CMAC Graduate Mentoring and Climate/Culture Statement

Mentoring Statement of Expectations
PhD Program in Computational Media, Arts & Cultures (CMAC)  
21 October 2021 



Primary Faculty Advisors and Committee Members take formal administrative responsibilities and structural procedures within a student’s degree program. Mentoring is about intellectual exchange in an intellectual environment within and across CMAC faculty, and is expected of all our faculty affiliates. This document addresses both aspects of the program experience, with specific expectations laid out for those in formal roles highlighted throughout. By joining the CMAC Core Faculty, faculty members express their willingness to participate in both kinds of relationships within the CMAC community. Given our program highlights both critical theory and practice, it is especially important for our students to have opportunities to learn from formal advisors and mentors from both within the program and without, and with a range of experiences and perspectives. As students seek mentors from outside the community, they may also become formal advisors and committee members later in the process. 

Faculty Advisors and Committee Members in CMAC will be responsive to students’ communication and inquiries in a timely fashion (within 2 business days when teaching or a mutually understood period of time). This includes being available and responsive while on leave (within one to two weeks when on leave).  

Accepting responsibility to serve on an exam or thesis committee means being available to offer oral and written responses to students’ written and computational work, as appropriate. Serving as an Advisor means taking a more proactive role, especially at key milestones like developing the exam lists and portfolio, writing the dissertation prospectus, preparing to defend, etc.  

CMAC faculty are expected to participate in preparing graduate students for a variety of professional careers, both traditional tenure-track jobs and other professional opportunities suitable to their skills and interests. CMAC faculty will be expected to consistently review student output, serve on an appropriate number of dissertation committees, and provide letters of recommendation for students.  

CMAC faculty are also expected to be responsive to staff requests for information, and to be respectful of deadlines and obligations associated with their roles in the program. 

See below for details on stages through the program and the associated advising and mentoring expectations for faculty The end of the document highlights corresponding expectations for students in the program. 

Initial Communication: Director of Graduate Studies and Potential PhD Student  

When contacted by a potential doctoral student, the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) shall, whenever possible, set up a time to speak with the prospective candidate (via phone, virtually, or in-person). This enables a series of suggested early mentorship activities that connect the student in a more meaningful way to the program and its potential fit with their interests. Through these conversations the DGS is able to provide immediate feedback to the student on their proposed research topic; provide an overview of the program curriculum, requirements, and expectations; and orient the student to the various departments affiliated with CMAC both formally and informally. The DGS highlights the range of faculty and staff contributors, our relationship to the core sponsoring programs of Art, Art History & Visual Studies (AAHVS), the Literature Program, and the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute, and the strength of our network of core and affiliated faculty members from around campus.  

In these conversations, students learn about distinctive features of the program, including the core expectation for both written and practice-based work, and for “human” and “machine” language competencies. Students are encouraged to identify and discuss with the DGS (and other potential mentors, if relevant) the faculty member(s) with whom they are interested in working and why. The DGS suggests Duke faculty/staff, labs, and research facilities that might be relevant to their research, highlighting the information on the CMAC website and in the program brochure. The DGS also discusses faculty from outside the program who might be relevant to their interests, and highlights distinctive opportunities, including those outside of the arts and humanities, such as participation in interdisciplinary labs, the DIBS (Duke Institute for Brain Sciences) boot camp for students interested in the brain sciences, and programs around the Center for Computational Thinking, among others.  

Because our program is small and distinctive in its dual emphasis on theory and practice, it may be useful for the DGS and prospective student to determine whether a student might also be a good or better fit for another Duke department or program.  

Orientation for Incoming Students  

Orientation takes place during the week before the first semester of classes. The CMAC program website will be updated with relevant details about program requirements and expectations before Orientation takes place. The Orientation session will reiterate and amplify many of the points made in the initial advising sessions around the structure and expectations of the program, offering additional details around logistical topics, including registration for classes, independent studies, exam scheduling procedures, etc.; funding: stipend-related matters, internal and external awards and grants, etc.; teaching opportunities; service obligations; and the content of the graduate student handbook. The DGS and DGSA will be available during Orientation for questions and answers, and the program will conduct a tour and overview of the program spaces and labs. Given their co-location in the Smith Warehouse, some Orientation activities will be organized alongside those of the Department of Art, Art History & Visual Studies PhD program, the MA in Digital Art History/Computational Media, and the MFA in Experimental and Documentary arts, as well as with prospective students in the Program for Literature and the PhD Lab in Digital Knowledge at the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute. This mixing will also allow students to meet a broader cohort of incoming graduate students with related interests.  

