Each academic year until 2018, the MLA offers a proseminar on careers for twenty doctoral students and recent PhD recipients in the New York City region. Proseminar participants explore the full range of careers open to humanities PhDs, from tenure-track positions to employment in business, government, and nonprofit organizations. Each participant receives $2,000 to support his or her participation in the program.
The proseminar meets six times per year in plenary. Each meeting is hosted by an organization in New York City that employs humanities PhDs; past meeting hosts have included the New York Public Library, the American Council for Learned Societies, Ithaka S+R, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Futures Initiative (CUNY), and LaGuardia Community College. The four-hour meetings feature roundtable discussions with PhDs employed at the host organization, where proseminar fellows hear about the many different professional paths of the humanities PhD. Meetings also include workshops run by MLA staff members (all with PhDs) addressing career-building strategies and skills, such as growing and maintaining a professional network, articulating transferable skills on a résumé or in a cover letter, and establishing a professional online presence.
In between large-group meetings, smaller groups of proseminar fellows meet at other cultural organizations or educational institutions in New York City for sixty- to ninety-minute site visits. Site visits provide fellows with the opportunity to conduct informational interviews with PhDs working outside the academy and to find out more about the places where PhDs find meaningful work. Past locations of site visits have included the New York Historical Society, the Frick Collection, the Morgan Library and Museum, the Whiting Foundation, the Teagle Foundation, Humanities New York, and Columbia University Press.
Each cohort of proseminar fellows forms a community of colleagues who are interested in the broader questions of doctoral education and employment horizons for humanities PhDs. Many proseminar alumni report that the cohort itself was the most valuable aspect of the proseminar for them; it helped them feel less alone in exploring their career ambitions and provided them with a ready-made professional network.
To find out more, you can view or download a sample proseminar syllabus or read blog posts by past proseminar fellows.
Applications for the 2016–2017 Proseminar are now closed. Applications for the 2017–2018 seminar will open in spring 2017.
The 2016–17 Cohort
The 2016–17 cohort was selected from over a hundred and fifty applicants. They represent twelve different universities from four states. The cohort is diverse in background and experience, but as a whole its members were chosen for their energy, thoughtfulness, and ability to articulate the stakes of larger conversations about careers for humanists and graduate education in the humanities. Proseminar participants are ambassadors for the program, taking ideas and information back to their institutions, representing the initiative at regional and national events, and blogging on this Web site about what they have learned. It is our hope that the proseminar will result in a tool kit of materials that institutions and departments can use to help their graduate students, whatever the students’ chosen career paths.
Miriam Atkin grew up in Buffalo, New York, where she studied poetry, first through a lucky proximity to writers convening around local bars and bookstores, and then through the Poetics Program at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York. In 2008 she began an MFA in Art Writing at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan and, later, a PhD in English at the Graduate Center, City University of New York, both of which helped open her creative practice to collaborations in video and performance. Since then, and as a result of four years teaching composition and poetry in the City University of New York system, she has been developing an approach to writing pedagogy that treats the defamiliarizing effects of aesthetic experience as the grounds from which a student might create an autonomous space for writing-as-thinking. Her conception of a liberatory education sees learning as a casual process that arises from the accidental urgencies of everyday living, which formal instruction only serves to support.
Natalie Berkman is a doctoral candidate in the Department of French and Italian at Princeton University, currently working on her dissertation, under the direction of Professor David Bellos, on the mathematical methods of the Oulipo. After completing her BA in mathematics, creative writing, and French literature at Johns Hopkins University, she chose to pursue her PhD in French literature to examine the Oulipo’s unique interdisciplinary marriage of mathematics and literature. Her dissertation examines the influence of various branches of mathematical thought—set theory, algebra, combinatorics, algorithms, and geometry—on the philosophy and production of the Oulipo and the reception of Oulipian texts. Given her scientific background, Natalie is also highly involved in the digital humanities: she programmed Oulipian texts as one of the inaugural projects of the Princeton Center for Digital Humanities and coordinated the transcription team for the Oulipo archival transcription project as an associated member of the ANR DifdePo.
