ASECS Award for Excellence in Graduate Student Mentoring Goes to Dennis Moore

ASECS_award_2017_DMooreAt the 2017 ASECS national conference in Minneapolis, MN, the Graduate Student Caucus was pleased to confer the Award for Excellence in Graduate Student Mentoring to Dr. Dennis Moore. An Associate Professor and University Distinguished Teaching Professor at Florida State University, he specializes in eighteenth-century American culture and literature in addition to African-American literature and culture. His record of service within his discipline is well known, from founding the American Studies Association’s Early American Matters Caucus to having served as president of ASECS’s Americanist affiliate, the Society of Early Americanists, and serving currently as Founding Mentor for the SEA’s Junior Scholars Caucus.

Dr. Moore’s service to his institution and his students earned him this most recent honor. He has directed over ten doctoral dissertations, over ten MA thesis efforts, served on over twenty M.A. committees, served as a University Representative on multiple Ph.D. and M.A. committees at Florida State, conducted graduate workshops and sessions, and offered his knowledge to many graduate students over the years at the annual ASECS conferences. In 1999 he received Florida State’s University Distinguished Teacher Award, having won a University Teaching Award there in 1993 (his second year on the FSU faculty), 2005, and 2013, and has a number of mentees both current and past who are grateful for the time and knowledge he shared with them. We are honored to present this award to Dr. Moore, and we appreciate all he has done for the graduate students of Florida State, ASECS, and beyond.

The ASECS Award for Excellence in Graduate Student Mentoring was established to honor scholars in any field of eighteenth-century studies who generously offer career-long mentorship to others, investing in the future of our field and sharing their knowledge. The ASECS Graduate Student Caucus awards this honor yearly to worthy individuals who are nominated by their peers and mentees, both current and former.

ASECS17 Graduate Mentoring Coffee

The 2017 Graduate Mentoring Coffee took place in Minneapolis on Friday, March 31.  Thanks to an overwhelmingly supportive response from established scholars in the field, we had far more mentors than mentees volunteer, and each of our graduate students was matched with a scholar experienced in their areas of inquiry.  Several pairings arranged to meet in the St. Croix room for coffee during the 9:45am panel slot, and many more made arrangements to meet for coffee or a meal at a time convenient for both.

Feedback from the participants included:

“My meeting was extremely useful. Professor Anne Huse was very generous and gave me a lot of tips about job search. She review some of my applications material and offer to review it in the future. Excellent!” ~Kevin Sedeño-Guillén, University of Kentucky

“I really appreciated it! […] I am thankful for this kind of opportunity at ASECS, which I think really opens up opportunities for grad students to meet faculty in very different places in their careers. It’s also nice to become part of networks that faculty members themselves have made over time at ASECS.” ~Travis Chi Wing Lau, UPenn

“Great! I really enjoyed meeting Melanie Zynel and we were able to exchange some information that I hope will be helpful to her.” ~Lisa Moore, University of Texas at Austin

“It was extremely productive and useful to talk to an established professional about his career path and to get his advice; also, it was very useful to *heard* by someone who thought of me as a new member of his profession.” ~James Ascher (UVa)

“From the perspective of the mentor, it was a good experience. It was interesting to see what my assigned student was working on, and I hope I was able to offer her useful advice on her dissertation proposal.” ~Deborah Weiss, The University of Alabama

Interview with Dr. Dennis Moore

In the newest installment of our interview series, ASECS Graduate Student Caucus Chair Mallory Porch interviews Dr. Dennis D. Moore, Associate Professor of English and University Distinguished Teaching Professor at Florida State University.

