Graduate Profiles

Tara A. Bynum, 2008, English and African American Studies

I am a recently hired (as of fall 2020) Assistant Professor of English and African American Studies at the University of Iowa. I am a scholar of early African American literary histories before 1800, and I learned how to be a teacher-scholar (or, at times, a scholar-teacher) as an Assistant Professor of English at Towson University. In the spring 2008, I was hired “all but dissertation” to teach their introductory and topical courses in African American literature.

I defended in the fall of the same year while teaching three classes for the first time. Over the next seven years, I learned how to teach. I honed my craft, teaching three or four courses a semester, and I learned too why storytelling and teaching literature matters, particularly, in the twenty-first century. Both storytelling and teaching matter because stories—individual and collective—help society and culture make its meaning. My lessons in teaching helped me to reimagine my dissertation and to develop a research agenda that would, ultimately, turn its revisions into a monograph, Reading Pleasures (U of Illinois Press’ New Black Studies Series).

Since I left Towson University, in 2015, I have pursued opportunities and fellowships—in various positions at Rutgers University, College of Charleston and Hampshire College as well as at different archival libraries—that have helped me achieve my research-related and publishing goals. With every opportunity, I have been able to take the time that I needed to delve deeper into my work on eighteenth-century African American literary history. I have traveled and fellowshipped at libraries and universities, such as the Library Company of Philadelphia, the John Carter Brown Library or the American Antiquarian Society and Washington College; and in so doing, I have explored how eighteenth-century enslaved and/or free men and women feel good or experience pleasure in spite of the privations of slavery, “unfreedom,” or white supremacy.

It is a pleasure that isn’t beholden to social expectations or systemic oppression, but instead is experienced because of an individual’s commitment to religious faith, friendship, or community building. This work is part of a larger, ongoing project that examines how black communities in the early republic made and shaped the very meaning of nation-building in the greater New England area and beyond. It’s a work that seeks to tell a new kind of story about the origins of the African American literary tradition.

No part of this academic journey has been linear, directed, or predictable. I have meandered my way to find a career that allows me to gather and tell stories in print and in the classroom. Even as it’s taken me to locales far and near, my aim is simple: to tell stories that help my readers and my students see their world anew.

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

Christianne Gannon, 2012, English

In 2012, I got a Visiting Assistant Professor position for two years at Hamilton College, and went on the academic job market for three years in total. When I was on the market, I had everything I was told I needed to get a job (a top PhD, several publications, teaching experience). I got great interviews every time I went on the market, but in three years searching no permanent job offer. When I was at Hamilton, I met people who had been on the academic market for 5-10 years, and this helped me determine I did not want that to be me. I didn’t want the instability or the itinerant life of the academic who is constantly moving around while searching for a job. 

When I went to work at Hamilton, my partner was unemployed for a year because the school was located in a remote, rural area. Though he did get a job for my second year there, he was making much less than he made in Baltimore, so it was an unstable and unsustainable path ahead for us. We decided to move to Washington, DC, where we now both have stable jobs, so I’ve never regretted for a moment the decision I made in 2014 to walk away from the academic job market.  

From 2014-2020, I worked at the National Cathedral School, which is a top independent school in DC. Private school teaching at this type of institution is very similar to teaching at a liberal arts college. I got to design curriculum, teach in the area of my specialization, and teach small seminar courses on topics of interest to me. None of my classes had more than 14 students in them. I designed and taught several courses, such as one on the bildungsroman called “The Coming of Age Novel,” featuring books like A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, E. M. Forster’s Maurice, and Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things, all the types of texts I wanted to be teaching in the first place when I set out initially to be a professor. I also taught a British Literature survey as part of the sophomore English curriculum, as well as an elective on postcolonial feminist literature. Our students learned how to write with literary criticism and theory in our classes, so every day I put into practice what I learned in graduate school (both in terms of content and pedagogy). The content of my PhD was continually relevant to the courses I taught, and my teaching at Hopkins in the Expository Writing Program gave me a huge advantage in knowing how to teach writing, which is very important at the high-school level. I also very much enjoyed the teaching I did at NCS because I was part of a community where my task was not only to help shape my students as writers and scholars, but also as people.

In August 2020, I will begin a new position as an Instructional Coach at the Catholic University Center for Teaching Excellence, where I will be working with faculty on pedagogy and professional development. I am excited for the ways my new position will help me develop additional skills working with faculty and allow me to work collaboratively on a wider institutional scale to help faculty and students succeed. I have loved my years working in the classroom with students, but I am excited to now shift into a new role where I can begin to think about pedagogy through a different lens. 

Though I haven’t followed the traditional tenure-track route, I have also kept publishing. I have published three chapters from my dissertation as articles, and now also write essays for wider audiences. The non-traditional academic route has allowed me to have a stable and fulfilling life outside of work, and to pursue a unique path in the field of education. I’ve gained a lot of experience at several different types of institutions, which has allowed me to cultivate a broader knowledge of education than I would have had if I’d worked in just one institution for my entire career so far.