Patrick Butler is a doctoral candidate in medieval studies at the University of Connecticut. His primary research interests are in Middle English romance, paleography, and manuscript studies. In his dissertation, “‘And Sore Hem the Kings Blod / That It Schuld Be Spilt So’: The Resonance of Violence on Politicized Bodies in Fourteenth-Century English Romance,” he seeks to unsettle monolithic assumptions about bodily violence in romance in order to reimagine a genre usually regarded as “escapist” literature as an imaginative space for the exploration and confrontation of political anxieties. In addition to his graduate studies he works as an archival assistant at the University of Connecticut Archives and Special Collections in the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center.
Valeria G. Castelli is a 2016–17 College Core Curriculum Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow at New York University. Valeria holds a PhD in Italian studies from New York University (2016). Her dissertation is entitled “Rhetoric, Politics, and Ethics in Contemporary Italian Documentary Film.” Valeria received her laurea (BA) in lettere moderne (modern literature) with a specialization in modern philology from the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore di Milano and her MA in Italian studies from University College London. Her research interests include documentary film studies, media studies, social movements, artistic activism, and social change. Valeria was a 2015–16 Public Humanities Fellow at the New York Council for the Humanities and the Center for the Humanities at New York University, where she designed a public humanities project in collaboration with the Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition.
Francisco Delgado is a doctoral candidate in English at Stony Brook University. His dissertation examines how Native American authors and their Asian American contemporaries use the dystopian genre to critique interracial relations from the 1990s to the present. Before coming to Stony Brook, he earned an MA in English at Brooklyn College, City University of New York, and a BA from the University at New Paltz, State University of New York. He is also the recipient of a Public Humanities Fellowship at the New York Council for the Humanities, for which he is working on an interactive Web site to teach the language and promote the culture of the Seneca Indian Nation, of which he is an enrolled member. He lives with his wife, their son, and their dog in Queens, New York, where he writes poetry and prose—though not as often as he would like.
Cynthia Estremera is a doctoral student in English at Lehigh University and teaches undergraduate courses in English and in Africana studies. She is also an instructor at the Lehigh University Summer Scholar Institute, which is dedicated to transitioning first-generation students of color to the academic environment. Cynthia’s dissertation research explores racialized identity politics in order to create a more nuanced recognition of the fluid, transnational embodiments of blackness that range across fraught geo-socio-political subjectivities with distinct connections to citizenship in the United States. She has published on Latina feminist praxis at The Feminist Wire and hip hop scholarship on presidential allusions in rap music in The Hip Hop and Obama Reader (Oxford UP, 2015). Cynthia is interested in exploring code-switching and in developing versatile skills that can cross academic borders at this year’s Connected Academics proseminar. She is committed to social justice work that enhances visibility for Latina and underserved communities.
Will Fenton is the Albert M. Greenfield Foundation Dissertation Fellow at the Library Company of Philadelphia and a doctoral candidate at Fordham University, where he specializes in nineteenth-century American literature and digital humanities. His dissertation, “Unpeaceable Kingdom: Fighting Quakers, Revolutionary Violence, and the Antebellum Novel,” examines the discrepancy between fictional representations of fighting Quakers and their historical practices of pacifism and political participation. He is also creating Digital Paxton, a digital critical edition to the Paxton pamphlet wars (1764).
Will has served as the director of the Writing Center at Fordham University Lincoln Center, as editor of Eloquentia Perfecta, and as a teaching fellow. He is the recipient of a Haverford Gest Fellowship, a HASTAC Scholarship, and Fordham’s Innovative Pedagogy Scholarship and Digital Start-Up Grant.
His work has appeared in Slate, Inside Higher Ed, and PC Magazine, for which he writes a biweekly column, The Autodidact, on educational technology.
Emil L. Cruz-Fernández was born in the Dominican Republic and emigrated to the United States as an adolescent. He is currently a PhD candidate in Spanish at the Graduate Center, City University of New York. His dissertation focuses on aljamiado-morisco literature of the Spanish Golden Age, where he explores the characterization of the Prophet Mohammed as a mono-mythical figure and the notion of perennial philosophy in aljamiado texts of the 1500s. He received his master’s degree in Spanish literature from Lehman College, City University of New York. Emil has also traveled abroad to study art history and languages at Universidad de Alcalá de Henares in Spain and at the Center for Arabic Language and Eastern Studies (CALES) in Sana’a, Yemen. He is a public school teacher, an actor, a theater director, and a passionate lover of learning who has dedicated his life to the arts and to passing on the light of knowledge to others.
