Alum Interview with Nichole E. Stanford, Class of ’12


Why did you choose to attend the Graduate Center?

I wanted to study under Paolo Freire, but he was dead, so I moved there to study under Ira Shor. My field was Comp Rhet – which was born at CUNY during the open admissions days. I didn’t even apply anywhere else.

What memories stand out to you about your time in coursework?

There was no sense of community because all my professors were divided between the Grad Center and their other campuses, so I created reading groups with other students in my field.

So reading groups were a big part of the experience?

Yes. They really helped to create a sense of community. And the faculty in Comp Rhet were very warm and generous with what time they did have.

What memories stand out to you about your exam/defense experiences (the Comprehensive exam, oral exam, language exams, defense)?

Study groups helped a lot for the Comp exam. From orals to defense – the best advice I got was to pitch yourself. It feels like the faculty are so supportive when you’re writing for them [for classes] but then they expect you to convince them that you’re awesome for orals and the defense. That was a big surprise for me. I remember thinking, why are you against me? But I think they feel they are supposed to act that way. It took six months to get my prospectus approved.

What memories stand out to you about your time working on the dissertation?

If you have a baby and you think it’s going to want to sleep all the time and you’ll have plenty of time to write your diss, you’re wrong. Have your baby after you do at least the bulk of your dissertation.

Scheduling writing days really worked for me, not just a couple hours – but a full day at a time at a café. It takes 30 minutes to an hour just to get back into what you are writing, so try to schedule the writing for days at a time, not a couple hours at a time.

What skills/interests/relationships/et cetera have you taken away from your time at the Graduate Center?

Yeah … my first year, I bonded with a lot of students. Jump on the friend bandwagon. Out of state and out of town – my friendships have really lasted. Start right away. After you’ve been there a while it’s harder to find a friend – so go to all the bar times you can – attend all the groups and events for new students.

What unique opportunities did the Graduate Center/being in New York City for graduate school offer you?

As a Comp Rhet scholar it was awesome to be on the ground teaching from the first semester. There wasn’t much support for teachers when I started, but I got to be part of expanding a teaching orientation that the Comp Rhet group now hosts at the beginning of every year – how to plan a syllabus, how to decide on policies, how to grade. We also hear from a lot of people that our grad students at CUNY are more politically aware because we teach at different campuses. We’re more familiar with the work load expectations once we get real jobs, because we are interacting with people in real departments right away, and we tend to do better in job interviews because of that.

Could you speak to the ways in which your work at the Graduate Center contributed to the start of your career in academia?

I realized I got caught up in professionalism, and I lost sight of this one thing – that I actually wanted to be a theorist, not an academic, not a professor. Once I graduated, my husband and I were faced with the decision – with kids – are you going to try to both have careers and just hire childcare? After a lot of research, I realized – in this economy – you can have a career, but you have to outsource all the childcare to the other partner, to a grandparent, or to a daycare. I didn’t find a single woman in my generation who “could have it all,” because salaries are so diminished and work loads are so increased. I decided I didn’t want to miss the little years, so I didn’t try the job market at all. And, sadly, it makes sense for one partner to stay home, since whatever salary you make you would have to spend on the enormous costs of childcare. But I was really stressed because I couldn’t keep up with conferences and publishing, and my CV was rotting. But then I remembered I want to be a theorist, and there are other routes besides Academia to that. I love teaching. I love every part of it. But I’m going to find a way to start my writing career from home.

Do you have any other advice or insights for students who might pursue a non-faculty academic position?

It’s just all so individual – for each person, I’d be having a different conversation. …What makes you light up? Go for it!

Additional comments/memories/thoughts?

Loved it, loved my experience at CUNY. It was the only place I wanted to go, loved it – kicked my ass sometimes, but I loved it.

Good connections – I still adore the professors I worked with, and I met my husband there.