At a follow-up event in the Fall, new and returning graduate students will have an opportunity to meet with the core faculty to learn more about opportunities to get involved.  

Advising and Mentoring of Incoming Students  

As part of the onboarding process, students will receive a handbook about CMAC’s program guidelines, faculty members, affiliated labs and departments/programs, administrative procedures, and resources. This will help orient the student and give them an understanding of the structure and function of CMAC.  

The CMAC program affirms the need for both formal advisors, who are assigned to the student to help navigate formal structures and requirements, and mentors who help identify and work through different aspects of the student’s studies and experience in the program. Mentoring relationships often extend beyond academic topics and provide more "holistic" guidance. A student’s mentor and advisor may be one and the same, they may be different people, or the advisor may be one of several mentors including student peer mentors. As an interdisciplinary program, we anticipate that students will consult with multiple mentors during the course of study.  

Advisor Assignments in the First Year  

Every incoming student will first be advised by the Director of Graduate Studies and an assigned Advisor in the first year. The Advisor lays out the arc of requirements that students will pass through as part of their CMAC academic process. These are also found on the CMAC website: This includes individual meetings to discuss course scheduling and related matters. The Advisor recommends faculty at Duke whose research aligns with the student’s research interests, and identifies additional opportunities to make connections on and off campus. First-year CMAC students interested in the work of a particular faculty member as a prospective Advisor or Committee member are encouraged to take courses, participate in lab activities, and otherwise engage with opportunities with that faculty member, which may include requesting an Independent Study (IS) in later semesters.  

Note: Students in the first two years of the program should generally be directed towards existing courses and activities where available, in order to build a solid foundation and foster community with other faculty and students in the program, though in some cases an IS may be the best way to explore a topic not otherwise offered in the curriculum. Reading groups and co-curricular lab activities are strongly encouraged through the program. 

Ongoing Advising  

Students may request to change their Advisor in the first year, and in the second and third years, as suits their needs and interests. By the end of the second year, the student should have identified a Primary Advisor whom they anticipate will serve as the Chair of the examination committee. This might be the originally assigned Advisor, or a new one. The student will consult with that Advisor, the DGS, and other mentors regarding possible Committee members. The DGS will help identify possible future Advisors and Committee members, and, especially in case that potential Committee members are not already core or affiliated faculty in CMAC, ensure that they understand the program and its requirements, and that students are composing a committee with the appropriate number of internal and external members.  

Primary Advisors are expected to meet with their Advisees at least once every semester, and preferably twice in a semester - once at the beginning and once later in the semester as we prepare for the following semester’s registration. Along with the DGS, Advisors are also expected to keep tabs on their advisees’ progress, to review the faculty midterm evaluation reports on the students they are advising, as well as the annual reports submitted at the end of each year.  

A series of benchmarks are scheduled over time, as delineated on CMAC’s web site:  

The ongoing advisor conversation should include both formal progress through the program and a request for feedback on other aspects of the program. In some cases, students may be more comfortable addressing questions or issues to an additional mentor, but students should report any significant concerns to their Advisor, and/or the DGS, as per the Grievance Policy (refer to “Addressing Grievances” in this document).  

Mentoring for an Interdisciplinary and Transdisciplinary Cohort  

There are a series of events that students can attend to build a cohort with other departments, programs, and research areas. CMAC’s faculty is comprised of artists, researchers, and scholars from AAHVS, Literature, the Franklin Humanities Institute (FHI), Dance, and Music. Additionally, we have affiliated faculty from Computer Science, Engineering, Theatre, Philosophy, the MA in Digital Art History/Computational Media, and the MFA in Experimental and Documentary Arts. We also have close ties with the following Duke institutes: the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences, the Fitzpatrick Institute for Photonics, and the Kenan Institute for Ethics. Many of these entities also have community and other external connections relevant to student interests.  