Sarah Hildebrand is a PhD candidate in English at the Graduate Center, City University of New York, and a former climbing arborist. She received an MA in English from the University of Washington, Seattle. Sarah’s research takes place at the intersection of ecocriticism and the medical humanities, examining spaces and ethics of care in twentieth- and twenty-first-century graphic memoir and life writing. She is also interested in exploring the ways nonacademic experiences inform academic work. Through the proseminar Sarah hopes to help reduce the stigma of academic “failure” for PhDs who choose to be adventurous in their career paths.
Amanda Lerner is a fifth-year doctoral candidate in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at Yale University. She specializes in science fiction as both a genre and a mode. Her dissertation, tentatively titled “In Dialogue with the Future: Time Travel in Soviet and Post-Soviet Russian Fiction,” focuses on how a traditionally generic device such as time travel can complicate and supercede the generic distinction of “science fiction.” She uses time travel as a means to explore the creation, and ultimate destruction, of the Soviet identity. In addition to writing, researching, and cuddling with her dog, Amanda works at the McDougal Center for Graduate Student Life, where, as a graduate student life fellow, she coordinates events for the graduate and professional student community at Yale.
Josephine Livingstone is a writer, editor, and academic. She holds a PhD in English from New York University (2015), where she wrote a dissertation on race and landscape in medieval European culture. She is currently a postdoctoral lecturer in New York University’s Expository Writing Program, and has previously taught medieval literature as an adjunct at New York University and Columbia University. Outside the academy, Livingstone works as a book critic and essayist for The New Yorker, The New Republic, The Guardian, and many others. She writes a column about academia for The Awl called Lab Reports, profiling unsung researchers and exploring issues in contemporary university life. Livingstone also works as program coordinator at n+1, a magazine of politics, literature, and culture, and as the editor of Websafe 2k16. The latter is an online database, founded in 2015 by Livingstone and two collaborators, of memories about the pre-broadband Internet.
Yiyi Luo completed her BA in Chinese literature at Fudan University in 2008 and her MA in Asian studies at the University of Colorado, Boulder, in 2011. Her research interests are medieval Chinese literature and history, with a primary focus on medieval Chinese poetry. She is also interested in the court culture and religions in medieval China. Yiyi Luo’s MA thesis explores the complexity of intertextuality in medieval Chinese literature by examining various motifs and tropes related to Mount Beimang, a well-known graveyard, in different types of medieval Chinese poetry. Informed by similar issues related to intertextuality and the interrelation between literature and religion, her dissertation focuses on the poet Yu Xin (513–581) and considers how one specific authorial image of him became dominant, despite the diverse body of poetic voices in the literature attributed to him.
Alexandra Méndez is a third-year PhD student in Latin American and Iberian cultures at Columbia University and is also completing the certificate program at Columbia’s Institute for Comparative Literature and Society. She studies narrative and the circulation of information in sixteenth-century Iberian worlds and is interested in the intersections of visual, literary, and material cultures. Before beginning the PhD, she spent 2013–14 on a Henry Russell Shaw Traveling Fellowship in Seville, Spain, carrying out research and creative writing. She is currently a graduate fellow with the cultural review Public Books. She holds a BA in history and literature from Harvard University.
Keyana Parks is a fourth-year PhD candidate in English literature at the University of Pennsylvania. Her dissertation explores the proliferation of satire in contemporary African American fiction and the attendant debates around post-blackness in connection with African American cultural production. She contends that examining satire in conjunction with a post-black rhetoric offers new ways of thinking about the political, social, cultural, and structural value of blackness in a society that operates under the auspices of color blindness, interrogating both conservative and liberal, intra- and interracial expectations of black identity and representation. This fall she will be teaching a junior research seminar entitled Black Humor: Comedy and Satire in African American Culture. As copresident of the University of Pennsylvania’s Fontaine Society and as the community relations vice-president of the Black Graduate and Professional Student Assembly (BGAPSA), Keyana looks forward to imparting her proseminar knowledge to other graduate students.
