Graduate Alumni Interview: Elan Pavlinich
Elan Justice Pavlinich,
PhD English, literature concentration
Elan Justice Pavlinich is a Byron K. Trippet Assistant Professor of English at Wabash College where he teaches medieval and early modern literatures and medievalisms. His publications include cognitive approaches to the Old English Boethius and feminist approaches to Disney’s medievalisms.
E.J. earned his doctorate in 2019 from the University of South Florida where he was a Presidential Fellow. In his dissertation, Queer Authority in Old and Middle English Literature, which he defended with distinction, he analyzes the mechanisms by which cultural authority is constructed in the Old English Boethius, Dream of the Rood, Chaucer’s Legend of Good Women, and The Book of Margery Kempe. He argues that these early English texts employ nonnormative genders, sexualities, and spaciotemporalities to both encode England’s marginalized orientations to dominant cultural authorities and to disrupt normative networks of power. E.J. has also received USF Libraries Special Collections’ LGBT Research Award for his analysis of gender and sexuality in Middle English literature.
For more information, please refer to his professional portfolio.
What is your position now?
Byron K. Trippet Assistant Professor of English at Wabash College
Why did you come to the USF graduate program?
I knew that I wanted to work with Dr. Nicole Guenther Discenza because she is one of the leading authorities on the Old English Boethius in the United States. I had a clear vision of my dissertation and her expertise was a crucial factor in my early vision. Although I did not write that dissertation—as I will explain below—due to the specificity of my academic vision, USF was exceedingly accommodating to my graduate studies. Think about exactly who you want to work with and how their research will inform your own. Having a planned course of action is helpful, but allow for flexibility as you evolve during your graduate studies.
What was a unique opportuniy you had at USF?
USF provides numerous opportunities, including fellowships, research awards, professionalization seminars, poetry contests, art exhibits, performances, and teaching/advising experiences that were crucial to my development.
Most importantly, our English department provides the close-knit community that is usually only found at a small liberal arts college. Now that I have a little more perspective, I can appreciate the relationships I built with faculty. I am a medievalist, but faculty in contemporary American Lit and Rhet/Comp took an interest in me. I never felt like just a number. Years after I graduated I still feel like I have a strong USF English network. This is remarkable for such a large university.
Finally, I worked closely with faculty whose attention to my individual professionalization has benefited my development as a scholar and teacher, and my overall happiness. I came into USF English with one set of expectations: to do a traditional medieval literature dissertation about the Old English Boethius. But with the encouragement of faculty, and a superb adviser, I failed to write that traditional medieval literature dissertation. Instead, I wrote about my passions: my experience as a queer person and how this intersects with traditional medieval texts. I am grateful Dr. Discenza encouraged me to become a medieval scholar in my own image. She told me to avoid rehearsing what I had assumed a medieval literature scholar ought to look like, and just do the work that interests me. I’m glossing over a lot of hard work. Admittedly, I’m first-generation higher education and rough around the edges, so she exerted no small effort refining some of my professional comportment and teaching me essential research skills. Nevertheless, during our time together I developed a more nuanced appreciation for medieval literature and a better understanding of myself as a queer individual. And she helped me to understand that these two aspects of myself meaningfully intersect. Dr. Discenza and other English department faculty brought that into focus for me. This experience crafted who I am as a scholar. I did work that fulfills me and contributes to multiple fields. I continue to innovate new projects based on my unique perspectives. The rewards for this work continue far beyond the dissertation defense and graduation.
How did USF prepare you for your current position?
Thanks to USF English, I landed a tenure track job in the middle of a difficult job market and a global pandemic. That is a good indication of the strength of our program.
First, I went on the job market with teaching experience and publications. USF English offered me the opportunity to teach Business and Technical Writing and Introduction to Literature courses that I adapted to my specializations while still serving the needs of undergraduate students. I was equipped to teach a range of classes focusing on skill development and contemporary issues while contributing to a traditional English literature curriculum.
Additionally, my graduate courses prepared me to publish. Professors invite fresh new conversations about emerging topics across disciplines so that my research for a class essay could easily evolve into a journal article.
Then, Dr. John Lennon cut out all of my assumptions about the job market and prepared me to dive into campus visits with confidence. The English department refines each students’ professional persona while maintaining their individual integrity. So when I showed up for job interviews and campus visits, I knew how to showcase my best assets in response to the job post and the prospective institution.
What advice would you give to new graduate students in the program?
First, take advantage of every opportunity. Keep up with what the Office of Graduate Studies is doing. If they are hosting a 3 Minute Thesis event, try it out. When the library is offering research awards, submit a proposal. Get the most mileage out of everything you do.
Next, embrace digital humanities immediately. Look at what Dr. Laura Runge is doing with The Aphra Behn Society and Dr. Emily Griffith Jones’s contributions to Global Shakespeares. Keep a record of every digital resource Dr. Discenza shares in History of the English Language. When USF offers to send you to the Digital Humanities Summer Institute, go!
Then, dive into uncomfortable conversations. That is where our work in the humanities is most productive. (For a medievalist, this includes questions about the relevance of our field and the racism and misogyny that dominates the Middle Ages in the popular imagination.) These difficult conversations will serve your students best and sharpen your personal contributions to your area of specialization.
Finally, observe and be prepared to explain the benefits of a humanities education and the importance of studying English Literature. We are doing a public service. We teach essential skills that are practical across disciplines, and we are necessary for developing more thoughtful, inclusive citizens. I had multiple USF undergraduate students tell me that they only felt seen in my classes. They learned to communicate more effectively, to understand themselves more fully, and to appreciate other worldviews. Some of them became English majors for these very reasons. As an English graduate student you are doing essential work that influences young people’s personal and professional development. This is deep, frustrating, fulfilling, and necessary work that benefits our communities. Think critically about the ways in which your graduate research connects to the world here and now.