Some of the related events which students are highly encouraged to attend are as follows:  

Student exhibitions; student screenings; student musical performances; dance events, theatre events, invited lectures of both artists and curators; invited lecturers tied to the Franklin Humanities Institute, and invited lecturers in Literature, Art, Art History& Visual Studies, Information Science + Studies and other programs specific to student interests.  

CMAC also facilitates student group critiques with invited CMAC lecturers and the broader community drawn from the above groups. Students are required to attend these sessions as a core part of their activities in their first two years in the program and are encouraged to participate and to share their work in their later years in the program. Discussions around topics such as the nature of scholarship, the relationship of theory to practice, and how to navigate multiple scholarly and artistic communities should also be addressed through these and other events organized by the program. 

Students should also be mentored in terms of their potential attendance at relevant conferences and symposia as well as the potential for having artist residencies over the summer and/or after they have completed their exams. Additionally, a series of international venues for showing work is discussed i.e. College Art Association, ARS Electronica, The International Symposium on Electronic Art, the Society for Science and Literature, and SIGGRAPH, among others. The potential for mounting local shows, exhibitions, performance art, screenings, installations etc. are discussed and encouraged where practicable. We explore multiple local galleries and performance venues, some internal to Duke, as well as major institutions that show and collect media art and relevant periodicals.  

Additional Distributed Mentoring and Community Activities  

Students are strongly encouraged to become embedded in one or more of the CMAC labs over time, related to their area of research. Some suggestions include: formal presentations by students to the full faculty (recorded and shared); graduate student symposia timed with the admissions cycle (February); engagement with CMAC and other labs on campus, such as those at the Franklin Humanities Institute – e.g. the PhD Lab in Digital Knowledge, the Story+ Lab, and the Social Practice Lab, etc. New areas of research are articulated in an ongoing manner.  

Students may enter focused reading groups that are facilitated by the sponsoring programs and labs, and are also explored by student research groups. Students are encouraged to participate in co-curricular programs such as Story+, Data+, Bass Connections, and others, where they can both serve as mentors themselves and learn project management, team leadership, and related skills. Students interested in academic careers are encouraged to participate in the Graduate School’s Certificate in College Teaching program.  

Applying for Graduate Fellowships and Grants  

The DGS and Advisor will discuss best practices with the student concerning applications.  

The mentors and/or DGS will provide support letters for the applicant as indicated in each fellowship and grant.  

Each year differing goals for applications are discussed and established. Discussions about grant possibilities should be initiated by the student and faculty at the beginning of each semester.  

Advising Leading up to the Preliminary Exam and Portfolio  

Advising and mentoring take multiple forms at this stage: defining a reading list in discussion with the researcher, discussions related to studying for the reading exams, writing a prospectus, and relations between theory and practice. Defining the initial research question that will become the heart of the thesis is explored. Because the expectation in CMAC is that students will draw upon the expertise of multiple advisors and mentors, creating a reading list for the preliminary examination can be done collaboratively. The student will also be creating a portfolio of work as part of the exam process. Mentors should advise on structure and presentation of this element of the exams.  

After the Preliminary Exams: Research and the Thesis  

Advising includes discussion of an outline for the thesis, writing of initial chapters, structuring and restructuring as goals change. Additionally, the practice side of work becomes an alternate set of perspectives to focus on. Thesis committee members may each be sought out for different knowledge that is relevant to the thesis. The examination reading list is honed and made more specific as the research topic and set of methodologies related to how to approach this topic becomes clearer.  

Designing and Teaching a Course  

Academic mentoring takes place related to working as a Teaching Assistant and/or Research Assistant. Expectations for TA, Grader, and RA roles will be made clear to the student at the beginning of the semester, and they will respect a standard number of hours allocated within the program for such roles in order to maintain equity amongst students. Typically, TAs and RAs are expected to work 12 hours per week during the semester, and Graders and half-TAs 6 hours per week, though the distribution of these hours over the course of the term may be negotiated. Ad hoc additional teaching, research, and graduate assistant roles during the academic year should be taken on by students in consultation with the Advisor.  