Brian Pietras is a doctoral candidate in English at Rutgers University. His dissertation, “Evander’s Mother: Gender, Antiquity, and Authorship in Early Modern England,” traces how the Renaissance rediscovery of ancient women writers and their fragmentary bodies of work led to the formation of new theories and practices of English vernacular authorship. An article drawn from this project has appeared in Renaissance Drama; another is forthcoming in Spenser Studies. While at Rutgers, Pietras has received the Dean’s Research Award, the Bridget Gellert Lyons Prize, and an award from the Society for the Study of Early Modern Women.
Cathal Patrick Pratt is a second-year doctoral candidate in English literature at Fordham University, specializing in Irish literature. An immigrant from a multinational family, he is particularly interested in diasporic communities and postcolonialism. Cathal is a recent graduate of New York University’s Master of Arts Program in Irish and Irish-American Studies. During his coursework at Glucksman Ireland House he examined Irish-Argentine literary interactions. His research interests include modernism, postmodernism, travel literature, Irish literature, Argentine literature, and theater. Cathal received his BA in English from the University of Utah in 2011. Outside of academia, he has lead a varied career as a professional musician, histotechnician, and banking consultant. He is an avid folk musician and regularly volunteers with Irish language groups in New York City, where he currently resides.
Peter Raccuglia is a fourth-year doctoral candidate in the English department at Yale University, specializing in nineteenth-century American literature. His research focuses on the emergence of environmental vocabularies in geography, cosmography, perceptual psychology, and literature. He is the recipient of a 2014–15 Mellon fellowship in the digital humanities. Before beginning his graduate work, Peter was an acquiring editor at Northwestern UP.
Jennifer Rhodes is a doctoral candidate in Italian and comparative literature at Columbia University, where she specializes in nineteenth- and twentieth-century European literature. She is particularly interested in sites of interchange between literature and the visual and performing arts; her dissertation explores Richard Wagner’s influence on the twentieth-century novel. Jennifer teaches Masterpieces of Western Literature in Columbia’s Core Curriculum and spends a great deal of time scheming ways to incorporate Metropolitan Opera excursions into her syllabi. During summers she indulges her operatic obsession on the staff of the Santa Fe Opera, where she writes subtitles for seasonal productions.
Carolyn Ureña is a PhD candidate in comparative literature at Rutgers University and a 2016–17 Ford Foundation Dissertation Fellow. Her dissertation project, “Invisible Wounds: Rethinking Recognition in Decolonial Narratives of Illness and Disability,” brings the racial-phenomenological perspective of revolutionary Martinican psychiatrist Frantz Fanon into conversation with discourses of black lived experience and bodily disruption in US and Caribbean literature and film. She earned her MA in English language and literature from the University of Maryland, College Park, in 2011, and her AB in comparative literature from Princeton University in 2008. As an interdisciplinary researcher she is passionate about building on the links between the humanities and medicine. In her work as a fellowship advisor at GradFund, the graduate fellowship advising office of the Rutgers Graduate School–New Brunswick, she enjoys helping graduate students across the disciplines secure external research funding through individual peer mentoring meetings and grant writing workshops.
Sara Curnow Wilson is a doctoral candidate in English literature at Temple University, where she also writes and photographs for the College of Liberal Arts marketing department. She specializes in twentieth-century British literature and the history and theory of the novel and plans to defend her dissertation in the spring of 2017. Her dissertation explores the influence of literary naturalism on 1930s British modernism, arguing that writers like Samuel Beckett, Jean Rhys, George Orwell, and Virginia Woolf adapt naturalist conventions during the decade in order to create a literature that is more socially and politically relevant than 1920s British modernism. Sara believes that it is important for all graduate students to be aware of the opportunities inside and outside academia. She grew up in the mountains, lives in South Philadelphia with her husband and her cat, and is happiest near the water.
Connected Academics 2015–16 Proseminar CohortClick here to see the bios of the 2015–16 proseminar cohort.