The Job Market: An Interview with Amy Foley

This past fall, Amy Foley went on the job market for the first time. She was kind enough to answer some questions about the process and give some advice to those of us who will one day have to go through the same process. Her interview is below.

First of all, congratulations on finishing your PhD in four years! That’s truly impressive. This last fall, you went on the job market for the first time, and, as something many of us are looking forward to and also dreading, thanks for letting us pick your brain!

1. Given the state of higher education and the cuts to permanent positions happening throughout the academy, how did you feel about the number of tenure track/full time jobs that were available in your area? Were there as many as you expected? Fewer? Were you forced to stretch your area to cover certain job calls?

I was surprised that there were as many jobs as there were in the fall of 2016. I have very strong feelings about our use of the phrase “going on the market,” which reminds one of a nineteenth century debutante ball. This phrase is unnecessarily intimidating for many candidates and implies a level of importance in higher education that I think we could all do without.  Yes, our profession requires a level of preparation and a portfolio that some careers do not, but many other professions do require similar preparation or an even more rigorous application process, yet do not use this kind of simultaneously self-aggrandizing and debasing language. I did not feel disappointed about the number of jobs available since my attitude is that you only need one interested party, which is why I think candidates should apply to as many jobs as they can handle in a given time. I suppose that if you do not see the process as a coming out ball, then you will not feel rejected by a scarcity of suitors.
I was looking at primarily twentieth and twentieth first century literature positions. They were all in North America, though I will be expanding my search internationally in the future. I found some that were specific to one of my areas in global modernism. Roughly half of the ten full time positions to which I applied were in modernism. The others were more generalist or focused on specific topics that were of interest to me, such as environmental studies. I did not feel forced to apply to any jobs that were not of interest.
2. How did you prioritize which jobs to apply for?
 Since I was still writing the last two chapters of my dissertation while teaching, working as a research assistant, conferencing, and doing the service work (as we all do), I had limited time for applications this year.  I decided to apply to at least ten full time positions. As it turned out, that number somewhat matched the number of jobs I felt qualified to apply for or positions that seemed like a good fit. I am primarily interested in full time positions that require or allow me to pursue research and writing along with teaching, so I applied to the jobs that clearly facilitated both. All of the jobs to which I applied I discovered through the MLA Jobs List and HigherEdJobs. In the future, I plan to cast a much wider net.
3. What was the most time-consuming part of the process? The most difficult?
The most time-consuming part of the process was composing the first set of cover letters and any extra materials required by an application. I had not actually assembled my teaching portfolio beforehand and only one position required it. This was very time-consuming, and I would recommend putting it together earlier since it is not particularly difficult. It was also time-consuming to revise and edit one chapter of my dissertation as a writing sample since I had written it so recently and had not revised the dissertation yet. I knew it would be tough to write applications while in the middle of the dissertation and working toward a definite deadline, but I felt it was good for my own morale and experience.
4. If there was one thing you wish you’d done before you started applying to make the process easier, what would that be?
I wish I had known when I began teaching in different institutions nine years ago to hold onto student evaluations. I was very far from applying to full time positions then and did not know that those would be valuable later.
At this point, I do wish I would have applied to more postdoctoral positions, but I do not know when I would have done those on top of the work I was able to complete. Now that I am finishing my graduate career, I can focus more on postdoctoral jobs and full time applications. I would advise candidates to complete all materials that are not job-specific in the summer if possible. Teaching statements, writing samples, teaching portfolios, research statements, and dossiers can all be done ahead of time. Have as many faculty in your discipline and area as possible read your materials.
I stayed very organized throughout the process, keeping track of all descriptions and document submissions. I kept a list of jobs, descriptions, and deadlines, which I shared with my recommenders. I also gave them specific instructions for submitting letters for each job, which I think reduced chaos significantly. I wanted to make the process as painless as possible for my recommenders since these are the people supporting me the most.
5. Were you surprised by any part of the process, or was it about what you expected?
I was ABD at the time I applied. I did not receive any calls for interviews, which is exactly what I expected. I am not being self-disparaging. From everything I have read, the job market changes significantly for many candidates after having a doctorate in hand. I still consider it well-spent time, and now I have a greater advantage for my applications in the future.