After the preliminary exams are concluded, students may have the option to propose, develop and teach a course relevant to their teaching and research interests, subject to scheduling and othe rfactors. This may include serving as Instructor of Record on an existing course or potentially creating an entirely new one. This course development process also includes direct mentoring from a relevant faculty member, especially in terms of syllabus design and development, and ongoing assessment of teaching. Specific courses to be taught, and timing for opportunities for teaching, will be developed in coordination with the needs of sponsoring programs. Syllabi for proposed courses will be vetted by relevant CMAC faculty mentors, who are expected to attend one or more class sessions in order to provide feedback, and to provide insight into the student’s teaching style for letters of recommendation for the academic job market, if requested.  

Summer teaching is prioritized for students who are post-exams, and those who are otherwise beyond standard funding, but opportunities may be extended to other students, when available.  

Advising Leading up to the Thesis Defense  

The primary dissertation advisor is expected to provide substantive feedback to the student throughout the dissertation process. Additional faculty members should be available to provide feedback on specific sections prior to the defense in order to ensure the entire committee is “on the same page” about the final product(s) to be produced. As an interdisciplinary program, it is especially important that Committee members set clear expectations for what is expect from students in terms of length, bodies of literature to be consulted in the field, the nature and scope of the practice components of the thesis, and the integration of these elements with one another. CMAC’s program guidelines stipulate that all students should produce both a theoretically-based, critically inflected written dissertation component, and a computational media practice component, which may take the form of a scholarly, artistic, or scientific intervention, as appropriate (generally all of the above).  

Mentoring for Future Prospects  

Mentoring for job applications, postdoctoral applications, visiting artist potentials, and residencies (applied to before graduation) is essential. Mentoring related to defining the differing pathways that might be taken after the thesis is accepted.  Information related to many of the above areas is available on the CMAC website.  

Promoting Positive Mentoring  

The CMAC program encourages a positive mentoring environment at the level of individual relationships and through collaborative communication in committees and other settings. The student’s practice portfolio is a critical component of the program, and forms a part of the examination process. Therefore, we encourage group critique sessions and ongoing conversations amongst interested faculty, staff, and students involved in the program. Faculty are encouraged to attend sessions for all the students, to listen to conference presentation drafts, and to participate in mock job talks.  

Faculty are also encouraged to share their own work in program colloquia and events in order to serve as role models and guides to students developing their own areas of expertise.  

Each semester the faculty who teach courses in which CMAC students are enrolled are asked to fill out evaluations of the students’ progress at midterm. This is an early-warning system to the program. It is the responsibility of the DGS to reach out to students who are identified as having any issues in their classes at that time, and to see if there are any ameliorative steps that can be made.  

Each year graduate students are required to complete an Annual Progress Report. Faculty involved in mentoring the student should review the reports in closed sessions and respond to any issues raised. The report questions will also encourage students to reflect on positive mentoring experiences they have had, both to provide feedback to the faculty, and to help the faculty develop best practices that most benefit the students in our unique setting.  The advisor is responsible to report back to the graduate student on the report and faculty feedback on it. 

The DGS will reach out to students each year through the Annual Progress Report process and encourage students to report any issues or concerns (see below). If the DGS is the faculty member whose mentoring is at issue, students are encouraged to reach out to another CMAC faculty member to help raise any relevant issues. Because CMAC is an interdisciplinary program, this may ultimately include recourse to the Chair of the faculty member’s home department or program.  

The DGS will draft a letter, as requested by faculty, reporting on student feedback concerning the faculty member’s mentoring. Faculty may choose to include this letter in University Performance Evaluation by their home department or elsewhere as appropriate.  

Rewarding Positive Mentoring  

Each year one or more “outstanding CMAC mentor” acknowledgement(s) will be made, created by recommendation from the CMAC graduate student cohort. The graduate cohort will create this acknowledgement by April 1st of each year. 

Addressing Grievances  

A healthy and supportive climate depends on effective communication, not only for reporting problems but for helping reinforce and model positive behaviors. Channels of communication need to be open and transparent, mutually respectful, and available to anyone in the community.  

