Lecturer, School of Journalism, Writing, and Media at the University of British
What did you think you wanted to do post-graduation when you began the English PhD program here at Brown? Did that change during your time in the program, and if so, how?
When I began the PhD program at Brown, I hoped to become an English professor as traditionally defined, with my time divided between teaching and literature research. During the program, I worked toward this goal while also exploring alternative career paths outside the academy. I took on small volunteer and paid projects (including grant writing, business writing, and book reviewing) to prepare for the likely scenario of not securing a tenure-track position.
How would you describe your PhD project? Who was on your committee? If you went on the academic job market, what fields (including but not limited to those in English) did you apply under (ie. 20th Century Studies, Gender Studies, Poetics, etc.)?
My dissertation explored discourses of law and democracy in the post-WWII American novel. My dissertation committee included Amanda Anderson, Deak Nabers, and Tamar Katz. While on the academic job market, I applied primarily for positions in twentieth-century American literature. I also applied for some (mostly postdoctoral) positions requiring instructors to teach first-year humanities more broadly. I interviewed for positions in “Contemporary Literature & Film” and in “Law, Culture, and the Humanities.” I ultimately received a one-year VAP in twentieth-century and contemporary American literature at Muhlenberg College.
What kind of work are you doing now? Can you tell us about your path to this career? How did you get started?
I am currently a Lecturer at UBC, in the School of Journalism, Writing, and Media. My teaching load is 4/4; I mostly teach a course that introduces students to scholarly research and writing. I also teach a literature course. Recently, I have started to engage in pedagogy-related research. My path to this career was a winding and idiosyncratic one. While finishing my VAP at Muhlenberg College, I became increasingly disillusioned with the academic job market. There were not many jobs to apply to and I had little time to write applications while teaching 3/3. Mostly, I was wary of the idea of moving to a place where I didn’t know anyone. I decided to move back to my hometown (Vancouver, Canada) and find some kind of work there. After announcing this decision online, I was offered a part-time position as a Humanities Editor at the LA Review of Books, based on book reviewing I had previously done for other publications. I also lined up some grant-writing, ghostwriting, and freelance academic editing work (mostly through friends and existing professional contacts) and I applied for entry to an education program that would certify me to teach high school in Canada. That summer, I also reached out to my alma mater (UBC) to ask about any work in the English department. I was quickly offered adjunct teaching in a first-year program adjacent to English; I decided to try that part time while still exploring some alternative career paths. By the end of my first year as an adjunct, a more secure and better paying (but not tenure-track) teaching position in the School of Journalism, Writing, and Media became available. Since my other “side gigs” were not going particularly well and since I saw an appealing future in teaching at UBC, I decided to work full-time at the university.
What is your favorite part of this work? What has been the biggest surprise?
My favorite part of this work is teaching. While the number of courses I teach sometimes makes the work overwhelming, I enjoy being in the classroom and working with students. I also enjoy the opportunity to learn new things: because most of my teaching is not related to literature, I spend time reading and teaching scholarship from other fields. The biggest surprise is perhaps my newfound interest in pedagogy research. I am curious to see what I can accomplish in this area, which differs so much from my prior literary research in its methods, aims, writing style, etc. Finally, I am happy to have found a good job after first deciding where I wanted to live.
Which resources (at Brown and beyond) were most helpful to you in your specific career path?
1. Pedagogical training – I am glad that I received pedagogical training in writing instruction as part of my graduate degree. I also tried to take advantage of teaching opportunities and optional workshops/programs at the Sheridan Center. These experiences were helpful in securing my positions at Muhlenberg and at UBC.
2. Novel Proctorship and Alt-Ac sessions – I completed a proctorship at the journal Novel, which provided useful experience when I began at the LA Review of Books. I also attended a couple optional Alt-Ac sessions hosted by the university, which helped me get involved in grant-writing, for example.
3. Research training – While the research I read and engage in today is mostly very different, many of the research skills I learned in my PhD continue to be helpful.
What advice do you have for students currently enrolled in this program, as they plan for their futures?
1. Value the pedagogical training and teaching opportunities you are given, while also – if you have time – investigating the most up-to-date, research-based teaching approaches. Most academic jobs that are available will be teaching heavy, so you want to be prepared to interview for those.
2. During your PhD, try to gain some non-academic work experience wherever possible. Although my own alt-ac paths didn’t work out, they would have been non-starters without having a few lines on my resume already. Notably, the projects I took on were small – I did probably less than 40 hours of paid business writing and less than 20 hours of volunteer grant-writing – but they helped me see how things were done outside the academy.
3. Remember that your own happiness is more important than proving to yourself or others that you can succeed in a job market that is fundamentally broken.