole graduate experience is like an transition zone from one identity (student) to the next (professional).

Some people navigate this better than others, and some people do it at different times (e.g. first year vs. dissertation time). The Digital Presence and Public Scholarship Initiative seeks to bridge the edge of graduate student and professional life -- as well as bridging disciplines and colleges, allowing for our students to more effectively and efficiently cross into professional life.

Our work with graduate students, especially those in the arts and humanities, is rooted in work with faculty, exploring how faculty represent professional life and use a strong digital presence to help steer the narrative about their work. We see these roots in faculty work to be key, as they allow us to address graduate students as future professionals in a way that would not be possible if we were not already grappling with issues that practicing professionals face. Through this approach, we have give graduate students agency as they stand on the edge of their careers.


Session participants will come away from this session with three things:

First: they will receive a handout that shows the constellation activity we run during workshops as well as an outline of what we cover during workshops and activities relating to the Initiative.

Second: we are developing a documentation website for materials relating to the Online Presence and Public Scholarship Initiative. Housing presentation slides, lesson plans, and graphics for the Initiative, this website will have a CC-BY license so anyone is welcome to use the materials and adapt them to their own institutional context.

Third: participants will come away with lessons learned and strategies for implementing a similar initiative at their own institution. One of our next phases of development for the Initiative at our university is to convene a train the trainer workshop for other universities of different types to develop similar programs of their own. We see this presentation as an opportunity to think about adaptability and scale and look forward to sharing with session participants what we have learned as well as hearing what they would need adjusted in other contexts.


The Digital Presence and Public Scholarship Initiative works with graduate students to adopt a holistic approach in identifying and shaping their online presence as professionals. Begun in 2015-16 as a faculty-focused endeavor, this Initiative has since expanded to reach graduate students at our large, public, research university. While it reaches graduate students and faculty from across the university, it was initiated by the College of Arts and Letters and works with majority arts and humanities students.

Our team of educational technologists, digital humanists, and graduate students from several humanities and arts disciplines collectively provide a range of training opportunities for graduate students - from an eight week fellowship to a three hour one-off workshop - over the course of the academic year. We also provide one on one consultation support to discuss topics ranging from social media and content strategy to open access and copyright to Wordpress troubleshooting. We begin training by getting Initiative participants to think about their existing digital presence via a series of activities, including the Visitor and Residents mapping exercise and a constellation activity, in which they plan out how a professional website may connect to other sites of online presence (such as social media, etc). Then,we provide participants with a Domain of One's Own account via Reclaim Hosting and get them started with a professional Wordpress website.

By introducing key concepts like audience, open access publication, and accessibility to participants early on in their website creation process, we are able to help them think deeply about their goals and identity as they position themselves in a post-student professional life, inside or outside of the academy. The prospect of graduating and moving into professional life can be daunting, and our Initiative focuses on the student's own agency in shaping their identity and taking control of the narrative around themselves and their work.

The Public Scholarship aspect of the Initiative also focuses on how students and faculty may use online spaces and digital tools to create new scholarship and creative work. Since the Domain of One's Own initiative provides each participant with a web hosting space, we bring into the conversation additional websites and ventures they can explore beyond the professional personal website. Participants have the opportunity to receive follow up support in platforms such as Omeka, Scalar, and other digital publishing tools. We look forward to strengthening this bridge between the website development and ed-tech side of the Initiative with digital humanities opportunities for creative and rich publicly engaged digital work.

Targeting this Initiative to faculty at first and then expanding it to graduate students was an intentional move, as it framed the Initiative and our thinking as being geared to professionals, already experts in their fields. That perspective put at the forefront of our work how to adjust audience and public scholarship discussions appropriately. If we had begun our Domain of One's Own initiative by targeting undergraduate students (as most universities with such initiatives have done), we would not have the same conversations. By treating graduate students similar to faculty, we have shown them what they can be as professionals and given them agency as they stand on the edge of their careers.