Getting the Story Straight: Slavery in Rhode Island

This guest post is by Christopher Cooney, a junior at URI. He began his career as a jazz percussion major but is now pursuing an English degree. He enjoys reading, lifting, and playing and listening to music of all kinds.

Professor Christy Clark-Pujara’s lecture on slavery in Rhode Island was both informative and eye-opening. I was not aware that the economy of Rhode Island was so reliant on the business of slavery, or for so long. Discussions of slavery often put great emphasis on the southern slave states, while the north is seen as a place where slavery was not quite as prominent. As I learned, this could not be further from the truth. In fact, Rhode Island was one of the first colonies to become involved in the slave trade, and its economy quickly became reliant upon it. Interestingly, one of the main functions of northern slavery was to sustain southern slaves, manufacturing and exporting clothing and rum. Having lived here all my life, placing all of this within the context of Rhode Island made it all the more unsettling. The vast majority of slave ships in Rhode Island left from either Newport or Providence, two places I frequent often. Another unsettling fact is this: during the peak of the slave trade, 25% of the Newport population was enslaved.

As enlightening as all this information was, Clark-Pujara made it clear that what she wanted to get across is how the business of slavery shaped the experience of slavery. To me, this is far more captivating. Facts are facts, but there’s little point in discussing them for their own sake. Facts are like compact representations. The real question is: what do they mean? What’s more important are the slaves themselves, their experience, and how these realities affected their lives. That is, in one massive way: the reliance of Rhode Island economy on slave labor effectively stalled emancipation. The well-being of slaves was held second to the well-being of the economy, as it would have been destroyed had slave labor been removed all at once. Despite this, slaves found ways to resist, rebel and stand up against the oppression.

What Clark-Pujara seemed to stress most of all was the slaves’ resilience. They did not simply lie down and accept their fate. They instead invested in themselves by establishing mutual aid societies for the welfare of their communities, and “attached these institutions to national institutions in pursuit of equality,” Clark-Pujara explained. She also emphasized the fact that slavery was essentially broken down by the slaves themselves through their actions, not simply as a result of the Gradual Emancipation Laws, illustrating their fortitude in the face of oppression. She expressed this in an extremely concise and effective way, saying that the gradual emancipation laws “reflected” the actions of the slaves rather than “catalyzed” their eventual freedom. The Gradual Emancipation Laws alone did not necessarily free the slaves; they were already in the process of freeing themselves.

This lecture was not just a stream of facts and information, it was a look at the history of people who took their lives into their own hands, and who refused to submit to the oppression thrust upon them. Clark-Pujara emphasized the importance of this particular history, and of historical knowledge in general. The slaves in Rhode Island (or anywhere else, for that matter) were not merely passive participants in their oppression; they took control and fought for freedom until it was theirs. Clark-Pujara talked about how important it is that this information persists through the years. It reminds us of how important it is to maintain autonomy, to stay conscious, and to remain vigilant in the face of injustice.

To me, this talk highlighted the importance of investigating common misconceptions within our sphere of “general knowledge.” It speaks to me even more as I become increasingly aware of the grand narratives that inhabit our lives. Today, there is an abundance of information on every subject you could possibly imagine. And often, misconceptions cut through, for example, in this case, the misconception that slavery was not prominent in the north, or that all slaves were granted freedom through the Emancipation Proclamation and 13th amendment. Thus, it is imperative that one thinks critically about the information that is being handed to them. Maybe the information that is easiest to come by isn’t the most accurate or thought through. Sometimes you need to go out of your way to find the truth. That’s precisely what happened to me in attending this lecture, as I learned things I may never have learned otherwise. And again, it’s not about the facts or the numbers, necessarily, however interesting they may be. It’s about the reality behind them. It’s about staying conscious; of history, and what it can teach us about the woclarkrld we live in today.

Clark-Pujara’s 2016 book, “Dark Work: The Business of Slavery in Rhode Island”, goes further in depth on the subjects she discussed in her lecture. For anyone interested in learning more, here is a fantastic opportunity to educate yourself on this crucial history.

Have a Wonderful Break!