1. What critical transformations have reshaped the field of eighteenth-century studies over the course of your career?

Such transformations!, including the extent to which digital resources and digital work have become nearly central. Cathy Davidson continues to dazzle us with her breadth just as the late Jay Fliegelman was so good at doing. As for spatial transformations: thanks to Paul Gilroy, we think about the Black Atlantic, thanks to Joe Roach we think about the Circum-Atlantic, and so on. The Caribbean, with all its revolutions and its ingenuous ways of extracting profits from slaves, was always there, but now the late Srinivas Aravamudan as well as Laurent DuBois among others have been reminding us how crucial it is that we keep our eyes on the space in between Europe and the so-called New World. (Thank you, David Noble, for reminding us how myopic a view of history those two words perpetuate.) There’s also much, much more just past the other side of this continent, and interest in Captain Cook and his rambles in the Pacific has blossomed into quite a bit of scholarship, by Michelle Burnham among others, that refuses to let us continue seeing the 1700s through Eurocentric lenses. Well, as for time, we’ve increasingly found ways to talk not only about the long eighteenth century but also about what I’ve been referring to at many an ASECS conference as the wide one (please see previous four sentences).

2. How have the parameters of eighteenth-century literary history and periodization changed over the course of your career?

Please see previous half-dozen sentences.

3. What classes have you most enjoyed teaching? How has your teaching evolved over the course of your career?

The content has become far less U.S. centric, and I’m glad. As for how my teaching has continued to evolve, I do watch for and relish finding ways of helping young scholars think out loud in ways that add to what we’ve all read. At the graduate level, the course I’ve taught again this spring is one in which I continue to learn the most: “Slave Narratives and Neo-Slave Narratives.” We began by reading Beloved, with the understanding we’d circle right back to it after having read a range of first-person accounts by former slaves as well a range of novels from our lifetime that help us think about slavery and its ongoing effects. One is Morrison’s A Mercy, which forces the reader to rethink the early days of chattel slavery hereabouts; reading Sacred Hunger forced us to think about the greed that drove the Atlantic slave trade. We also read Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Did I mention the oral reports? First one was on Colson Whitehead’s brand-new The Underground Railroad, around which two students ended up building fine papers. There’s another course on “‘Indian’ Captivity Narratives in Context” that I look forward to teaching next fall.

4. What advice do you have for graduate students who are transitioning into the role of assistant professor?

If only every young scholar’s transition were into that O so traditional role! Whatever job that first one is after finishing the Ph.D., it’ll likely have a lot in common with grad school: opportunities to meet new people and to maintain existing friendships and working relationships; deadlines and more deadlines; teaching, sometimes resembling a course one has already taught but often not. If the job involves a research assignment, the pressure to be productive will feel familiar, deadlines and all. As for advice, it never hurts to listen, methinks.

5. What advice do you have on attending conferences and giving conference papers?

Once you’re there, listening will help, not only as you attend other scholars’ sessions but also as the other people on your panel and people from the audience comment and ask questions. It’s often tempting to zero in on conferences based on location – ah!, San Diego; ah!, Paris – but that temptation is one that’s well worth avoiding. Is there an organization that stages the conference every year or every two years? Is the organization one of the few remaining ones that publish proceedings? If so, there’s another temptation to resist; instead, think about the journals where you’ve been finding articles whose gestation included a session at the conference you’ve got your eye on. Another temptation that I urge young scholars to resist is giving a paper on a panel that is in effect a grad student ghetto: if every presenter is a grad student, who besides other grad students and maybe a significant other will bother to attend? (Yes, that advice bleeds over into thinking about proposing to give a paper at a conference consisting of only grad students’ papers.) As a reminder, there are productive ways to attend a conference and participate in it that don’t involve giving a paper; a number of journals are on the lookout for grad students willing to write up a summary of papers at a particular conference. Another reminder is that many organizations have not only a national presence, and national conferences, but also chapters for specific geographic regions. Many colleagues tell me they, and often their grad students as well, found giving one’s first-ever paper at a regional can help build a grad student’s confidence. Closer to home, though, does the program where you’re currently a grad student have writing groups, dissertation groups, and so on? Such networking often happens online, so that it matters much less which campus a grad student calls home. Yes, one notion that’s central to this paragraph is networking, and it’s clear to me that a group which helps grad students with networking is ASECS’s Graduate Student Caucus.

6. Could you describe your approach to mentoring graduate students? What are some important attributes that graduate students should look for when choosing a faculty mentor?

