Alicia Christoff

Cohort 2005–2006. I entered the Ph.D. program in English at Princeton in 2005 and defended my dissertation, on Victorian fiction, in 2011 (advised by the wonderful Diana Fuss, Deborah Nord, Michael Wood, and Eduardo Cadava). In my sixth and final year in the program, I was a Five College dissertation completion fellowship at Amherst College (2010-2011). It was enormously helpful for me to receive a fellowship at that stage: being part of the English Department at Amherst College helped me to transition from feeling like a graduate student to feeling like a professor. It was my first opportunity to design and teach my own course and a chance to discuss my project with new colleagues and mentors. The fellowship is designed to increase diversity in the Five Colleges (I am Xicana), and sometimes serves as a pipeline to permanent positions.

Happily, this was indeed the case for me. Following the fellowship year, I was awarded, after competing in a national search, a Mellon-Keiter Postdoctoral Fellowship and then, two years later, a tenure-track position in the Amherst English Department. It’s unusual to have such a smooth path, and in addition to being grateful every day, I chalk much of this up to the excellent guidance I received from my teachers and advisors at Princeton, concerning not just my research, but also, crucially, pedagogy and job placement.

I think my training at Princeton shaped me in ways that made it possible for me to thrive at a liberal arts college. It instilled in me a deep dedication to, and pleasure in, undergraduate teaching (for this I am particularly grateful to Jeff Nunokawa, Zahid Chaudhary, Diana Fuss, Jeff Dolven, and Amanda Irwin Wilkins in the Writing Center, where I was a tutor for several years). It showed me ways of being deeply immersed in my chosen field while still keeping a broad range of interests alive. It helped me to understand collegiality and the enormous value of sharing work with peers (many of my classmates from the English Department and beyond remain important interlocutors and true friends). And the emphasis, from the start, on the quality of our academic writing (I thank our DGS Bill Gleason for this) and the possibility of doing public humanities writing are values that continue to shape my work and my aspirations for the future.

Graduate school is a psychic and emotional challenge in addition to being an intellectual one, and I sometimes think that if I had to do it again, I might do it very differently. But even then, I still picture navigating those challenges at Princeton, with the support of my friends and professors there, and that is a marker of everything the program has to offer and the many paths one can take within it.