As everyone is rushing to get that grading done and those papers written, we at the blog wanted to take a moment and thank everyone for such a wonderful semester! All of your contributions help to make the Graduate English Blog a success and we couldn’t do it without you.

We’ll be taking a short hiatus during the break, but we’ll be back in January with some truly great posts. From an interview with our new Department Chair, to a write-up of students reading their original material, check back in to see all of the exciting things happening in our department and all of the amazing things our graduate students are involved in.

Drink some cocoa, play in the snow, spend time with friends and family, and have a wonderful break!

Student Spotlight: Barbara Farnworth

Hi, my name is Barbara Farnworth and I am a 4th year Ph.D. candidate in the English Department. I completed my Qualifying Exams in April 2016 and am currently working on my dissertation proposal. I am examining humor in nineteenth-century British literature, more specifically, how women writers incorporate irony and satire in their fiction.  As I began examining humor in nineteenth-century fiction, I noticed that Jane Austen is the only nineteenth-century woman included in humor anthologies. When I developed my reading list for exams, my guiding question was: what happened to humor in women’s writing after Austen?  I discovered several non-canonical authors who included irony and satire in their works. I also explored canonical authors whose humor has not received a great deal of critical attention. For my dissertation proposal, I am concentrating on how these authors employed their narrators to communicate humor. Currently, I am reading narrative theory regarding free indirect discourse and its ability to express irony.

On the home front, my daughter, Chrissy, is in her senior year at Hampshire College majoring in either animal behavior or adolescent psychology, depending on when you ask her. This year she will complete her senior project which, at Hampshire, is similar to a master’s thesis. My husband Mike and I are known as the crazy dog people of the neighborhood. We have two golden retrievers, who are couch potatoes, and a black lab who is obsessed with retrieving tennis balls. Chrissy has a dog of her own, a black lab mix, so when she is home from college we have four (yes 4!) 70 pound dogs at our house.  Currently, Mike is attending a program with our youngest dog that will result in her becoming certified as a Pet Assisted Therapy dog.

I’m happy to report that, after several months of sitting on my butt and eating junk food while studying for my exams, I am finally exercising again. This summer I expanded my exercise routine with spinning and Pilates classes. Spinning is so addictive that I am participating in the 8 a.m. class at the Fitness Center with the undergraduates.  Of course, I’m still eating the junk food!

 

URI English Department Receives Prestigious NEH Grant

The URI English Department is thrilled to announce that we have been honored with a large grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). The grant, part of NEH’s “Next Generation PhD” initiative, is designed to fund planning for the innovation of humanities PhD programs. URI joins 27 other universities nationwide who received planning and implementation funding, with the goal of better preparing graduate students for today’s competitive array of Humanities career options, both in and outside of academia. As Marcus Cederström has recently urged in an article for Inside Higher Ed, “What’s missing in many humanities graduate programs is the framework that will help us translate the skills we develop, the guidance to do so and the support to pursue employment outside of academe. That has to change. And fast.” This is precisely the exciting opportunity URI’s English Department, University administrators, and both current and future PhD students have in front of them.

Dr. Kathleen Davis describes the grant as “[securing] partnerships, internships, new collaborations, and innovative curricular changes that will prepare our doctoral students to expand their career aspirations and to bring the fruits of Humanities learning to all aspects of civic life.” One of the central objectives of the NEH Next Generation Humanities PhD initiative is to increase cross-disciplinary communication and learning opportunities for doctoral students in five key areas: Coastal Environment, Health & Medicine, Publishing/Editing, Digital Humanities & Big Data, and Cultural Organizations. There are over 40 faculty, administrators, and students working on the grant from at least 10 disciplines (which readers can see here: http://web.uri.edu/nextgenphd/). Generally speaking, then, the task of the NEH committee is to ask two vitally important questions: “Where are the Humanities now?” and “Where are Humanities PhD programs going?” These have been critical questions for the Humanities for decades now, as the death knell for the Humanities has continued to be rung periodically, amidst what seems to be an increasingly Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM)—and digitally-focused world.