Speaking of networking, that’s what a grad student here invited me to talk about, for a recent meeting of the students’ Advanced Literary Scholarship discussion group, where the focus is on professionalization. I said instead of my coming to talk about networking, let’s discuss it. In that context, this question of how to pick who’ll direct your thesis or dissertation came up, over and above a platitude or two (e.g., a certain amount involves chemistry between you, as the student, and this person whose scholarship and integrity you admire). I recommended figuring out whether you want to work with someone who’s inclusive or exclusive. I recommended it then, and I still do.

Interview with Professor Eve Bannet

New year, new blog post! In this installment of our interview series, our own Mallory Porch interviews Eve Tavor Bannet, George Lynn Cross Professor and Professor of English and Gender Studies at the University of Oklahoma. 

1. What critical transformations have reshaped the field of eighteenth-century studies over the course of your career?

The rise and demise of Theory with a capital T, followed by cultural studies, identity politics, the culture wars, post-feminism, queer studies, the return of archival research, transnational studies, ecocriticism, formalist and cognitive approaches, digital humanities….I’m sure I’ve left some out.

2. What advice do you have for graduate students who are transitioning to the role of assistant professor?

Count your blessings.  It is no longer certain that this is your future.   Above 75% of university teachers are no longer tenure-track.

More troubling, perhaps: some administrations are changing the character of state universities to bring them in line with for-profit institutions. They anticipate a future of flipped classes, where all content will be delivered online, and class-meetings reserved for discussion or clarification. Accordingly, they have begun to replace research faculty who are expert in a field with cheaper term/adjunct faculty who don’t have to know much beyond what is in the program. If I were entering the academy now, I would acquire every advanced computer skill that I could possibly need not only for teaching and research, but also for writing content for computer programs should this imagined future pan out– and I would keep my skills up to date.

3. What scholarly writing methods/strategies have served you well over the course of your career?

I begin from a question, not an answer, and follow it wherever it takes me.

I figured out when and how I write best. Everyone is different –some people need to get everything on paper and edit it down afterwards, or talk into a tape, type it up and edit that; others need to perfect their text sentence by sentence. Detailed outlines work for some people, not for others, or for some projects, not for others. Then there are best times of day, best tools and location for writing, knowing when to stop for the day, how to build writing into one’s head and writing time into one’s life….

Dorothea Krook, a  mentor of mine early on, told me to adopt Graham Green’s policy of writing a page a day: “A page a day, my dear, is a book a year.” (Or it was when books still ran to over 300 pages).

4. Could you describe your approach to mentoring graduate students? What are some important attributes that graduate students should look for when choosing a faculty member?

I have dumped term papers and dissertations in favor of asking grad students to write in conference paper, article or book formats, on the grounds that knowing how to write a term paper or dissertation is useless outside grad school, and thinking in terms of conference papers, articles and books takes some practice. I also encourage grad students to think for themselves and come up with their own theses, helping as needed; but I see  that some mentors pretty much feed students the thesis they should develop. This is one thing you might think about when selecting a mentor: which does s/he do, and which works better for me?

For the rest, my advice for picking a mentor corresponds with my advice for interviewing on the academic job market.  Find out all you can about the faculty member/department, interview them to get a sense of the character/s, methods of working, and chemistry/dynamics involved, think of this as a marriage, and ask yourself honestly and very seriously: is this right for me?  If it’s not right, and there aren’t other options, ask yourself how much compromise/misery it is worth to you to continue on the path you are on.

5. What advice do you have on selecting topics? What advice do you have for grad students on writing a dissertation prospectus?

Pick a question you really care about—it’s going to be in your life for a long time—and finish your dissertation before you lose interest in the subject. Once you’ve lost interest, it’s hard/impossible to make yourself go on.

Don’t assume that your dissertation must or will look anything like the prospectus.

6. What classes have you most enjoyed teaching? How has your teaching evolved over the course of your career? 

Obviously, I prefer teaching subjects I work on and write about. But that doesn’t always happen.

There are generations of students–what they know, how they think, what interests them changes about every 4 years. What I teach and how I teach changes accordingly.

