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2013 Dean’s Award: Robyn Wiegman

Dean’s Award for Excellence in Mentoring

Robyn Wiegman, Professor of Literature and Women's Studies, earned a Ph.D. in English from the University of Washington, and an M.F.A. in Poetry and B.A. in English from Indiana University. She joined the Duke faculty in 2001 after serving as Associate Professor of Women's Studies and English & Comparative Literature at the University of California, Irvine. Her research interests include feminist theory, queer theory, American Studies, critical race theory, and film and media studies.

Professor Wiegman's nominators attest to her commitment to students, describing her as both "a model of extraordinary mentoring" and as "a model scholar." Her dedication is also apparent in "Her sustained guidance, perceptiveness about students' interests and how these might be developed."  Her mentoring style is not only perceptive but also practical, rooted in her understanding of the requirements for success in a demanding profession, as one student describes, "Professor Wiegman is a very involved mentor, ensuring that I make timely progress. At the end of every month she asks me to send her updates about my progress and goals for the next month and sets up regular deadlines to make sure my work keeps moving productively forward." Another nominator notes that she "is a famously tough dissertation director among students in the Literature Program, requiring that students stay on task by demanding monthly progress reports," noting, however, that "this toughness and diligence pays off in the quality work her students ultimately produce." 

Professor Wiegman demands no less of herself than she does of her students, responding rapidly to student's questions and addressing their written work with alacrity. One student notes that "One frequently sends Professor Wiegman work in the evening only to discover her assiduous notes and corrections waiting in your inbox the next morning."  Her attention to her student's writing is described as "a constant, reliable source of forthright and constructive criticism" that has the capacity to "zero in on the weakest point of an argument" to help the writers strengthen their prose. The depth of her influence on her student's writing is reflected in one nominator's comment that "I often joked with other students that after a while a little Professor Wiegman starts to live inside the heads of each of her students and begins correcting their errors even as they happen."

Ready accessibility to students through email is one communication method employed by Professor Wiegman to maintain her connection to students, but "She is also always available to meet and happy to arrange Skype meetings if she is away. Her availability isn't just limited to the academic year; she is easily reachable over breaks, including summer break." Although they are rapid, the quality of her responses is consistently high, as one student says "In addition to the incredible speed with which she gives feedback, she also always responds very thoughtfully and shows an obvious in-depth engagement with my work."

Another facet of Professor Wiegman's mentoring is demonstrated by her development of resources for her students, for example, developing and teaching a "publication workshop that introduces students to the nuts and bolts of peer review journal publication and helps them turn drafts into manuscripts ready to submit to such journals." She also actively seeks funding for programs to enhance students' research and connections with the academic community, as one nominator noted "Professor Wiegman secured funding to allow graduate students to study at elite summer programs, opportunities that not only extend the ambition and reach of students' research, but also help them to develop important connections within the national network."

She also has taken on the role of "Job Czar" in the Program in Literature, "developing a website with sample documents, timelines, and advice about the job market."  She takes this commitment  seriously, as one student states "Putting her acute knowledge of the workings of the university as an institution to good use, she organizes CV and job letter workshops, mock interviews, and mock job talks to help maximize students' chances of gaining postdoc and tenure-track employment in an increasingly brutal academic job market. She also helps job-seeking students one-on-one, with the same combination of intensity and generosity with which she approaches everything else." Another nominator notes that "Last year, everyone who entered the market under her guidance found a job, resulting in a 100 percent placement rate."

"Ultimately," as one student says, "Professor Wiegman's reputation for toughness and rigor are well deserved, but those qualities come with—in fact are the hallmarks of—a deep and abiding intellectual curiosity and generosity that she both models for and shares with her students."