Read the below Q&A with Casey O'Reilly, who graduated from our program in 2019. Her undergraduate college was University of Vermont.
The Grad Program
Why did you choose UVM for your graduate studies?
I was interested in teaching and intrigued by the teaching assistantship that the program offered.
What made you choose a Graduate Teaching Assistantship?
Though I was unsure what exactly my plan was post-graduate school, I was certain I wanted to teach in some respect. The GTA position not only allowed me to gain experience teaching but would also allow me to work closely with college students.
Are you pursuing the thesis option or comprehensive option? Why?
I’ve chosen to pursue the thesis option. As an undergraduate I did not write a thesis. At this stage, I’ve decided to apply to Ph.D. programs and believe writing a 60-70 page paper will help prepare me for the much more daunting task of writing a dissertation.
What skills do you feel have improved the most during your time here so far?
When I first arrived, I felt extremely “out of practice.” It had been years since I was a student and I felt most behind in my writing. Through a combination of encouragement from my advisors and constant practice, my writing improved each semester.
What is your career path?
After receiving my M.A. I plan to apply to Ph.D. graduate programs. My hope is to eventually conduct my own research and continue to teach.
What is next after UVM?
Bartending and applying to Ph.D. programs.
Could you describe one of your typical workdays?
I usually arrive at campus around 7:45 in the morning and spend about an hour responding to emails/organizing my day. I typically make a to-do list for the day and spend about 4 hours reading or writing. Around noon on MWF, I take a break and go over my lesson plan for teaching. From 1:10-3:10, I teach. Afterward, I usually spend another hour or two grading/commenting on student drafts or continuing reading from earlier. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I usually try to break and go outside for a bit before returning and continuing to read/write for a few hours before I attend my own classes from 4:35-7:35. Most days, I’m on campus for 9-12 hours.
What is it like to share an office with someone?
Incredible. I don’t know if I’ve just been extremely fortunate with my office-mate but it’s been wonderful sharing an office with her. I’m not sure how I would have made it through graduate school without her. We talk through difficult readings and assignments, read and comment on each other’s work, and support one another through times that feel especially challenging. We’ve also become really good friends outside of school
What is it like leading a college level class?
Awesome. Though GTA’s don’t get to teach English majors, it’s both challenging and rewarding to win over students from other disciplines. Almost all of my students come to the first day of class completely disinterested in reading and writing. I make it a personal goal to engage them in the material and meet them at their level to help improve their writing.
What teaching experience did you have before UVM?
What has been the most challenging part of teaching a college level class?
Your students have to take your class. They never choose to take it. Unlike many college courses, your students don’t initially want to be in your class.
How do you balance being a student and a teacher in your role as a GTA?
By allowing myself a break. The work is and will feel overwhelming. You must allow yourself time away from school. Like I mentioned above, my weekdays are completely dedicated to my studies and teaching. However, on the weekends, I take time to myself. I don’t always take the whole weekend off (it’s just not possible sometimes) but I make it a point to step away from school sometimes. That way, when I return, I am energized and focused.
How would you describe your relationship with your Professors and advisors?
I am so grateful for the relationships I’ve built with my professors and advisors. The community in this department is extremely supportive.
How do you like your classes? What is the workload like?
I am very fortunate in that I’ve taken classes with all the faculty members I’ve chosen to work with. While the classes can sometimes feel like they are very specific to a certain topic, the professors are almost always open to students bringing in outside material. The workload is… a lot. You read at least a book a week per class (usually) along with secondary readings for that text (again per class.) A lot of courses expect you to write weekly responses and present at least twice over the course of the semester. Most classes require one final long essay at the end of the semester. Additionally, your teaching load (especially in the Spring of your first year and Fall of your second year) is pretty intense. You have 22 students per class. And during those two middle semesters, you teach two class. That’s 44 drafts to comment on and 44 papers to grade - and there are four portfolios per semester. Time management is essential - but since the program really focuses on community, it’s helpful to have a cohort of peers going through it with you.
What are your research interests?
I am especially interested in Victorian literature, the Gothic, queer and feminst theory.
Have you traveled to any conferences during your graduate studies? If so where? What was the conference(s) about/did you present?:
Yes, I have been fortunate to present at multiple conferences both here at UVM as well as at other universities. I presented at multiple conferences at UVM as well as at a conference in Houston and one in Washington, D.C. In Houston, I presented at the Society for Compartive Literature and the Arts conference. The conference theme was “Monstrosity and the Topography of Fear” and I presented what would eventually turn into the first chapter of my thesis: queer manner in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
I also presented at Georgetown University’s Graduate Student Conference. Their theme was “Anguish” and I presented a more refined version of the same chapter listed above.
What was most memorable about the conference(s) you went to?
The most memorable part about attending conferences as a student was feeling comfortable presenting. At the beginning of my first semester, I was terrified of public speaking. But by the end, I felt comfortable and confidant in my work.
What is something that surprised you about your experience here so far?
How supportive my fellow graduate students are. We challenge and debate each other but there is a respect we all have for one another that really helps create an environment that encourages hard-work and productive conversations.
How would you describe the city of Burlington?
Burlington is wonderful in the summer and fall. Winter can be long, dark and cold but if you ski or snowboard, it’s a great place to live. If not, you’ll have lots of time to get all of your work done! Also, the surrounding mountains and smaller towns in Vermont are really amazing in the warmer months.
How would you describe the culture of UVM? The English department?
Since we’re such a small program, a lot of the time it feels like the culture at UVM is the english department. We spend most of our time in this one particular building (though we are encouraged to take classes outside the department!) It’s very clear that a lot (though not all) of the professors really love to work with graduate students and the community is very supportive.
What advice would you give to someone thinking about pursuing a Graduate Teaching Assistantship with the UVM English department?
Get in touch with current GTA’s! They are very friendly and would love to give you more information about the program.