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Elisha Cohn, 2010, English

I graduated from the English Ph.D. program at JHU in 2010 and was fortunate enough to eventually secure a tenure-track job at Cornell University, where I was granted tenure in 2017. I am deeply cognizant of my enormous privilege in having the security of this position, unlike most of my grad student community. I was also lucky to take a relatively straightforward path that I know is rarely available to doctoral students in English anymore. In my own advising of graduate students, I have tried to keep the historical contingency of my experience in mind, and for the four years I served as placement advisor I put a lot of energy into expanding my department’s conception of what placement means.

I went on the academic job market three times. The first time (in 2008—right at the start of the financial crisis!) I was in my fifth year and got one MLA interview, though I did not progress further and wasn’t really ready to do so. In my sixth year, I got several interviews and two campus visits, one at a research-led institution and the other more teaching oriented. Although I did not get a job offer, I was granted a 1-year Ahmanson-Getty Postdoctoral Fellowship at UCLA’s Clark Library, which offered a thematic fellowship on “Oscar Wilde and His Circle.” The project I proposed—on Wilde, neuroscience, and aesthetics—was related to what I then understood as my second book project but is now going to be my third.

That topic, which I’d initially started thinking about while preparing for oral exams, was not part of my dissertation, and I was glad to have kept a substantive set of notes for other projects in my back pocket. I returned to the academic job market immediately after my dissertation defense and move to Los Angeles. That year, 2010, while I searched for academic positions I also began looking for private high school teaching positions in Southern California because academic listings were quite slim. Nonetheless, I was offered several MLA interviews and two campus visits that year, and received a tenure-track offer at Cornell. I did not end up doing the second campus visit because the offer from Cornell arrived first and I was certain it was the job I wanted.

I moved to Ithaca in 2011 and began teaching at Cornell, where I have especially taken part in ongoing conversations about literary form and interdisciplinary methods. I have devoted a lot of energy to bringing students from across the university into in the study of literature (via classes like Literature and Medicine) and supporting graduate students in their scholarly and wide-ranging professional development. I published my first book, Still Life: Suspended Development in the Victorian Novel (Oxford University Press) in January 2016, and am in the process of completing the manuscript for my second book, in a different field: Allegories of the Creature: Animal Lives in World Literature. While I had not planned to write a book on contemporary literature, this project emerged from an urgent desire to contribute a robust perspective on theory of the novel to politically engaged conversations in animal studies. I am also continuing to research and write what has now become my third book, The Victorian Brain