News stories about how the skills of Humanities undergraduate majors and doctoral students align with demands of the current job market have begun to appear. As recently as October 2016, Scientific American published an editorial staff-authored essay encouragingly entitled, “STEM is Vital—but Not at the Expense of the Humanities.” In our current moment, we may despair over the corporatization of the university, which seems increasingly designed to prepare students for jobs rather than encourage prolonged critical reflection about oneself or the world. Prominent politicians have not helped: “All the people in the world who want to study French literature can do so, they are just not going to be subsidized by the tax payer,” said governor of Kentucky Matt Bevin), while former Republican presidential hopeful Marco Rubio declared we need “more welders and less philosophers.” Scientific American supplies a helpful response to such reductive talk:

 

If . . . advocates of a STEM-only curriculum look more closely, they will find that the student who graduates after four years of pursuing physics plus poetry may, in fact, be just the kind of job candidate sought out by employers. In 2013 the Association of American Colleges & Universities issued the results of a survey of 318 employers with 25 or more employees showing that nearly all of them thought that the ability to “think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems”—the precise objectives of any liberal arts education—was more important than a job candidate’s specific major.

 

Contrary to what some parents, students, and politicians may think, the difference between STEM and the Humanities is not “useful v. useless.” As the editors of Scientific American show, a Humanities education offers students the opportunity to acquire skills that are not distancing them from current career demands, but are closing the gap as such skills become more and more necessary in a global business market demanding complex, precise communication between international business communities and divergent cultures.

 

If it is obvious, however, to the editors of Scientific American that the Humanities offers something necessary and, at times, intangible to the success of STEM fields (the “artistic sensibility” of Steve Jobs is the oft-cited example as the captain of industry who knew nothing of the nitty gritty of coding or computer engineering, yet still managed to change an entire technological field), it is still the case that many—like politicians in charge of state education budgets—need convincing of that basic premise. The Scientific American article performs for us, then, a double duty: it shows the value of the Humanities from the perspective of experts and active members in the STEM community (we see the skills that Humanities graduates bring to fields outside of the Humanities). The article also highlights, however, a gap in general understanding about the “usefulness,” importance, and value of Humanities programs and graduates. Recalling our attention to what Cederström writes above, the issue suggests itself as one of “translation.” How can the Humanities translate what we do to outsiders? How can the disciplines of the Humanities ally themselves to STEM disciplines in an effort to make this translation easier? How can we better prepare Humanities graduates to translate their skills more easily to jobs outside of the academy, and show that the depth of our theoretical training asks critical questions? This, perhaps most vitally, is the area where URI and the “Next Generation Humanities PhD” initiative is poised to intervene. With the support of the NEH and the University, we can enlarge the import of the Humanities, endeavor to create a stronger coalition of Humanities and other departments, and look eagerly to a future of the “new” and the “next,” one for which our current and prospective students will be fully prepared to take part in and, ultimately, to shape.

 

If you—readers—are interested in helping to bring to fruition some of the ideas put forth here (and some of the ideas put forth in planning meetings) please contact Kathleen Davis and/ or sign up for Kathleen Davis’s course next semester on the Public Humanities.

 

Student Spotlight: Danielle Sanfilippo

danielleHello to all! This semester I am working on my dissertation full force! I am currently working on a draft of a dissertation chapter on Marlowe’s Edward II and Shakespeare’s Richard II. My dissertation as a whole examines aristocratic masculinity in early modern drama. I love studying these plays so much. Edward and Richard have so much in common that they work beautifully together. Best of all, I am planning a trip to London and Stratford to do research! My dissertation is heavily focused on performance so I am seeing as many live performances as possible and consulting recordings when necessary. In January, I plan to see Love’s Labour’s Lost in London (preparing for Chapter 4) and viewing recordings of Edward II and Ben Jonson’s Sejanus. Securing the funding to do this is overwhelming but I am so excited at the prospect of visiting the U.K. again after almost ten years.

On the teaching front, I am all Brit Lit all the time this year. I am currently teaching Brit Lit I and I just found out that I will be doing Shakespeare and Brit Lit in the spring. So a busy year of teaching but I get to teach works that I love and that students aren’t likely to find elsewhere in their college careers. This semester, I am teaching Brit Lit with a more women-oriented focus. I am teaching as many female authors as possible. I just did a section on Marie de France and I am finishing the course with Eliza Haywood. I am looking forward to a great year at URI and I hope that everyone is having a great semester so far!