7. What advice on securing competitive research grants do you have for graduate students?

Find someone who has secured the one you are after/or read for the awarding agency if you can, and run what you plan to submit by them. Correct it accordingly. Once you have done due diligence in this fashion, don’t take rejection personally. There’s a lot of politics in who gets grants.

8. What advice do you have on attending conferences and giving conference papers?

NEVER, EVER, EVER deliver a paper—OR SUBMIT AN ARTICLE—that no one but you has read. Find one reader who knows the field and one who doesn’t. Ask the latter to tell you if your argument is clear and what bits they don’t understand, and rewrite accordingly. This will save you countless rejections.

Deliver your paper; don’t read it, mumbling and looking down. Pitch your voice to the back of the room, and manage your voice—phrasing, pauses and expression.

9. What are your current research interests? What are you working on at present, and what do you want to work on next?

I have just finished a manuscript on manners of reading. I will work on articles on a variety of subjects for a while, before settling on another long-term project.


British Women Writers Conference 2017

The 2017 British Women Writers Conference will be held at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I interviewed the co-organizers, Lauren Pinkerton and Doreen Thierauf, both graduate students at UNC, about their experiences planning and running the upcoming conference. The GSC hopes this post will serve as a helpful guide for other graduate students responsible for running multi-day events as well as encourage ASECS members to apply to present at this exciting conference!


How did you hear about the opportunity to host the British Women Writers Conference? What made you decide to put together a proposal?

Doreen: We attended BWWC 2015 in New York City for the first time and were very impressed with the organization. We hadn’t known that graduate students are in charge of the process and we loved the events that Livia Woods and Meechal Hoffman from CUNY had put together. When they welcomed everyone outside the venue during a break on the first day of the conference, Livia and Meechal mentioned that the BWWA was still looking for organizers for the 2017 conference. Lauren looked at me expectantly and we started laughing. We expressed our interest to some of the BWWA board members the same day and started contacting graduate students in our own department with the news right away. Since then, we haven’t stopped planning.

Could you talk a little about the BWWC itself? How do graduate students in particular benefit from this conference?

Lauren: The British Women Writers Association promotes research on historical women writers whose work has been neglected thus far. You can find more information about the Association here: For graduate students, it’s important to know that the BWWC is a particularly supportive and collegial conference. Although Doreen and I have only attended two BWWC conferences so far (the 2015 conference at CUNY and the 2016 conference at UGA), we noticed the organization’s inherent culture of mentorship and support. Not only do the organizers accept a large number of graduate student proposals every year (around 40% usually), but the atmosphere at the conference encourages non-hierarchical exchange of ideas as well as collegiality and friendship. Doreen and I also received plenty of support and advice from the BWWA board as we began planning the 2017 conference, but we were still encouraged to make the conference our own.

How did you go about setting a plan for the proposal. That is, how much planning, fundraising, etc. went into the proposal stage?

Doreen: We sat in on the board meeting at the 2015 BWWC after indicating that we were interested in running the event ourselves. The board–including previous organizers–were incredibly helpful with advice and shared their own proposals, budgets, and conference programs with us. Kirstyn Leuner–now a postdoctoral fellow at Dartmouth, but previously part of the BWWC steering committee at the University at Colorado–deserves a huge shoutout here because she answered all my questions patiently and allowed me to access her cache of conference-related documents. Once Lauren and I had sifted through all the information, we drew up our own proposal. It is a fairly formulaic genre, and we had four or five past proposals to work from, so it was mostly an issue of researching attractive locations, reaching out to faculty and graduate students in the department, and asking volunteers to pick a task or two. Once we had identified our faculty adviser, Dr. Kimberly Stern, and secured support from our department chair, we began contacting campus institutions that we hoped would likely support the conference, including the Graduate School, the Provost Office, and the College of Arts and Sciences. We received funding promises in excess of $10,000 while still drafting the proposal, and of course we let the BWWA know that UNC was enthusiastic about bringing the BWWC to our campus.

What challenges and advantages did you face as a graduate student attempting to put together a conference of this size?

