Continuing our series of SJU English Alum Profiles, we have this month a profile of Dr. Laila Shikaki, who received her PhD in English from SJU in May 2021 and has taken up a tenure-track appointment in her native Palestine at Birzeit University. Dr. Shikaki continues to be an inspiration to all of us at St. John’s, as well as — as these action pictures of her time in Queens show — deeply missed here on campus. We wish her all the best in her career, and we look forward to staying in touch!
SJU English Blog: Alumnae Interview Questions
When did you graduate from St. John’s? What degree(s) do you have from us?
I graduated in May of 2021 with a PhD in English. My dissertation title is Journeys Through Home and Exile: Palestinian Autobiographic Writing, where I analyze and compare Palestinian autobiographies that delve into issues of homesickness, familiar representations, and depicting Palestine as both a physical and mental place. This is examined conjunctively with my own autobiographical, published poetry.
What thing that you learned at SJU English do you think has been most helpful to you in your post-SJU career?
I learned all the skills needed for research from classes I have taken at St. John’s like Intro. to Profession, the Prospectus class, as well as how to analyze and connect literary texts from courses like Vernacular Literature, PocoEco, Caribbean Lit, Culture, and Theory, Digital Literary Studies. What I learned the most, however, and what I have taken with me to the classroom and beyond in Palestine is how to be a professor, and how to give to students without hesitation. This I especially learned from Dr. Dohra Ahmad, my supervisor, as well as Dr. Chetty, Prof. Bacote and others who have helped me, especially through my dissertation writing process at St. John’s University.
What did your path look like from graduation to your current job?
I came back to Palestine during COVID-19 so I could write my dissertation as I worked as an adjunct professor at Birzeit University. After graduating, I was hired as an assistant Professor at the same university that I graduated from, worked as TA, worked as an instructor, and worked during the summers as a PhD candidate.
What does a typical day or week look like in your position?
As an adjunct professor, I give four undergraduate level classes, and I usually do the majority of my prep work and grading at home. During office hours I try to continue to read and prepare for class, as well as work on finding places to publish my graduate papers and my poetry. As we are still at the beginning of the semester, I have more time for myself and time to speak to other new faculty members, over coffee, about new ways of teaching, new courses, and different approaches to learning and teaching. I will get busier with grading, planning next courses, and meeting students during office hours as the semester continues.
What is your favorite part of being in your current position?
Being back in a place that I have spent the majority of my academic career at, and being in Palestine, the place that I left wanting to write about and return to. Teaching in Palestine as an Assistant Professor is a dream come true.
What are the most valuable skills you learned as an English major? How have they helped you post-graduation?
The skills that I learned the most were ones that I learned by observing my professors in the classroom. I learned how to write a syllabus, how to guide students as they present their ideas, but how to also let them freely speak and write, and again how to be attentive to their needs. During the process of writing my dissertation, I definitely learned how to write more assertively, how to present my arguments, and how to speak about them to scholars and experts of other fields.
What is your advice to other English majors?
If you are new to the program, enjoy it. Enjoy being in NYC and enjoy the intellectual conversations that happen with and around you. Try to publish, try to go to conferences. If you are almost done, I say you can do it. You do need to push, especially during the last few months, but it will be worth it.
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?
I have managed to write and defend my dissertation during a pandemic!! It was the best distraction. I am not sure where I would be right now, and how I would have felt if I were not distracted by online teaching and by writing and editing my dissertation. I am forever grateful.