Graduate Profiles

David Hershinow, 2013, English

In May of 2013, I defended my dissertation and received a job offer on the same day (in the parking lot of Medieval Times, our chosen venue for celebrating in style). For five years, I was a Lecturer in the Princeton Writing Program (PWP), which offers first-year writing courses on a similar model to the one used by the University Writing Program (then the Expository Writing Program) at Johns Hopkins. It seems clear to me that my success in securing this position had a lot to do with my experience as an instructor—though I’d also credit my years working in the Johns Hopkins Writing Center, which culminated in my serving as its Director. Being a PWP lecturer was highly rewarding, and I would recommend it (and all the other Harvard-model expos programs) as a very strong secondary option to anyone on the academic job market. In addition to teaching, I was supported in my research and published my first book, Shakespeare and the Truth-Teller: Confronting the Cynic Ideal, in 2019.

I stayed on the market for all the years I was PWP faculty, but I never managed to secure a tenure-track position. At the end of my five-year term limit, I was able to move into a VAP in the English Department at Baruch College, CUNY, and for that I can only credit the support of my spouse’s chair in helping us through our two-body problem. I only worked at Baruch for one year, but even that small degree of familiarity with the CUNY system proved invaluable when I applied to be the founding Director of the Writing Center at The Graduate Center, CUNY. Up until that point, I’d been completely focused on faculty positions, but I was strongly drawn to the idea of running a writing center for graduate students, especially when it seemed to me that my own continued research activity could be seen as an essential part of the work. I put absolutely everything into my candidacy: I talked with people who ran other student-facing offices at the GC, met with a writing center director from a different CUNY school, and, for the campus visit, I even designed my own logo for the not-yet-founded GC Writing Center to put on my handouts.

Now that I’m entering my third year in this job, I can say that it’s exceeded my expectations. Building something from the ground up has been hard and deeply fulfilling work. This is true not only with respect to the Writing Center, but also the Professional Development Program, a cluster of zero-credit courses I’ve been tasked with running, and which I’m in the process of growing into a graduate writing program. Within the PDP, I teach “Effective Academic Writing for Native English Speakers,” and, in the future, I’ll also be teaching the occasional literature course for the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies program. Maintaining my research agenda has probably been the hardest thing to do these past years, though that’s largely down to the pandemic and having two small children. That being said, I’m currently reading and thinking my way toward a new book project on the genderqueer Renaissance.

Stephanie Insley Hershinow, 2012, English

I graduated from the English PhD program at JHU in 2012. I am a specialist in eighteenth-century British literature and the history and theory of the novel. As a graduate student, I went on the job market for two years, first a “trial run,” during which I sent out just a few applications, then a more comprehensive search the following year. Because my husband was also in the JHU English department (we had met during our previous MA program), we knew we would have to cast our nets widely in order to find compatible positions. I’ll leave Dave to tell his story in his own profile, but I’ll say that ultimately it took us eight years on the job market to find stable jobs in the same city. While my path can look quite straightforward, there have been plenty of paths-not-taken along the way.

In that second year on the market, I was offered a one-year postdoctoral fellowship at the Rutgers Center for Cultural Analysis as well as a tenure track job at Baruch College, City University of New York. In that post-2008 moment, it truly felt like I had won the lottery; now, my good fortunate seems even harder to believe. The Baruch job had been a late listing, with a (then, quite rare) virtual interview, so I received the offers at nearly the same time. Fortunately, my colleagues at Baruch allowed me to take the postdoc before beginning my position. Because the postdoc could only be held with degree in hand, I had to quickly schedule a defense and complete a lot of writing in the late spring of 2012. During my postdoc, on “Form and Formalisms,” I reworked a lot of that hastily written material, while also placing a couple of chapters of my dissertation as journal articles. Working with colleagues in an interdisciplinary setting helped me rewrite much of my dissertation for a wider readership.

After my year at Rutgers, I started my job at Baruch, where I was granted tenure in 2020. I had never heard of Baruch when I applied for the job, but I’m now grateful that I found my way here. When I applied, I highlighted my work with non-humanities majors, suggesting that my experience with pre-med and engineering students would translate to the job of teaching the many business majors at Baruch. My immersion in expository writing was also a huge advantage, not only during the interview process but also in my early years on the job. I teach in my field, but I also cover an eclectic range of material, from first year writing to world literature, from Gilgamesh to Gurnah. I’m proud to work at a public school (I was a public school undergrad and a first generation college student), and I love my students. My department is supportive, and I’m grateful for my union.

Yet, in some ways, this isn’t the job I imagined for myself: I don’t advise graduate students, and I’m the only faculty member in my discipline in my department. I have wonderful colleagues, but I realized quickly that I’d need to find a group of scholars in my field to support my work toward the first book. Early on, I found the Columbia Seminar in Eighteenth-Century European Culture, an interdisciplinary group based at Columbia but drawing from scholars across NYC institutions. I became an active member and now co-chair the seminar, organizing talks from scholars around the world. Recently, I assumed the co-editor position at Digital Defoe: Studies in Defoe and His Contemporaries, an open-access journal I’m hoping to grow in scope and reach.

My scholarship centers on the early novel in English, but I credit my time at Hopkins for helping me to think outside of period boundaries and to ask questions that might have transhistorical answers. I published my first book, Born Yesterday: Inexperience and the Early Realist Novel,in 2019, having signed the contract when I was nine months pregnant with my first child. The book makes the case for an alternative theory of the novel ungrounded in the logic of the Bildungsroman. My work has usually shuttled between eighteenth-century studies and Romanticism, but it was a reader’s report for the manuscript that encouraged me to expand a short reference to Austen into a fuller reading of Emma. That reading (and, I’m guessing, my incessant tweeting about my book) caught the eye of an editor at W.W. Norton, who asked me to edit new editions of Emma and Sense and Sensibility, which will be out in the next couple of years. I’m currently at work on a second monograph, about legal and literary conceptions of personhood, which I’m calling “Personal Effects.” 

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

Christiane Gannon, 2012, English

In 2012, during my fifth year in the PhD program I was offered a Visiting Assistant Professorship at Hamilton College. I went on the academic job market for three years in total: one year while I was at Hopkins, and two years after I had finished, while working at Hamilton. I very much enjoyed working at a small liberal arts college and wanted to continue at a teaching-focused institution. Though I got great interviews every time I went on the market, none of them were at teaching-centered institutions, and in three years searching I still had no permanent job offer. When I was at Hamilton, I also met people who had been on the academic market for 5-10 years, and this helped me determine I didn’t want the instability and the itinerant life of the academic who is constantly moving around while searching for a job. 

During my third year of searching, I decided to apply also to independent schools and was offered a job at the National Cathedral School, where I worked from 2014-2020. Private school teaching at this type of institution is very similar to teaching at a liberal arts college. I was able to design curriculum, teach in the areas 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 shifted into educational development and began working as an Instructional Coach at the Catholic University Center for Teaching Excellence, where I work with faculty on pedagogy and professional development. I am now the Assistant Director of the Center for Teaching Excellence where I work collaboratively on a wider institutional scale to help faculty and students succeed. While I loved my years in the classroom with students, I also really love the work I do now of making good teaching possible.

Though I haven’t followed the traditional tenure-track route, I have also kept publishing. I 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 also gained a lot of experience at several different types of institutions, which has allowed me to cultivate a broader knowledge of the field of education than I would have if I’d worked in just one institution for my entire career so far.