Student Spotlight: Amy Foley

img_20160908_163433-1I am a fourth year PhD candidate at URI in Literature and Cultural Studies. I am currently in the process of writing my dissertation, entitled “Doorways to Being: Modernism and ‘Lived’ Architectures,” on phenomenology and architectural experience in select modernist fiction. My dissertation work began during the summer after my first year, when I began reading and rereading the writings of Walter Benjamin, Franz Kafka, William Faulkner, and Virginia Woolf. I was struck by the ways in which these texts narrate our everyday bodily experiences with our material environment and the modernist proposal of a new ontology and engagement. I continue to explore and reimagine how phenomenology intersects with cultural studies, particularly in the philosophies of Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Benjamin.

This fall, I will attend the International Merleau-Ponty Conference in St. Catharines, Ontario to introduce keynote speaker, Rudolf Bernet’s discussion on “A Portrait of the Writer as a Philosopher.” Much of my critical writing during the program has revolved around this very concern. I have presented on Rilke’s spiritual ideas and his philosophy of sound and silence in The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge at NeMLA (Northeastern Modern Language Association). Also at NeMLA, I presented on Woolf’s temporal philosophy in Between the Acts. I continue to write on Woolf in a transatlantic, political, and philosophical context. In my long-term scholarship, the phenomenology of the body as it is philosophized in the modern novel is a burgeoning and ongoing concern; furthermore, I question to what extent fiction in its many forms instructs our “lived” motion in the world, borrowing language from Merleau-Ponty.

Modernism in a global and imperialist context is central to my research as well. In 2015, I won the URI Center for the Humanities Graduate Research Grant and the Hunt Scholarship from the Faulkner Society to study the architectures of Faulkner’s milieu in Oxford, Mississippi. While researching southern architectural history, I presented on Faulkner’s use of the mystery genre in relation to nineteenth century German southern mysteries at the annual Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha conference. In addition to the Global South, I have written on the fiction and non-fiction of Colm Tóibín in relation to Irish identity and the postcolonial collective consciousness. In my interview, “An Austere, Whispering Power: An Interview with Colm Tóibín,” I ask the author about short fiction genres in relation to Irish identity, as well as many other subjects such as family and sexuality as they exist in his writing.

I am also a writer of fiction. My stories are concerned with memory, the power of things, aloneness, permission and  the nebulousness of knowledge and events, the intersection of similarly and oppositionally politicized identities, and friendship. I am continually studying the relationship between my scholarly study of modernism and its effect on my fiction. My work has been published in The Journal of Popular Culture and Hotel Amerika, and is now under review with the Mississippi Quarterly and the Journal of Modern Literature.

I have enjoyed a range of teaching environments and experiences in my career. As an adjunct faculty person prior to my time at URI, I taught at the Rochester Institute of Technology, Monroe Community College, Roberts Wesleyan College, and at the U.S. Coast Guard in Rochester, New York. I have been fortunate to teach an array of courses at URI and elsewhere, such as Introduction to Literature, World Literature, The Short Story, Mythology, Ethnicity and Cultural Difference, Composition, and Advanced Composition. At URI, my role as Teaching Assistant Mentor allows me to regularly exchange pedagogical concerns with my graduate colleagues. The time I have spent with faculty and students at URI has been essential for my growth as a writer, scholar and teacher; I so look forward to another astonishing and stimulating year with everyone

Welcome Back!

Happy first day of the Fall semester! Hopefully everyone’s summer was both relaxing and productive and everyone is ready to start getting back into the full swing of things. There were many exciting things that happened while we were away, so a few congratulations are in order.

Spearheaded by Prof. Kathleen Davis, our department was awarded the NEH challenge grant to work on broadening employment opportunities for humanities PhDs. Congrats to everyone involved! In addition, Molly Hall was awarded one of the first fellowships, the Coastal Institute Graduate Fellowship.

We welcome Prof. Travis Williams as our new Department Chair and Prof. David Faflik as our new Director of Graduate studies.

