March 8, 2008

What I did on my Traveling Scholar “Vacation�

Since I arrived in September, it’s snowed thirty-nine times in Chicago (and counting: we’ve got you beat, Twin Cities!) But hey, I didn’t become a Traveling Scholar to find warmer climes. Indeed, there aren’t any warmer climes to be had: the Traveling Scholar Program allows doctoral students to take up to a year of coursework at another CIC institution, but the CIC is comprised of the Big Ten plus the University of Chicago. Perhaps all the cold is character-forming.

Certainly, my year away has been intellectually and professionally rewarding in ways I don’t think I imagined when I first applied. Although the Traveling Scholar Program is often used by students needing hard-to-find classes in rare languages, I’ve already met about half a dozen Traveling Scholars from other institutions in my classes in history, philosophy and anthropology of science. We’re all here to take particular courses and to work with faculty specializing in areas that aren’t available at our home institutions. In addition to this, the program offers doctoral students an unmatched opportunity to network, collaborate and experience academic life in a different institutional structure. The best part is that all credits you take while away transfer back to your home institution (it’s still up to your own doctoral program to count them toward your degree). In unbelievable economics for those coming from the public schools, the program is offered at tuition parity. As I am, many students are able to fund their travels by a long-distance teaching or research appointment from their home institution.

To apply for the program, you need to demonstrate real need, i.e., that the specific courses you need aren’t available where you are. You must also obtain the approval of your adviser and chair as well as the approval of an appropriate faculty contact and program chair at the host university (and in the case of U of C at least, the appropriate dean as well.) It’s good to start your application early! Once at your host university, you’re issued a student ID, with all the standard library privileges, health and athletic center services, etc. extended to regular graduate students.

Having been a Traveling Scholar for several months now, I can say that the experience has been both richer and more difficult than I expected. It’s hard to be in two places at once and I was surprised at how much I took for granted that in RSTC I would be seeing… RSTC’ers. (How I’ve missed you guys!!!) Although as I start my third quarter here I’m beginning to recognize some familiar faces, I’m often the “new kid� in the class and always the only rhetorician-of-science-from-Minnesota in the room. (I hasten to add: everyone I’ve met has been extremely welcoming as well as interested in hearing about things from a rhetoric perspective.) Teaching on the semester system while taking classes simultaneously on the quarter system has also offered its own peculiar sort of temporal hell: none of the deadlines, breaks and finals weeks line up in both places.

Despite the challenges, I wholeheartedly recommend the program to any student, especially those planning to remain in RSTC for the M.A./Ph.D. long haul. My understanding of RSTC, and my own work in it, is far richer now that I can contextualize it in a larger scheme of ideas, disciplines and institutions.

BTW—the CIC has other great travel programs as well as funding opportunities for Big-Ten-plus-Chicago students:

The Visit Day was too short! See you guys again soon…