Lauren: Doreen and I have a wonderful support system—our faculty advisor, our steering committee, the UNC English department—but, as co-chairs, we shoulder most of the responsibility. By the time the conference happens next June, Doreen and I will have been planning BWWC 2017 for two years. We have spent countless hours drafting fundraising proposals, touring potential spaces for panels and keynotes, reviewing catering quotes, creating the conference website and program, and sending out hundreds of emails. Of course, while definitely challenging, conference planning as a graduate student has been an invaluable lesson as to what professional life at the university looks like. And—I definitely want to emphasize this—it’s been really, really fun!

How did you decide on the conference theme? How did the theme influence your choice of speakers?

Doreen: I believe I blurted out the conference theme while sitting over dinner with Lauren, Meechal, and Livia at the Harlem Tavern during BWWC 2015. We pondered the importance of the BWWA’s 25th anniversary, particularly in terms of paying tribute to its founders and early attendees–who are now senior scholars–and inviting early-career researchers to help shape the future of the profession. I had read somewhere that the average human generation is a quarter-century long and I thought it would be a neat theme for this sort of juncture. If I remember correctly, someone said “that’s it,” and it was decided. When drafting the proposal, we came up with a long list of possible keynote speakers, but our top picks all agreed right away so we didn’t have to whittle down the list. From the start, we had planned to include a 25th-anniversary retrospective and invited Pamela Corpron Parker, Cindy Lacom, and Donelle Ruwe, co-founders of the BWWA, for a plenary or a shared keynote. We were devastated when Dr. Parker passed away earlier this summer, so the whole conference–and the opening keynote in particular–will be dedicated to Dr. Parker’s memory and legacy.

What is the format of this year’s conference?

Lauren: The majority of our events will be daily paper sessions, spread across three days, along with seven roundtables (please check out our website for individual roundtable CFPs), three professionalization workshops for graduate students, a rare book exhibit, and, of course, the three major keynotes, one every night. Next to the retrospective keynote we already mentioned, we are delighted to welcome Andrew Stauffer (UVA) as well as Marjorie Stone (Dalhousie) and Beverly Taylor (UNC) as our keynote speakers. In addition, we will have a musical performance–“The Song Cycles of Charlotte Smith’s Beachy Head”–with an introductory lecture by Professor Beth Dolan (Lehigh). We also have a plenary discussion devoted to the topic of supporting contingent faculty research, moderated by Professor Miranda Yaggi (Indiana University). The main banquet at The Carolina Inn and a daily Southern breakfast are included in the conference fee. Other program highlights include a birthday party to celebrate the BWWC’s 25th anniversary, a welcome reception for those arriving a day early, an opening reception, a pub crawl, and a twilight campus tour.

What kinds of proposals do you hope to attract this year?

Doreen: We’re interested in “Generation” in the broadest terms–as a literary, critical, historical, political, or biological category. You can find our call for papers here: Essentially, we’re looking for ways to think about ruptures, shifts, and transitions over time in women’s writing and in feminist academic and pedagogical practice. Proposals should be 300 words long and accompanied by a short bio paragraph. Send one document to by January 15, 2017. The BWWA sponsors travel grants for graduate students who submit excellent proposals–so you should apply for those, too! We will circulate information about the travel grants in the coming weeks.

What are your hopes for the 2017 conference?

Lauren: I hope that all of our attendees will have an enjoyable and productive time at the conference. There will be lots of individual events as well as sufficiently long breaks in between for attendees to chat, catch up, or get to know each other. Doreen and I have had such a great time at past BWWC conferences. Our main goal is to make the 2017 one live up to those before us!  

Doreen: We have been working on this event for a long time already, so my greatest hope is that everything will go as planned. We anticipate that we will have to solve some unexpected issues on the spot, but we’re doing all we can to ensure a smooth and enjoyable conference for everyone.


Interview with Professor Felicity Nussbaum

The Graduate Student Caucus is excited to announce a new blog mini-series, featuring interviews with faculty members in the field discussing advances in eighteenth-century studies, the state of the profession, and advice for current grad students.

