EGO Alumni Interviews: Dr. Joseph Boyne
by Robert Sherron (current Ph.D. student)
After the break of a particularly blustery Polar Vortex and under the auspices of the super blood moon, I sat down with* Dr. Joseph Boyne in the hopes of gleaming a bit of wisdom from a recent graduates for those folks soon to be on the job market.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and space.
*Over the internet
Dr. Boyne, could you tell us a little about your recently defended dissertation at CUA, and a little about your current job?
I was never the kind of student who knew exactly what it is he wanted to write his dissertation about. The thing that precipitated my dissertation was Dr. Suarez's Faulkner and Warren class. This class was important to me because it was the first class I had that clearly expected me to do something with my writing outside of the seminar itself, rather than simply turn it into the professor at the end of the semester. Dr. Suarez strongly encouraged us to present our seminar papers at the Robert Penn Warren Circle conference. This was the first time I had ever presented at a conference, but I soon made strong connections with many of the people there. One of them, Dr. Bedford Clark, who served on my dissertation committee, encouraged me to submit my paper to the Mississippi Quarterly where it was published. This small success encouraged me to expand the topic into my dissertation. The article focused on Coleridge's influence on Robert Penn Warren. The dissertation then considered the influence of a variety of Romantic authors and philosophers on the most notable members of the Fugitive Poets: John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, and Robert Penn Warren. The idea was to break down overly simplified and false characterizations of both Romanticism and certain Southern authors. I did not at first consider the topic to be overtly political, but it ultimately turned that way insofar as it considered how opposing terms like Romantic vs. Classical or Conservative vs. Liberal often obfuscate rather than enlighten our understanding of literature.
As for the job, I am currently employed as an Assistant Professor in the English department at Tulsa Community College. I worked at TCC for quite some time as the Writing Center Director for its Southeast Campus before being hired as a full-time faculty member. The Writing Center was a great source of practical experience. I learned how to assist a very wide variety of students with a very wide variety of problems. I also learned how to go above and beyond the strict job description in order to make additional opportunities for myself. For example, for the last three years now I have organized a poetry reading featuring Oklahoma's current and recent poets laureate. Not everyone at the school considered this important, but it did help me make a space for myself as well as put me on the radar of people with similar literary interests. For example, when I was hired as Assistant Professor, I was immediately asked to serve as a committee member for the college's literary magazine. I appreciate this because much of what we do at TCC falls in the Comp. field rather than Literary Studies field. That being said, I have a great deal of freedom in my curriculum. This semester, for example, my class is reading Warren's Who Speaks for the Negro?, one of the texts that I studied in my dissertation. So I would say that working at a community college is mostly what you make of it.
One thing that I would also mention is that working at the Naval Academy's Writing Center was definitely a major contributor to me ending up with a full time faculty position. Current students should know that they should be working to develop a complete resume that includes experience outside of our university. You experience at CUA is excellent, but more experience is better!
That is excellent advice. Let’s talk about your career path a bit more particulalry-- What do you think current students should know about applying to/ working in community colleges? As post-docs in writing centers?
There's a couple of things that I would say about Community College. For starters, I have often said that the community I encounter at TCC is ten times more diverse than what I experienced at CUA. (This may say more about me than CUA itself.) I have had the pleasure of working with students from Sierra Leone, Russia, Pakistan, Scotland, Japan, not to mention a wide variety of Central and South American countries. But much of the community college's diversity goes beyond just diversity of nationality and extends to matters of class and education level as well. And with these differences come substantial and important pedagogical challenges. For example, how do we anticipate the challenges and confusions that a first generation college student will likely experience as opposed to a student whose parents have both attended college? There are many things that faculty and administration take for granted that would never occur to a student who has no family member to tell him or her what to expect at college. This can be difficult and frustrating, but also very rewarding. I tell many of my first generation college students, for example, that if they succeed they dramatically increase the likelihood that their younger siblings or children will succeed in college. I would also note that, while working at a school with no entrance requirements will likely present you with the task of instructing students far behind what you consider to be college level, at the same time, I have worked with many students who are just as every bit as intelligent as the students I encountered while at CUA. In fact, I just had a student last week who struck up a conversation with me over that article that was published in the Mississippi Quarterly that I was telling you about. I did not assign the article. He just took the initiative to find it and read it himself. That's impressive and it definitely bucks the stereotype that many people carry in their heads of what a community college student is.