Many issues can be worked out via direct conversation; for example, someone may not be aware of how their actions are being perceived, or of the harm they are causing. We recognize that this will not be possible in some circumstances, either because of the nature of a concern or because of a social/professional relationship. However, in other cases, respectful and frank discussions can improve situations without requiring external intervention.  

All members of the community are accountable for their actions. It is important that we collaborate to prevent and to respond to actions that undermine a positive environment for work, education, research and other scholarly or professional activities. Certain behaviors that threaten our free, open, and respectful participation in our collective community, and which do not fall under the category of federally specified discriminatory behaviors, are considered a violation of our conduct policy. These should be reported to a departmental administrator as is appropriate to your situation and level of comfort; all concerns will be heard and considered respectfully:  

  • the Chair of the relevant department, for any member of our community, including undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, staff, faculty, and visitors  
  • the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS), for graduate students  
  • the Director of Undergraduate Studies (DUS) for the relevant program, for undergraduate students   
  • the immediate Supervisor or Business Manager, as well as the Duke Human Resources Policy Manual, for staff   

When a potential violation is reported, the reporting party can expect to be taken seriously and to be informed of actions taken in response to the complaint, consistent with legal limits on the sharing of information about individual employees or students. Requests to keep the information confidential will be respected whenever feasible; no case will go forward without anonymity, unless with the express request of the complainant. Responses may range from verbal communication or warnings to notification of appropriate University authorities and restrictions on participation in departmental activities.  

Retaliation for the reporting of incidents is a violation of this policy and of Duke University policy. By this, retaliation is prohibited against:  

  • an individual who files a complaint or report of discrimination, harassment, or related misconduct  
  • an individual against whom a complaint is filed  
  • an individual who participates in the reporting, investigation, or adjudication of possible violations of this Policy, or exercises any other right under this Policy  
  • an individual who engages in good faith opposition to what the individual reasonably believes to be discrimination, harassment, or related misconduct under this Policy  

The expectations and process set out above apply to cases that harm the climate of the department and the wellbeing of its members. The department is legally required to notify University administrators of all complaints or cases of discrimination that violate federal law, including assault, sexual harassment, research misconduct, or asset misappropriation.  

Mechanisms for discussing grievances of any type are also available through Duke University channels designed specifically  for that purpose. Sometimes, circumstances may be such that reporting to someone outside of the department is preferable. In this case you are encouraged to report your concerns to:  

  • the Ombudsperson  
  • the Trinity Graduate Dean  
  • the Dean of Humanities  
  • The Graduate School  
  • the Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs  
  • the Dean of the Graduate School  
  • the Office for Institutional Equity  
  • the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards  
  • Blue Devils CARE (to discuss concerns about another community member’s well-being): o Anytime Telehealth for Students (for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows)  
  • Personal Assistance Service (for faculty and staff)  

If you report concerns to a Non-Confidential Reporting Option, someone will reach out to you to provide information regarding resources, support, and how to file a complaint. You are not required to respond. You do not need to file a complaint to receive support.  

For additional information and guidance, consult the following Graduate School page: 

Advisors or Mentors who display ongoing negligent or abusive mentoring may be removed from CMAC’s program faculty. 



Communication and Participation  

Graduate students are expected to remain in communication with their faculty instructors and advisors on a regular basis. This includes being accessible via email, reading and responding to messages sent to their Duke accounts, and indicating when they will be unavailable during the academic year.  

Students are expected to take the initiative in establishing working relationships with faculty within and beyond the program as part of their intellectual and professional development. Students are responsible for undertaking regular communication with advisers, including updating them on progress in courses and writing assignments, meeting deadlines for the presentation of written work and other projects, updating advisers (and committee, where appropriate) on the progress of research projects, and communicating any impediments to progress, changes in circumstance or requests for support (e.g. letters of recommendation) in a timely way.  

Students should respond to any queries/emails from the advisor as expeditiously as possible, but certainly within 2 working days from the date of the email or a mutually understood period of time.  