In this first installment of our series, Michael Nicholson, Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Humanities at the University of Toronto’s Jackman Humanities Institute, interviews Felicity Nussbaum, Distinguished Research Professor at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Interview with Professor Felicity Nussbaum:

I’ve been asked to answer lots of questions that relate to graduate students in eighteenth-century studies, and I’m happy to do so. Teaching and mentoring grad students has been my greatest joy over the many decades of my career. I could write reams about all the questions that were given to me, but I’ll just choose a few among them. Here goes—

1. What critical transformations have reshaped the field of eighteenth-century studies over the course of my career?

The feminist movement of the 1970s was essential to the direction of my interests and my research. Gloria Steinem early talked about the “click” when a woman recognized inequality based on sex, and those clicks were loud and frequent when I began my career. I had no women professors in graduate school, and the professor in my bibliography class scoffed at my wanting to work on Elizabeth Elstob, a brilliant scholar and linguist, for a class project. My first book was on satires against women in eighteenth-century British literature, and several of the reviewers questioned whether there was, in fact, any such tradition. But the women’s movement also meant that I was fortunate enough to be mentored by a series of senior male professors who wanted to increase the numbers of women in the profession and who offered me valuable advice.

Another important transformation was the “theory” revolution of the 1970s and 1980s. Laura Brown and I collected a group of essays, The New Eighteenth Century, which chided scholars in our field who were unwilling to entertain approaches other than a staid traditional historicism. We encouraged experiments in feminist criticism, historical materialism, new historicism, and post-structuralism, for example. That volume was controversial but, as a number of people have told me, it enabled a fresh conversation about the way we think about what we do and authorized some younger scholars to pursue new avenues.

2. What advice do you have for graduate students who are transitioning into the role of assistant professor?

The transition is often more difficult than one anticipates. You are no longer part of a graduate school community, and you are usually in an unfamiliar place where everything is new, from the code needed to use the Xerox machine to finding a dentist. I tell grad students that the first year is about teaching, connecting with faculty in your department and elsewhere, and allowing your dissertation to lie fallow. Plan to use the summer following the first year to publish another article, or perhaps two, and to apply for short-term fellowships for the following year. Visiting rare book libraries is a great way to meet other scholars, and to gather exciting ideas. Also, merely writing the proposals helps develop your project. In your third year, apply for long-term fellowships so that you can tackle the revisions to your dissertation and get the manuscript to the press in the fifth year. Of course, life intervenes, and you may not be able to do all this in a timely manner—but do your best. Hopefully you will be exempt from committee work your first year, but do offer to participate in service your second year.

3. What scholarly writing methods/strategies have served you well over the course of your career?

When I began my career, I thought I might write only the occasional article. In the first summer I visited Yale University (the Boswell factory), was introduced to Professor William K. Wimsatt, and fell in love with archival work. My dissertation had been on James Boswell, and I wanted to read the manuscript of The Life of Johnson, where I was surprised to find revisions regarding Johnson’s temper that spurred my first article.

I discovered that writing was actually therapeutic for me, and I still find it so. As I think of ideas I would like to pursue, I jot notes in files to be consulted later. In terms of actual writing practice—I write for long uninterrupted stretches. But when my children were young, I broke the writing into small chunks. What can I accomplish in two hours? In three? In four? I always make notes to myself about what I want to work on when I return to the essay or chapter. And I review what I wrote before moving on. Sometimes it is such a mess that the revisions consume the whole day!

4. Could you describe your approach to mentoring graduate students? What are some important attributes that graduate students should look for when choosing a faculty mentor?

It’s hard to put my approach in a nutshell, but mentoring graduate students means, at the very least, being available to them on a predictable basis, and offering advice at every juncture. Most graduate students are highly self-directed, and I think of my role as stimulating their interests and encouraging the development of paths less traveled. Especially critical are the times in graduate careers when one prepares for exams and chooses a dissertation topic. I have found it is important to encourage students to keep moving along and, if they seem intimidated by the next step, to try to demystify it so that it seems possible to achieve, or to make a call to a colleague who might help. I ask the students who are working with me to let me vet their applications, letters, and abstracts. I make clear that they are very welcome to disregard any advice I give.

