Graduate Alumni Interview: Lauren Cagle
PhD English, rhetoric and composition concentration
Lauren E. Cagle is an assistant professor of writing, rhetoric, and digital studies at the University of Kentucky, where she teaches courses on environmental rhetoric, technical communication, and communication in the natural and social sciences. Her research focuses on climate change communication, technical communication, disability studies, and feminist theory, and she is especially interested in debates about climate change by non-technical stakeholders in the public sphere. Cagle's work has been published in Technical Communication Quarterly, the Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, Rhetoric Review, and Computers & Composition.
What is your position now?
Assistant professor of writing, rhetoric, and digital studies at the University of Kentucky
Why did you come to the USF graduate program?
I was recruited to complete my PhD in rhetoric and composition by Dr. Meredith Johnson and Dr. Carl Herndl. Both reached out to me personally to discuss the opportunities USF offered and find out what I was looking for in a graduate program. When I came to visit and meet faculty and graduate students, I was struck by the camaraderie among the graduate student cohorts, across the rhetoric, literature, and creative writing programs. In addition to offering multiple professionalization, teaching, and research opportunities, USF offered a chance to be somewhere my peers and I would bond over teaching and coursework and creative interests and pets. (Which is in fact what happened!)
What was a unique opportunity you had at USF?
While at USF, I had multiple unique opportunities. The two which made the most impact on me were 1) working as the assistant to the director of the graduate rhetoric and composition, Dr. Meredith Johnson, and 2) co-teaching an MA course on "communicating the value of sustainability" with Dr. Carl Herndl. As a program assistant, I gained invaluable administrative experience and knowledge of departmental and university structures; throughout my time in this role, Dr. Johnson provided guidance and mentorship that helped me develop institutional awareness and a sense of myself in relation to that institution. With Dr. Herndl, I co-taught a class three times that we had originally developed in collaboration with Dr. Johnson. Co-teaching a graduate course with a full professor provided me with incomparable insights into how experienced professors plan and pace a course, write and deliver lectures, and engage and mentor graduate students. Additionally, teaching an interdisciplinary sustainability course furthered my own research interests in environmental rhetoric and climate change communication.
How did USF prepare you for your position?
In my current position at UK, I have gotten involved in multiple interdisciplinary teaching and research projects, as well as developed several in collaboration with university and community partners. The administrative and interdisciplinary teaching experience I had at USF prepared me to network across disciplinary and institutional boundaries in order to find and take advantage of opportunities here. Additionally, I completed two graduate certificates at USF, in technical and professional communication (TPC) and in women and gender studies (WGS) which prepared me for my current role. The TPC certificate prepared me to teach multiple TPC courses, and the WGS certificate required me to take courses outside the department, which taught me how to communicate research interests and theoretical concepts across disciplinary and epistemological divides.
For example, I am collaborating with a professor in the College of Agriculture to collect state-wide interview and survey data on Kentuckians' environmental values, which will help us develop training materials for extension agents to educate their communities about sustainable agriculture. Without the experience and mentorship that the USF English graduate program, and in particular the rhetoric and composition faculty, provided, I would not have had the knowledge or confidence to develop these kinds of projects.
What advice would you give to new graduate students in the program?
I have two pieces of advice for new graduate students. The first is the same response I've given to this question for some years now, and I've never had reason to doubt it: Show up. Literally. If possible, when possible, be there. Go to all your classes. Go to guest lectures. Go to faculty candidate research talks. Go to dissertation defenses and library trainings and potlucks and coffee with your cohort. Many graduate students have long commutes, family lives, and financial commitments that will prevent them from being there for everything. Those obligations are important and will take priority at times, as they should. But having an ethos of showing up, of trying to make it to things, demonstrates your interest in being there and in being part of a bigger profession and field. It means that when opportunities crop up and conversations turn to research interests and people start talking about conference CFPs and publication opportunities, you're there to be part of it, and when you can't be there, you're still on people's minds because you often are there.
The second piece of advice I have is to ask for and to find what you need. Graduate school can be very hard, and especially so for marginalized students. If you need mentoring, if you need mental healthcare, if you need accommodations, if you need research support: ask for it and try to find it. Asking for it won't always help you get it, but once people know what you need, they can be on the look-out, and they can help you find it. It can be hard to ask for you what you need; there's immense pressure to seem fine and totally self-sufficient. It's totally ok if you're not always comfortable asking for what you need. But if you can, please do, and also please thank folks when you get help. So much labor goes unseen and unthanked. I think graduate school can be much more manageable and productive when both needs and labor to meet needs are made more visible and explicit.