As for applying to a community college job, I obviously can't speak for all schools, but I will say that in order to get hired I had to emphasize what I could do in the field of composition and downplay or outright ignore anything to do with literary studies. I know plenty of people here at TCC who think that the divide between Comp. and Lit. is a nonsensical one, but I also know that applicants with Ph.D.'s from flagship state schools were not even given interviews when they applied to TCC because they discussed their literary scholarship too much in their cover letter. Again, I'm not saying that you can't be interested in literature at all or that you have to ignore literature once you get here. But you need to show that you are serious about teaching a lot of Comp. classes and that you are also serious about getting better and better at it. Therefore, applicants may want to get conversant in terminology like evidence based course revisions, or out-comes based pedagogy, or data driven course assessment. Just because you are in English does not mean you get to ignore numbers entirely, especially if those numbers reflect the likelihood of whether or not your students will succeed in your class.
As for a post-doc at a Writing Center, I know much less about that. I will say that Writing Center administration and pedagogy is its own field of research, and that if someone is interested in competing in that field, they definitely need to read up. Keep in mind when applying that many applicants out there have the practical experience AND the scholarship behind them too. As for the job itself, I will say that it can be very tedious. ( I have lost count of how many times I have explained how to punctuate a compound sentence.) But there is also a lot of variety as well. It is your job to help writers across the college, which means you will need to be the resident expert on MLA and APA formatting and citations. You'll need to help with history essays as well as with nursing clinical reports. This can make you feel pulled from all directions at times, but it also really sharpens an educator's ability to diagnose a writer's difficulties and formulate helpful strategies quickly. After a year of full-time writing center work, I don't think there's any problem that you haven't seen and assisted with already.
I do want to add that working in The Writing Center definitely helped pave a way for me into the full-time faculty position. I was working as an adjunct for TCC at the same time, but I do not think that that was as useful of a way in as some people think. In fact in the four years that I've been at TCC they have only ever hired one adjunct to a full-time position in the English department that I'm aware of. I just worry that sometimes people think that adjuncting is going to get them a full-time job and I really don't think it necessarily works that way.
To clarify-- do you mean adjuncting generally doesn’t look great on transcripts, or adjuncting at an institution is not a foot in the door to that institution?
The latter. It's unfortunate, but it seems that oftentimes there's a certain amount of prejudice directed towards adjuncts. Like I said, outside of that one example I mentioned, I have never heard of an adjunct getting a full-time job at the place where he or she was adjuncting. And that goes beyond TCC. But then again I just may not know about those success stories.
I do know a few stories of adjuncts who were certain they’d get hired— but were passed over.
That's how it goes. Without getting too analytical, it's essentially a question of people who have full-time work versus people who try to support themselves off of part-time work. Just because we're academics doesn't mean all of a sudden we are more enlightened about that sort of thing. Sometimes there is an assumption that if you have to support yourself off of a variety of different part-time jobs then there's probably something wrong with your application or with you. Even though everybody wants to talk about how terrible the job market is and how unfair it is that these really qualified people get treated the way they do as adjuncts, when it comes to actually putting those thoughts into action, it's much easier just to hire the person who already has a full-time job. The assumption is that they’re safer.
If you are an alumnus/a of the Catholic University English Department's graduate programs and are open to being interviewed by the English Graduate Organization for The Annex, please contact Robert Sherron at email@example.com.