PhD Program Alumni Share Advice with Grads

The Teaching Forum recently hosted its second Alumni Speaker Series, a grant-funded program that invites recently graduated English PhDs to share their teaching experiences pre- and post-job search with current graduate students. Alumni from our various degree programs have found exciting, fulfilling positions in student advising, writing program administration, instructional development, community organizing, and secondary education as well as teaching and research faculty positions.

You can find brief bios of this year’s speakers below, as well as excerpts of what advice they had to share with current English graduate students.

Our Speakers

Leah Misemer is Assistant Director of the Communication Center (the multimodal writing center) and a Marion L. Brittain Postdoctoral Fellow at Georgia Institute of Technology.  Her multimodal first year writing courses have focused on providing students with authentic opportunities to present their work to broader audiences, whether that be through exhibitions, as in her Comics and Civic Engagement course, or online sharing, as in her current course on Webcomics.  At Georgia Tech, her research interests have expanded to include comics as visual systems useful for communicating, teaching, and thinking through STEM concepts.

Leah shared at our March event that she had originally come to grad school because she wanted to teach college literature, and she fell in love with research along the way. As she entered the job market, it remained important to her to find a position at an institution that valued teaching highly. It took more than one round on the job market, but Leah did find such a position and institution.

Stephanie Larson

Stephanie graduated from the Composition and Rhetoric program at UW-Madison last May and is currently an Assistant Professor of Rhetoric at Carnegie Mellon University. At CMU, she teaches graduate and undergraduate courses on topics such as Feminist Rhetorics, Rhetoric and the Body, Representing Disability in Society, and Style. She is currently completing a book manuscript on rhetorics of rape culture, and her research interests deal with feminist rhetorics, affect theory, feminist disability studies, publics theory, and rhetorics of health and medicine. 

Stephanie highly recommends making copies of any and all freely available syllabi – from a variety of fields – to get a sense of how other people design courses. This is a kind of intellectual curiosity that can prepare you for pedagogically-oriented interview questions as well as for designing your own courses.

Maggie Black graduated from the UW-Madison Composition and Rhetoric program in 2018. She is Assistant Professor of English and Coordinator of the Basic Writing Program at Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville. 

Maggie reminds us that the professional development we participate in – and often have opportunities to lead – is excellent. Not many English PhD programs have as many or as intensive professional development opportunities, and recognizing this can bolster your confidence on the job market and encourage you to take full advantage of them while still a graduate student. 

Leigh Elion is currently a full-time, career-track lecturer in the Writing Program at UC-Santa Barbara, where she teaches advanced undergraduate courses in public discourse, multimedia writing, and community writing, as well as first-year composition. Starting this fall, however, she’ll move to a new position as Lecturer in English and Director of the Writing Center at Emory University’s Oxford College.

Leigh shared at our April event that it is OK to have to go on the market more than once. She notes that sometimes the discourse surrounding “going on the market” implies that we should just do it once and aim to get a dream job right out of the gate – but that’s rarely how it actually works. While her current role at UCSB wasn’t her dream job, and she was initially uncertain about taking it, she shares that she’s learned a tremendous amount in her time there, which helped her convey a clearer sense of professional identity this year on the market. No one really aims to have to do the market multiple times, but Leigh reassures us that it’s normal to have reservations about accepting a position or to be thinking about the market as a longer-term phenomenon.

Rachel Herzl-Betz is the Assistant Director of the Writing Center and an instructor in the English Department at Nevada State College. She’s currently researching the choices in recruitment and practice that allow historically marginalized students to feel welcome as potential Writing Center tutors. 

Rachel wants current grads to know that it’s OK to have hobbies and side projects while working on your PhD. Not only is it important for personal fulfillment and mental health, but, in Rachel’s experience, search committees respond positively to whatever it is that makes you a unique kind of nerd (in her case, she wrote a YA novel).