Written by
Patrizia D'Adamo
March 24, 2023

“Who are you and what do you do?”

This is the question that many grad students face when encountering their peers both within the university community and with others outside of Princeton. Dylan Blau Edelstein, a 3rd year graduate student in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, is no exception. When these types of questions surface, it forces grad students to take a closer look at what they are doing, what they want to accomplish, and if it aligns with their core passions.

Dylan elaborates,“You have to figure out how to talk about the things you do in a way that are relevant to people, not even just beyond SPO, but also in dialogue with other departments, and even beyond the university and academia. Having those kinds of forward-facing, open dialogues about the sorts of things I'm interested in has been really, really helpful for me.”

As part of an Administrative Fellowship Program, he has collaborated with James M. Van Wyck, Assistant Dean for Professional Development in the Graduate School, to do just that: give graduate students with interests in the arts and humanities the opportunity to move through different spaces and discuss their research with different audiences. Together, they have created the Working in the Creative Arts and Public Humanities (WCAPH) learning cohort — a space for graduate students to interact with and learn broadly about the arts world, and to think about the potential reciprocal relationship between research and institutions focused on the arts. GradFUTURES has become the catalyst for his expansion and continued growth outside of SPO, as it has for a growing number of students.

According to James Van Wyck, “Sometimes graduate students don’t find the campus resources and connections that would be most meaningful to them until it's too late. One of our goals at GradFUTURES is to ensure that doesn’t happen moving forward! We engage graduate students all throughout their time at Princeton—starting before they arrive on campus—to ensure that they are connected to the wide range of opportunities for professional development at Princeton."

Dylan Blau Edelstein

Dylan Blau Edelstein at a discussion at the American Historical Association, during the WCAPH cohort’s trip to Washington DC

In addition to studying in a specific department or field, students should ask what resources are available at Princeton that can support their short- and long-term aspirations. To help them figure this out, Van Wyck sits down with them one on one to determine what makes them tick and brainstorms specific bespoke resources for each particular case.

Through his administrative fellowship work with GradFUTURES, Dylan has been able to not only expand his own interests in the arts, but also bring dozens of grad students to a number of different institutions. The WCAPH cohort has helped to organize a series of discussions with Debbie Bisno, the Director of University and Artistic Partnerships at McCarter Theater. The group has taken trips to Washington DC and New York City to visit a range of museums, societies, and theaters. 

For Dylan, the 2-night trip to New York City was particularly special.  During the planning stages he discovered that the Americas Society / Council of the Americas had just opened the first-ever North American exhibit of Brazilian artist Bispo do Rosario. This artist, having spent most of his life in psychiatric hospitals, became a sensation in the arts world as he neared the end of his life. As Dylan’s own work at SPO looks at how different types of artists historically interacted with psychiatric hospitals, specifically in Brazil, his research immediately became useful, as he could not just help bring students into contact with leaders at these spaces, but also get practical experience guiding a large group through a museum space.

Indeed, Dylan reports, “whether or not you're looking for an academic job, the sorts of skills that are being developed when doing one of these fellowships or going on these site visits are relevant in lots of places you wouldn't necessarily think.” He notes that as result of his fellowship, he has not just learned about opportunities in the arts world, but also about what goes behind the scenes at museums and theaters, as well as gaining some practical experience in leading discussions and event planning.

Dylan shares his excitement about his work in bringing grad students together, “I feel that the university has lots of really good resources, but not everyone necessarily knows about them. So, it's sort of like you hear through the grapevine, or you have an idea, and you pursue it. So, it's been nice to have a group that's about bringing people to different spaces and then while we're there, always plugging what sorts of university resources that are available.”

Dylan Blau Edelstein giving a tour of an exhibit in NYC

Dylan Blau Edelstein providing a tour of the Bispo do Rosario exhibit in NYC

It is common for grad students to become so wrapped up in their academic work that they neglect other areas that are vital to their development. Participating in a fellowship of this kind can help in developing leadership skills, teamwork skills, and project management skills. These skills can be applied to a variety of fields, such as business, non-profits, or government.

Dylan is not the only grad student in SPO who has taken advantage of the opportunities offered at Princeton. Van Wyck confirmed that at least one third of our grad students have approached him and have been involved to varying degrees. By highlighting Dylan’s experience, we hope to inspire other grad students to dig deeper and seek out those opportunities at Princeton early on in their graduate careers.

Getting involved:

Attend the upcoming 4th annual GradFUTURES Forum professional development conference for graduate students (March 27-April 1). This will include a WCAPH reception, on Monday at 6pm, with alumni working in the arts.

Also, as part of the Graduate Appreciation Week festivities (April 3-7) here at SPO (more info coming soon), we have invited James Van Wyck to visit. He has agreed to provide our grad students with free books and other resources to help start the conversation with GradFUTURES. We hope to see all of our grad students there!