Interview with Dr. Anita Guerrini, 2018 Pfizer Prize Winner for ‘The Courtiers’ Anatomists’

We are pleased to interview Dr. Anita Guerrini, Emeritus Horning Professor for the Humanities at Oregon State University, for our October blog post! To read about her wonderful publications, current research projects, and more, visit her regularly updated website.

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GSC: How did you become interested in eighteenth-century studies?

AG: I originally wanted to study the history of socialism in the nineteenth century.  Then I went to Oxford for two years and discovered the history of science, and the Scientific Revolution, and kind of settled into the period 1670-1730, which I have never really left.


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

AG: In the history of science, the eighteenth century was kind of a blank period between the Scientific Revolution and the Victorian era when I entered the field in the late 1970s.  This was particularly true of the history of medicine and the life sciences, which is what I work on.  This began to change in the 1980s, but really got going in the 1990s.  Meanwhile, I became involved in ASECS in the late 1980s and became much more aware of literary and cultural studies, which have had a major impact on my work.


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

AG: Take care of yourself.  Take time to be with friends and loved ones.  Don’t take on a lot of committee work.  Learn to say no, politely but firmly.


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

AG: Just write, every day you can.  I always write very messy first drafts, and then edit and re-edit.  When my computer broke down recently and I could not get it fixed for a while, I went back to writing in notebooks, which I found very liberating.  If you do that, write only on the right-hand page and then use the left for notes and revisions. Think about the story you want to tell, which may not fully emerge in that first draft, but will down the line.  I am a big fan of Evernote, which allows me to jot down ideas or clip articles or e-mails, all on my phone.


GSC: 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?

AG: The most important thing for a mentor is to listen.  Every graduate student is different and some require a lot more face time than others.  I realize that not everyone is suited for academic life and that recognizing that and letting it go is not a failure but a victory.  To me, writing is the most important and I spend a lot of time with my grad students on their writing.  When you choose a mentor, look for empathy, but also for someone who continues to be active in your field.  However, a long list of publications is not necessarily a recommendation.  Sometimes the person with the biggest name will not be the best mentor because they are too caught up in their own work.


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

AG: Select a topic you like, that excites you, because you are going to be spending a lot of time on it!  But don’t be afraid to adjust as you go along.  In history, I feel a topic should be archive-driven, but secondary sources will help to find the right questions to ask.   A prospectus is important in two ways: as a blueprint for the dissertation, and as an exercise in organizing your first big piece of writing.  I think the second is actually more important than the first, because only when you begin to write do you really figure out what your topic is.  So the dissertation might not end up as you thought it would from the prospectus, and that’s fine.  But it is important as a template for grant proposals and to show your committee that you know what you are doing, so it is worth spending some time on it.


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

AG: I have enjoyed teaching early modern science, the history of medicine, and the history of animals in science.  When I was at UCSB I taught a course on disease and the environment which is probably my all-time favorite, even though it’s not a field I do research in.  My teaching has evolved to the extent that I no longer stick to a script – sometimes I don’t even have a script.


GSC: What advice on securing competitive research grants do you have for graduate students?

AG: Apply, apply, apply.  Be careful to follow the instructions exactly. If your department or university offers workshops on grant writing, take advantage of that.  Although your prospectus will be useful as a template, you will probably not be able to use exactly the same proposal for each grant.  Give yourself, and your letter writers, plenty of time.  Do not hesitate to ask your mentors for multiple letters, but don’t ask for them a day (or even a week) in advance.  Remember that even if you are unsuccessful, applying will make you known to a wider group of people in your field and may pay dividends later.


GSC: What advice do you have on attending conferences and giving conference papers?

AG: Conferences are great for networking, for meeting up with friends, for getting your research out in front of interested audiences, and for finding out what is happening in the discipline. They can also be expensive and emotionally taxing.  Overall, I advise going to around two a year and presenting at one of those.  If you can do more, great, but in terms of getting a job, publishing will be more important than conference papers.


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

AG: I’ve worked on the history of early modern humans and animal anatomy for some time.  Lately, my focus has shifted to skeletons.  I’m currently working on early modern discoveries of fossil bones that were thought to be the bones of historic giants.  It’s about national identities and history as well as about science.  After that, who knows?

One thought on “Interview with Dr. Anita Guerrini, 2018 Pfizer Prize Winner for ‘The Courtiers’ Anatomists’

  1. Pingback: Interview with the ASECS Grad Caucus – Anita Guerrini

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