5. What advice do you have on selecting dissertation topics? What advice do you have for graduate students on writing a dissertation prospectus?

A dissertation project extends for at least two years and often for five or six years beyond. Obviously, that’s a long time! I encourage grad students to build on their earlier work but especially to follow their passions. Read widely in the books and articles that are hot off the press. Often a topic in another field will give you an idea as to what to pursue on an eighteenth-century topic. And sometimes a topic that seems dull or unimportant at first mention will blossom during subsequent discussions into a compelling idea. Don’t just follow the latest trend. By the time your dissertation is a book, the topic will probably seem passé.

6. What classes have you most enjoyed teaching? How has your teaching evolved over the course of your career? 

This is a hard question to answer, because I have enjoyed every graduate class I have taught. I have been fortunate to teach a graduate seminar every year since coming to UCLA (and many before that), and usually the topic is related to my own research. For example, “Garrick and the Blues[stockings],” “Boswell, Johnson, and Thrale,” “Tragedy in Novel and Drama,” “Racial Thinking in Eighteenth-Century Literature,” etc. My courses always involve primary texts, literary criticism, theoretical readings, and oral reports on related topics as well as a seminar paper. My method has probably not evolved very much, except in that I try to stay very current with recent scholarship.

7. What advice on securing competitive research grants do you have for graduate students?

Perseverance. Just keep trying. Ask your mentors to read your grant proposals and make suggestions well before sending them out. Use the proposal to tell a story. Getting grants has to do with writing clear, coherent proposals that are accessible to readers outside the field. If you are seeking grants at a library or institution, do your homework about their strengths and their collections. Frankly, getting grants also depends on who is on the committee, so keep trying, even with the same grant agency, because the constitution of the committees often changes each year.

8. What advice do you have on attending conferences and giving conference papers?

The tendency now among grad students is to attend quite a few conferences and give lots of papers, but this inevitably interrupts their progress-to-degree. I recommend no more than two conferences a year, but I do think that it is a good idea to go to one international conference before graduating. Prepare thoroughly for giving a paper, preferably practicing with a group of fellow students or faculty. How you answer the questions matters as much as the quality of the paper you give. At the conference, attend as many sessions as you can, and don’t hesitate to speak up if you have a comment or question. Attend the social gatherings, and use the conference as a professionalization experience.

9. What advice do you have for graduate students interviewing on the academic job market (either at MLA or via Skype)?

Again, my advice is to practice, practice, practice. Each kind of interview (phone, Skype, personal, campus) is different, and each requires practice for that specific kind of experience. So don’t hesitate to ask others to help you prep for each one of these. Talk to those who have been successful on the job market. Thoroughly familiarize yourself with the websites of the departments where you are interviewing. Think of questions to ask them, and let them know you are interested in the answers. And don’t turn down a job you haven’t been offered!

10. How have the parameters of eighteenth-century literary history and periodization changed over the course of your career?

The eighteenth century used to be divided into “The Age of….” Dryden, Swift, Pope, and Johnson. It has subsequently burgeoned forth with the expansion of attention to women’s writing (especially the novel), to the literary history of slavery and empire across the globe, and with renewed attention to the long-neglected drama of the period. It has become longer, wider, and deeper, a development I welcome! Those scholars in adjacent periods sometimes worry that we are encroaching on their territory, but with the humanities continuing to be under attack, we can, I think build on each other’s strengths and forge new knowledge as we re-imagine the divisions and the connections between literary periods.

11. What are your current research interests? What are you working on at present, and what do you want to work on next?

I’ve just finished a paper on London-Irish actresses, another on the novelist Phebe Gibbes, and still another on representations of Indian ayahs. I’ve written a series of essays on Hester Lynch Thrale Piozzi, an infinitely interesting woman, and a book may evolve from those essays. In addition, I continue to work on essays regarding literary conjunctions of abolition and Orientalism in the period.

My final bit of advice to graduate students at all points in their careers is to ask for whatever you need, whether it is information, advice, a computer, a research fund, a raise, or time off. My motto has always been, “Why not? All they can say is ‘no,’ and they might just say ‘yes’!”