Post-PhD Reflections & Directions

Think of this post as a “pivot post”—not a content-driven one about a lesson plan or a research issue, but one transitioning this blog out of “studenthood” and into the post-PhD steps of my academic career. Every time I come across a colleague I haven’t seen in a few months, I’m asked what I’m doing now that I’ve completed the degree, so this post will answer that question—starting with my dissertation defense.

Celebrating with my English Department committee members, Susan Scheckel and Andrew Newman.

In May, I defended my dissertation, “Ephemeral Literature and Liberties: Early American Periodicals and the Development of American Identities,” under the guidance of an interdisciplinary committee: SBU English Department’s Andrew Newman and Susan Scheckel, SBU History Department’s Ned Landsman, and Southern Methodist University History Department’s Ed Countryman. Later in the summer, I found out that my department awarded my completed project the “Charles Davis Best Dissertation Prize,” which still leads me pause in gratification.

Three other things happened in May that have shaped what I’ve been doing since. First, I received feedback on an article I submitted to one of my favorite journals. I spent the five or six weeks after graduation working intensively on incorporating that feedback into a rewritten manuscript, which was accepted for publication later in the summer. Second, while combing through nineteenth-century newspapers between my defense and graduation, I found a unique trope that repeated across decades and was even adopted in Walt Whitman’s prose writing. I spent the second half of summer writing about the trope’s relationship to emerging American literature and identities in the Antebellum Period. That article is still being reviewed. Suffice it to say that Summer 2018 was immensely productive. Oh, and I also took weekend trips to visit family in Florida and Arizona—good getaways to help cleanse the post-dissertation mind.

Commencement Speech

The third thing that happened in May was my own graduation speech. Having been awarded SBU’s President’s Award to Distinguished Doctoral Students, I was selected as commencement speaker at the university’s doctoral hooding ceremony. Honored as I was, I found it onerous to find something useful for me to say to such a distinguished group of thinkers: what can I tell you that you don’t already know? I decided to speak about one of the people who has affected me most at Stony Brook: Bill Godfrey, who is—as far as I know—SBU’s longest-serving faculty/staff member (I think he started in 1965).

Professor Godfrey

Short tangent: I took an independent study Latin course with Professor Godfrey in 2014, held in his backyard twice a week over breakfast. Each three hour session was profound and inspiring—Professor Godfrey is both an incredibly knowledgeable classicist and an admirably thoughtful and reflective human being. He shared advice and told me some stories about his life, like foregoing a very well-paying job in order to find a more a meaningful existence (which he found in academia), or like realizing in 1963 that he had better “put his money where his mouth is” and take a bus down to DC to attend the March on Washington. He confidently declares that it was a life-changing experience, and that afterward he resolved to improve the diversity at his own institution. He was instrumental in several groundbreaking diversity initiatives at SBU—initiatives that are now considered foundational to the success of our university.

          So I chose to talk about some of the lessons Bill Godfrey taught me. Foremost among them was the importance of choosing to live intentionally. I encouraged the graduates before me to spend some time thinking about how they want to spend their lives as human beings who also happened to have PhDs, and to make a firm resolution with themselves to do their best to live that way. My own resolution has been to use my degree and my honed research and communication skills to improve the world, especially for those who don’t have the means to improve their own worlds. General, yes, but flexible enough to be an enduring resolution for decades to come.

In the weeks after graduation, I thought a lot about that resolution, and eventually I decided to look into jobs in the philanthropy world to see whether that area of work would have a meaningful existence for me. The only job I applied to was an internship at the Rockefeller Foundation, whose motto is: Promoting the well-being of humanity throughout the world. Pretty similar to my own resolution, right? So I applied, was interviewed, and was hired! I’ve now spent the last two months working as part of an immensely impactful organization that has helped achieve so much good in the world. Thus far, it’s been a rewarding experience, and I’ll write more about it in another blog post. For now, I’ll say that it’s helped see my main career goal—professorship—in a new light. I’ve gotten the opportunity to see “the other side” of funding for academics (grants, residencies, etc.), and I’ve also developed a deepen investment in impactful work, which I’m already incorporating into my academic career.

I’m mainly doing that right now through my position as Digital and Applied Learning Specialist for Stony Brook’s Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching. There, my primary roles are to help deploy a new, online-based model of experiential learning assessment across the university and to conduct outreach and lead technology and pedagogy workshops. This position helps bring together my goals: serve the community and provide students meaningful learning experiences, use my skills to improve the world, produce impact through my work, etc.

That’s it for now- you’re off the hook, get outta here, scram, beat it! Thanks for reading and checking in on the blog. I’ll post more soon about my upcoming presentations at MLA and SEA 2019!

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