Graduate Alumni Interview: Heather Fox

Heather Fox,

PhD in English, literature concentration
Fall 2017


Image shows headshot of alumna Heather Fox smiling into the camera in front of rows of bookshelves filled with books.

Heather Fox, PhD, is an assistant professor of English at Eastern Kentucky University, where she teaches courses in writing, literature, and pedagogy for the secondary classroom. Her teaching and research regularly engage interdisciplinary approaches to writing and rhetoric studies, American literature (particularly women's literature and the literature of the American South), and archive studies. She develops professional opportunities for her students that extend beyond coursework—from organizing one of the first undergraduate panels to present at the South Atlantic Modern Language Association Conference (SAMLA) and conducting archival research for published recovery projects to co-founding mentorship programs at two universities and serving as the mentorship chair for the Society for the Study of Southern Literature's ESO program. A Frances S. Summersell fellow and Phi Kappa Phi award recipient, her research has been published in esteemed journals, such as "South," the "Faulkner Journal," and "Southern Studies." Current projects include a collaborative presentation/article on the role of archival research as a praxis for student investment in American women writers' recovery projects and a monograph that situates narrative arrangement as a form of agency.

What is your position now?

Assistant professor of English at Eastern Kentucky University

Why did you come to the USF graduate program?

I wanted to learn from faculty like my director, Dr. Cynthia Patterson, and so many others, whose expertise in the field helped me to develop my initially unwieldy dissertation ideas into a cohesive project. When I was choosing between invitations to join programs, one of the things that I looked for was access to faculty. In fact, I remember speaking to a current student at another institution, who explained that it would be difficult to work with a particular faculty member because of time limitations and competition for that time among graduate students. At USF, graduate faculty were always available to answer my questions and address my concerns. Additionally, the PhD program at USF supported my early professionalization efforts, which became increasingly important in the job market throughout my time at USF.

What was a unique opportunity you had at USF?

My interest in archive studies began during my MA at Virginia Commonwealth University but was cultivated at USF. I had the opportunity to work with a team of colleagues on the Leland Hawes Florida Postcards Project and to TA for Dr. Laura Runge's Florida literature course. Part of a CREATTE grant, students in this course completed a "then and now" project on the Florida postcard collection. When SAMLA advertised a call-for-papers for undergraduate research, Dr. Runge supported my efforts to form one of the first undergraduate panels for the conference. More than my own presentations, I felt privileged to be a small part of our students' first experiences presenting their research.

How did USF prepare you for your position?

The ability to teach a variety of courses (LIT 2000, ENC 1101 & 1102, LIT 3383, ENC 3250) and to design sections for many of these courses enabled me to address specific teaching experiences during the interview process. As I am preparing to teach new courses in multiple disciplines this fall, I find myself leaning on these past experiences the most.

What advice would you give to new graduate students in the program?

  1. Take advantage of all of the professional opportunities that come your way, even if they are out of your comfort zone. Often, there would be a connection between one of these opportunities and a future opportunity, or these opportunities might lead to a different opportunity—something I could not have predicted.
  2. One of the last things that my MA advisor told me was that "conferences are fine, but you need to publish to get a job." It was difficult, but I listened to his advice and divided my thesis into article submissions the summer before I started PhD coursework. These developed into some of my first publications, which then engendered future opportunities.
  3. Take time to enjoy the moment, to do something other than work. I'm not good at this. Most of us aren't. I challenge you to do better.
  4. Celebrate your successes but keep moving. If you want to give up, surround yourself with those who support you.
  5. Finally, I read a few years ago that we [academics] are all intelligent, "so we ought to distinguish ourselves by being kind." Perhaps more than other disciplines, we [in the humanities] are uniquely positioned (and, therefore, have a responsibility) to "be kind," or to support one another's research endeavors and to demonstrate this approach to learning in our teaching. When you see a call-for-papers on a subject that your colleague works on, forward it. When you are struggling with a teaching concern, discuss it with a colleague. Your colleagues will become increasingly dear to you, as you continue throughout this arduous process. Even less than a year after you complete your degree, you may not necessarily remember all of the trials that seemed impossible to scale. You will, however, remember how much the conversations with your colleagues meant to you.