We’re introducing today, on Shakespeare’s (supposed) birthday and deathaversary, a new blog series for the St. John’s English community. We’ll be contacting recent alums of SJU English and asking some questions about where they are now, what they are doing, and how SJU English looks from the other side.
We will start with Dr. Danielle Lee, who received her PhD from St. John’s almost four years ago. Most recently some of us saw Dr. Lee deliver a brilliant invited lecture to the University of California at Riverside’s Race in the Premodern Period lecture series (via Zoom, of course). Some of us may have also heard her moving and incisive comments on race in America and academia via fellow SJU-alum Dan Dissinger’s and his USC colleague Katie Robinson’s Writing Remix podcast, which we discussed on the blog last June.
Here’s our conversation with Dr. Lee!
When did you graduate from St. John’s? What degree(s) do you have from us?
I graduated from St. Johns in the fall of 2017 with a doctoral degree in English.
What thing that you learned at SJU English do you think has been most helpful to you in your post-SJU career?
I learned how to think more critically than I ever had before. The range of topics the program offered exposed me to literature I had heard of, but never really had a chance to dig into, internalize, and deconstruct. It was a new skill set that gave me the opportunity to explore my own biases as well as my understanding of the world around me, and my place in it. It is also a skill that has shaped the way I teach literature today.
What did your path look like from graduation to your current job?
My path since graduating from St. John’s has been rewarding. I was fortunate enough to be hired as a Visiting Assistant Professor at SUNY College at Old Westbury in 2015 prior to my dissertation defense in 2017. Earning my doctorate has helped me to step into leadership roles working closely with my institution’s administration on a range of initiatives designed to improve the student experience and build equity on campus for students, staff, and faculty. I have presented my research at several professional academic conferences, and recently delivered my first guest lecture at University of California-Riverside. My research focus has also broadened quite a bit while on this path.
What does a typical day or week look like in your position?
Every day starts off with a strong stiff cup of coffee to prepare me for what awaits in my email inbox. From there, I compose my “To Do” list, which is prioritized by level of urgency. Weekly, I teach three classes a semester capped at 22 to 28 students depending on the course. I meet with students during office hours for advising, extra help, and directing senior thesis projects. I typically have three to five meetings a week for committee work and/or event planning. The rest of my time is spent grading and working on my own scholarship. As a full-time teacher, I make it a priority to take breaks. I can’t do my job effectively or help my students if I am unhealthy. Balance is critical.
What is your favorite part of being in your current position?
My favorite has always been, and will always be, my time in the classroom. Any time I don’t feel well or I’m not in good spirits, interacting with my students pulls me out of those feelings. I love our discussions and watching my students grow as thinkers. I have had deeply profound moments in the classroom when my students have shared something deeply personal that connects to the material. Sharing that information is not a requirement, but the fact they feel comfortable enough to open themselves up to a group of people who were strangers prior to the start of the semester is magical to me. It speaks to a level of trust I have been privileged with as a teacher. Part of that magic is seeing students come together in fellowship to support their classmate in these moments. It’s hard work, but also deeply fulfilling. These experiences help me grow as a teacher and human being.
What are the most valuable skills you learned as an English major? How have they helped you post-graduation?
The most valuable skills I learned as an English major: how to embrace my curiosity about the world, and the importance of taking risks; thinking outside of box has led me to some great adventures. I’ve met some wonderful people, and have had life-changing experiences because I learned to embrace stepping outside of my comfort zone. I would also add the skill of going with the flow. The path I had planned before starting the program at St. John’s is completely different from what I am actually doing with my life right now. If I had held on too tightly to my original plan, I may not have had the experiences I cherish and often reflect on.
What is your advice to other English majors?
My advice to English majors is to remember that we are natural thinkers and writers despite what our anxieties may be telling us. We have a unique skill set and perspective that has the power to significantly and positively impact the world around us. Explore your curiosity, let go of the reigns a bit, and believe in yourself! Your voice matters. As Audre Lorde once said in “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action,” “your silence will not protect you.” Your silence will also not help you grow.
How have you managed during the pandemic of 2020-21? Is there any way that being an English student has helped you in difficult times?