Cate Mahoney

Cohort 2013–2014.  I earned by PhD in May 2020, in the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic—the inaugural virtual defense of the Princeton English department! It was a bizarre, fulfilling, exciting event, a welcome celebration in the midst complete confusion. Certain things became very clear in contrast: the dedication and commitment of my advisors Diana Fuss, Bill Gleason, and Joshua Kotin, the support of my colleagues, friends and family, and the commitment of Pat Guglielmi and Eduardo Cadava to keep the ball rolling.

I entered the department in 2013, at a loss of what kind of career I wanted but sure that I had more questions for Emily Dickinson, Frank O’Hara, and other American poets. I started making trips to the career center during my first year, and there I found some possibilities for pursuit. The folks there helped me in various ways, mostly after I had finished my seminars and was chipping away at my dissertation: I went to a variety of “Princeternship” trips, where you shadow a Princeton alumni for a day; I attended workshops where you can meet other graduate students figuring out their futures; and I became a University Administrative Fellow for Princeton Writes, a writing and public speaking program on campus (staffed by the indominable duo John Weeren and Stephanie Whetstone). As a UAF I found mentors and fast friends, and gained helpful experience as an event coordinator and blogger.
In the summer after my sixth year, I worked at ITHAKA S+R, a GradFUTURES Summer Internship, gaining experience in an office setting and learning about academic libraries while earning a generous stipend. Concurrently, I was part of the team of the Shakespeare and Company Project as a researcher and then as Project Manager. Then in my seventh year in the program and thus past the funding window, the PM position provided me with the resources I needed to finish my dissertation, as well as invaluable skillset that helped me widen the scope of my alt-ac resume.
After graduating in May, I was certain that the academic market was too hard a needle to thread, nor would it be easy to find much work at the start of the pandemic when hiring freezes weren’t going to thaw for months. So I spent the summer networking: talking to friends, combing through Princeton alumni on LinkedIn, and connecting with alt-ac graduates on Twitter. I made an Excel sheet with names and emails and went down the list, reaching out and setting up Zoom calls. It was like a summer of kind strangers’ tales, and with every call it got easier to ask someone about their choices and see how their jobs might suit my skills and interests.
The pandemic solidified that I needed to be near family and that working from home might make that more possible. As I was doing this, I was also sending out resumes and cover letters cold, to companies and to private schools in NYC (my home base). In October I started my job as middle school English teacher at Convent of the Sacred Heart, an independent Catholic girls school in Manhattan. The job suits me. The energy of the kids allows me to share my enthusiasm in literature and encourage theirs. They’re fun, they’re smart, and I feel grateful that I get to be one of the people that teaches them to connect feelings to words. My own mentors in middle and high school were the reason I discovered my love of poetry in the first place. I’m not sure what the future holds, but I know that if I’m optimistic and persistent, I will keep finding my way.