Today we have a new dispatch from Dr. Kimberly Hamlin, an alumna of our graduate program, who shares some fascinating and useful advice from her experiences at UT and beyond. Hamlin is assistant professor of American Studies and History at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Her first book, From Eve to Evolution: Darwin, Science, and Women’s Rights in Gilded Age America will be published in early 2014 by the University of Chicago Press. For her article “‘The Case of a Bearded Woman’: Hypertrichosis and the Construction of Gender in the Age of Darwin” (American Quarterly, December 2011), Hamlin received the 2012 Emerging Scholar Award from the Nineteenth Century Studies Association. She completed her PhD in American Studies at UT in 2007.
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?
Both my research and my teaching are very much informed by the work that I did in American Studies at UT. My book, which will be published in a few months, began as my dissertation. While there were many revisions along the way from dissertation to book, the central question remained the same: what did evolutionary science mean for women living in the nineteenth century when many gender roles were defined by the myth of Adam and Eve?
My next book project, a biography of freethinking feminist Helen Hamilton Gardener – a woman who played a key role in the passage of the 19th amendment and later donated her brain to Cornell University to prove that women’s brains were not inferior to men’s—is also informed by my experiences at UT, not so much in terms of content but in terms of my desire to connect my scholarship to readers who may or may not be academics. One of the strengths of the AMS program at UT is that faculty encourage students to share their research beyond the academy and often model how to do this with their own research (here, for example, I am thinking about Professor Elizabeth Engelhardt’s work on barbecue).
One of the great benefits of having gone to UT was the opportunity to teach my own courses for four years. Before I taught my own courses, I was not 100% sure if graduate school was for me, but as soon as I was able to design my own syllabus and spend a semester working through it with students, I knew I was in the right field. At UT, I served as a teaching assistant for two semesters, then I taught in the rhetoric department for several semesters, and, finally, I developed and taught several sections of a class in the American Studies Department (“Women in American Culture from Seneca Falls to ‘Sex and the City’”). The ability to teach while still in graduate school not only helped me prepare for life as a professor, it also allowed me to begin connecting my scholarship with my teaching at an early stage. For example, my dissertation project—and later book—actually grew out of a connection I made while preparing the course packet for my class on “The Rhetoric of Feminism.” In putting together this course packet of pro and con feminist arguments from the 1790s till the present, I noticed that nearly everyone writing prior to 1900 mentioned Eve. So, I wondered, what happened to feminist thought when Eve became optional as a result of the broad-based acceptance of evolutionary theory? The answers to this question form the basis of my forthcoming book.
In addition, the reason that I have my particular job is very much because of the unique experiences I had in American Studies at UT. In the summer of 2006, when I had written exactly two chapters of my dissertation and was not planning on graduating till 2008, I saw a posting on H-Net for an American Studies scholar with an interest in “public culture.” At UT, I participated in several projects that promoted public history and public culture and knew that I wanted a job that would reward me for engaging with academic and non-academic audiences. For example, through a connection of Professor Shelley Fisher Fishkin’s (then at UT), I served as a research assistant on Ken Burns’s documentary on the national parks the summer after my first year. I also served as the assistant director of the Austin Women’s Commemorative Project which began as a Woodrow Wilson Foundation grant directed by Professor Martha Norkunas. And, finally, as a result of my master’s thesis on the origins of the Girl Scouts, I connected with Austin-area filmmakers Karen Bernstein and Ellen Shapiro and served as the historical consultant on their award-winning PBS documentary “Troop 1500: Girl Scouts Beyond Bars.” I think it is because of these “public” experiences that I got the job I have today.
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?
When I was at UT, I often turned to my friend Matt Hedstrom for advice and generally followed his excellent example. So, since Matt wrote a list in answer to this question for his blog post, I will once again follow his example here. I guess this is also my first piece of advice:
- Seek out role models and mentors among the faculty, fellow students, and alumni.
- Enjoy the graduate student lifestyle. I know this sounds odd to say when you probably feel very stressed, overworked, and underpaid. But, trust me, graduate school is a luxury in terms of time, if not money. Take advantage of the flexible schedule, the time for walks and contemplation, hanging out with friends, and reading all sorts of books just because they sound interesting.
- Make the most of all that UT has to offer, including but not limited to the American Studies Department. (One of my regrets is that I never went to a UT football game. Even though I do not really care about football, I should have taken advantage of those student tickets!) Many of the best experiences I had and closest friends I made while at UT came from outside the department. Teaching rhetoric was a terrific way to ease into the classroom (because before you apply to teach your own class you teach from a shared syllabus); working at the Writing Center not only improved my own writing but helped me become a better teacher of writing; the History Department’s Gender and Sexuality Symposium provided the core intellectual home for me while writing my dissertation; and working on the outside projects described in my answer above helped me imagine myself as a professional in this field and helped me attain my current position.
- Look for projects that can be researched at archives with travel funding. I was fortunate in that I was able to research my dissertation at the major women’s and gender history archives and that they all provided travel funding. So, to the extent possible, look for archives related to your general interests and see if they offer research or travel stipends.
- That said, do not look for “trendy” projects. Select a project that truly interests you and that you will be passionate about for the next 5-10 years. Besides, by the time you finish your dissertation/book, what is “trendy” will have changed.
- Now that I have also served on search committees, I am going to use a word that makes me cringe a little bit—look for ways to “credential” yourself. If you are interested in women’s and gender studies, for example, complete your certificate in Women’s and Gender Studies. Including on your CV that you completed this certificate program looks a lot better than writing that you are “interested” in women’s and gender studies. If there is a not-for-profit group connected to your research interests, try to connect with them; if you have a pretty solid seminar paper, present it at a conference; if there is an article or paper prize in your area, apply for it; etc. I wish I could just say do #5 (follow your interests), but in this tight job market candidates who do #5 and #6 generally fare much better.
- I think this one is actually the most important– Take advantage of living in Austin! Odds are that the place you move next will not be as vibrant or exciting… or have as great food or music! (And the connections you make outside of UT may prove to be equally as helpful as those you make within the university.) So, please go for a walk around Town Lake and eat a breakfast taco and a gingerbread pancake for me!