Today, we’d like to share with you an interview with one of our recent Ph.D. graduates, Allison Wright. Allison is a member of the editorial staff for the Virginia Quarterly Review and also teaches in the Media Studies department at the University of Virginia.
How is the work that you’re doing right now informed by the work that you did as a student in American Studies at UT?
I am on the editorial staff of the nation’s leading literary journal. VQR has published the greatest novelists, poets, critics, and social scientists in America over its ninety-year history, and has received more National Magazine Awards than any other literary quarterly in the nation and more nominations than some well-known magazines (such as Rolling Stone and Esquire). Because of that, our standards are high and the level of expectation we place on ourselves requires a dedication that reminds me very much of graduate school.
On its face, much of what I did as a student in American Studies at UT may not translate to what I do on a daily basis–the work of editing and publishing a magazine. But the focused, intellectual work of graduate school prepared me for this job in a very real way. The nuts and bolts of putting together a magazine–writing, editing, copy editing, fact-checking, image selection–all draw on skills I honed in the American Studies program.
And of course teaching in the media studies department at the University of Virginia, where VQR is located, is a direct result of my time at Texas.
Do you have any words of wisdom or advice for students in our department about how to get the most out of their time here?
Look for opportunities outside of the department, and say yes as often as possible. In my last year at Texas, I taught writing for the College of Pharmacy and I was a lead teaching assistant for “Classics of World Poetry” and “The American Experience as told through Autobiography,” both of which were offered through the university’s School of Undergraduate Studies. I also served as a rater for the university’s accreditation effort, visiting a wide variety of classes and scoring student presentations. These brought diversity to my CV, and they helped me discern a career path.
Finally, something Steve Hoelscher, who was graduate advisor at the time, said to me during our first meeting back in 2003 bears repeating: Have a life. Meet people who aren’t in graduate school; spend time with them. Volunteer. Find a way to feel like you are making a contribution, however small. The results of those efforts will be transportable once you take your leave.
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