Bridget Chalk Ph.D. '09

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After graduating from Villanova University and benefiting from a wonderful mentor in the English department there, I knew I wanted to go to graduate school to pursue literary studies. I was thrilled to be accepted to the Brandeis Ph.D. program because of its reputation, location, and distinguished faculty. The small size of the program also appealed to me, and I immediately found the program to be intimate and generative of close relationships between faculty and graduate students.

Like many first-year students, I felt somewhat overwhelmed at first by the rigor and intensity of graduate seminars, but with the help of my peers and the faculty, I soon settled into a productive groove. I specialize in modernism, and though no courses were offered specifically in that field for my first few years, creative and dynamic seminars like Faith Smith’s “Reading the Black Transnation” and Caren Irr’s “The Superpower Novel” framed modernist texts in new and illuminating ways. The work we did in Sue Lanser’s “Novel Nation” course continues to shape my ideas about narrative and national identity.

The small size of the department challenges students by requiring them to take many courses outside of their chosen fields, but this aspect of the program, I believe, produces well-rounded scholars who can truly engage with their colleagues in other fields. Throughout my coursework and teaching at Brandeis, I was given the opportunity to absorb and learn from many different political, theoretical and critical perspectives.

Teaching at Brandeis was a rich and rewarding experience. As a teaching assistant, I benefited from the vastly different but engaging pedagogical styles of the faculty. My knowledge of other fields also increased through this requirement; I was able to teach in such varied courses as Popular Culture, Jane Austen and Film Noir.

Designing my own courses as a University Writing Seminar instructor helped me immeasurably in my development as a teacher. I found myself consistently impressed by the Brandeis undergraduates’ range of knowledge, confidence and energy. Indeed, overall the campus has a confident and energetic atmosphere, from frequent political picketing to student performances and events. The graduate student community is also very vibrant and diverse, within and among departments. In addition to forming friendships with my peers in the English Department, I had great conversations with people in history, foreign languages and politics over the years.

Writing my dissertation was a delightful experience. My project, which explores the impact of the institutionalization of the passport on modernist narrative, was directed by Paul Morrison. His ability to penetrate to the most fundamental assumptions of an argument and challenge them continually surprised me and made the dissertation come together in compelling and unexpected ways. John Plotz, who served as my second reader, was tireless in his help and forced me to look outside my ideas and historical framework to give the project much-needed perspective.  Throughout my time at Brandeis, the faculty was consistently supportive and interested in my progress. The faculty’s involvement in the job market process especially made a potentially scary experience much more tenable.

I am currently teaching my first semester as an assistant professor at Manhattan College in the Bronx. I have published in The Journal of Modern Literature and have work forthcoming in Twentieth-Century Literature and The Journal of British Studies.