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.