As part of their professional development, students in coursework are expected to participate in the full range of CMAC programs and initiatives, demonstrated by attendance at events, such as symposia, crit sessions, and visiting lectures. Such events are considered integral to the students’ research, intellectual developments and networking. ABD students are also expected to attend program events when they are in residence. Students are encouraged to propose and organize events, and to suggest ideas for future initiatives to be organized and led or co-led by faculty and staff. Many of these will involve collaboration with the CMAC Research Labs and/or the core sponsoring programs of Art, Art History & Visual Studies, Literature, Information Science + Studies, and the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute, but students are also encouraged to look further afield. 

Once students successfully complete the PhD, they continue to be important and valued members of our intellectual community. The faculty are happy to write in support of your job and fellowship/grant applications, as we are invested in your continued success. When requesting such support, we ask that you submit the following helpful documents, which will allow us to write the strongest letter possible:  

  1. An up-to-date CV;  
  2. Copies of post-dissertation publications and a draft from your current research project as well as a description of that project and plans for its publication;  
  3. Full description of the opportunity for which you are applying;  
  4. The application materials (e.g., letter of application, grant proposal, teaching statement, etc.), and any supporting documents, such as publications, that you include in the dossier;  
  5. The recipient’s address, including mailing address and email;  
  6. The deadline for submission of the letter of support. We also ask that you inform us of the results of your application; and if you are willing to be an active member of our alumni network and speak to our current students about your experiences, please let us know. 

Service Obligations While in Funding  

Students in the CMAC program are expected to perform one semester-long service obligation each year they are in funding, unless they hold fellowships that forbid additional service components (for example, the Dean’s Fellowship). In the first year, this obligation takes the form of a reduced-commitment half-sized grader or GA/RA role. While students may request specific service opportunities, and semesters in which to undertake the service obligation TA-ships will also be assigned on the basis of programmatic need and exposure to multiple faculty mentors. Additional or alternate opportunities outside the program may potentially be taken on by students, subject to the availability of external funding to “buy out” internal service obligations if they are proposed in lieu of regular service, and upon approval of the DGS and Advisor.  

Supplemental (paid) positions are permitted at the discretion of the student, as long as they do not violate the Graduate School requirements that the work not exceed 19.9 hours per week, which is enforced centrally by TGS. For example, a student serving in a TA role for CMAC might take on a 5-6 hour per week supplemental Research Assistant position in a lab inside or outside of CMAC, work at the Library, as a tutor, etc. Generally, a student could not serve as a TA for two classes at once, unless the second TA role was a half-TA position.  

In exceptional circumstances--for example, a student being offered a residency or other opportunity post-exams that would prevent them fulfilling service obligations in any given year--service obligations may be shifted to another semester or academic year. Any plans of this nature should be discussed in advance with the DGS and the Advisor, ideally in the year prior to the proposed variation.  

CMAC’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Statement  

The CMAC PhD program — small, experimental, and interdisciplinary — focuses on the intersection of media arts and humanities, sciences, and technology, both in theory and in practice, a commitment that carries through all our activities. At the core of the program's origin is critical engagement with the computational turn and its systems in art, culture, and aesthetics. We interrogate the implications of computation for how we live, think, work, create, and communicate within and across various disciplines, as well as with how they frame/impose structure/power upon us. Our values are anti-racist, pro-feminist, anti-discriminatory, and queer-affirming; these values mindfully inform our engagements. Rather than being the purview of any one discipline, the study and creation of computational media is part of many. Critical engagement with the global, social, material, and cultural impact of computational media is a central feature and value of the program, alongside media affordances and effects within existing and emerging fields. As a community we are founded upon, and encourage collaboration at every level, also turning the critical perspective upon ourselves and our own structures and activities. We foster a critical hub of discourse and debate through computational possibilities and their contexts, and continue to reflect upon our success in achieving these goals through active, collective reflection upon our own investments and values as demonstrated in our actions. We recognize racism, sexism, and xenophobia persist through higher education, and we commit ourselves to a practice of continual resistance to this systemic oppression, pro-actively engaging with the issues to better the department The CMAC programs demonstrates these commitments publicly through our pedagogy, exemplary projects, programming, mentoring, partnerships, and other activities, including anti-racist training, and highlights these through written mediums such as our website and other publications.