One of the first events of the new semester is this Sunday, 09/11. The event, Memory V. Representation: Soldier’s Homecoming in History, Literature, and Testimony, is sponsored by URI and The Rhode Island Council for the Humanities and will bring together scholars and veterans to talk about the homecoming experience. The symposium this Sunday is just the first of three panel discussions concerning veterans and homecoming. This event will be held in Doody Auditorium from 2:00-3:30pm. More information can be found here: http://rivetsspeak.weebly.com/

The blog will be kicking off the new semester with a wonderful three-part series of interviews conducted by Molly Hall. In it she asks students from multiple schools about the comprehensive exam and rationale writing process. It is filled with some great insights and a slew of different approaches to studying, note-taking, writing the exams, and preparing for orals. Don’t forget to check it out!

As always, thanks to everyone who continues to make the blog work by contributing all of our wonderful write-ups, spotlights, and interviews.

Letter from the Editor: Spring 2016

During the frantic last week of the semester, as we’re all trying to meet our deadlines for grading and term papers, we over here at the blog wanted to take a moment to remind everyone how incredible this semester has been. Our department has had some amazing ups, and some heartbreaking downs, but we’ve made it through together.

I wanted to take a moment to thank everyone who has contributed to the blog this semester. From student spotlights, to write-ups on some of the impressive and riveting speakers who have presented on campus, to covering the department’s exciting events, your contributions are what make this blog happen.

Just because the Spring semester is over, doesn’t mean the fun has ended! The department and university have a number of exciting events during the summer months, and the blog will continue to update content, so don’t forget to check back to see what’s happening!

A big congratulations goes out to those students who are graduating! We wish you the best in all your future endeavors.

Sarah Kruse

Rose Keefe

Becky Greene

Katie Burton

Barnaby McLaughlin

Brittany Hirth

John Renzi (M.A.)

kara 2

Finally, it would be impossible to look back on this semester without remembering our dear friend Kara. Always ready with a smile or joke, Kara was an integral and beloved part of our department and she will be sorely missed. A GoFundMe has been started in order to honor Kara’s memory with a bench behind Swan Hall (you can donate here: https://www.gofundme.com/karasmemorial) and a scholarship to benefit LGBTQ students has been established in her name so that we can give back to others in the same way Kara gave so much to us (donations can be made here: https://www.gofundme.com/2xxnfghg).

Have a wonderful summer and we look forward to seeing everyone in the Fall.

Student Spotlight: Alyssa Taft

alyssaHello there! My name is Alyssa Taft and I am a second year masters student in both the English Department and the Graduate School of Library and Information Studies. I am currently working towards my MA in English and my MLIS with a concentration in School Library Media and Youth Services. In spring of 2015 I was awarded a research assistantship with the Graduate School of Library and Information Studies to work on a grant-funded project titled Media Smart Libraries, in which we develop and implement continuing education programming for school and public librarians on media and digital literacy topics. I also work part time at the URI Carothers Library in the Curriculum Materials Library where I teach URI 101, co-teach EDC 102, and provide reference services to URI’s education department.

My professional interests include media and digital literacy, contemporary fiction, genre studies, creative writing, children’s literature, library advocacy, censorship, intellectual freedom, and collection development. My time in the English department has been spent working on sharpening my creative writing and exploring intersections between literature and education, and literature and adolescence. I complete my English coursework this coming spring and next fall I will be putting together my portfolio. This will be followed by a semester of student teaching in two of Rhode Island’s public schools as a school librarian before graduation in May 2017.   

In addition to my studies, I am also the School Librarians of Rhode Island (SLRI) student board member, co-chair of the English Department’s graduate social committee, a member of the English Department’s graduate writing group, and a member of the Middletown Author’s Circle. I am involved in a number of professional organizations and committees including URI’s chapter of Student ALA, URI’s Graduate Student Conference, the Society for Children’s Writers and Illustrators, and SLRI’s advocacy committee. In Fall 2015 I was awarded the RI Coalition of Library Advocates Scholarship.  

When I’m not working or studying, I can be found reading for (gasp!) fun, playing with my rescue pup Bernie, or spending time with my husband Lee.