New professor Elisabeth Buck on making the most of PhD studies

Elisabeth Buck received her PhD in Rhetoric and Writing from BSU in 2016. During her time here, Elisabeth worked as a graduate teaching assistant and as the Graduate Assistant Director of the Writing Program and Writing Center. She is now Assistant Professor of English and Faculty Director of the Writing & Reading Center at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth. 

In this installment of Grad School Confidential, Elisabeth talks about how her experiences at Ball State readied her for the academic job market.

One of the best aspects of my job is the opportunity to mentor and advise students. Just the other day, one of my students asked me, “So… how do I go about getting a job like yours?”

Receiving a tenure-track job offer is like finding a unicorn, or catching a foul ball, or *insert other appropriate metaphor about luck/scarcity here.* There are so many super-smart, hard-working, enthusiastic people who, for a variety of reasons, may spend years applying for and never receiving such a job offer. The reality is that working full-time in academia is an increasingly tenuous pursuit, and I remind myself constantly how lucky I am to be here. If you decide then to attend graduate school, I believe strongly that you should be open to many post-grad paths: a graduate degree in English can be versatile and marketable. That said, the specific opportunities and training offered to me at Ball State absolutely prepared me to take on my role at U Mass Dartmouth, for three primary reasons:

Fantastic Faculty Mentors

If you have—or are considering—moving to attend grad school, the community you’re able to build is critically important. Graduate school can be tough on mental health. Seriously tough. It’s important that anyone considering this path do their research about this topic, and know what resources exist on campus. Even if you’re commuting locally, I cannot emphasize enough that to be successful in graduate school, you must have support.

On this note, I met Dr. Jennifer Grouling on my first day at Ball State. During my time there, she epitomized supportive—from her first role as my teaching mentor, through her supervision as my dissertation/exam chair, and, more recently, as my co-teacher and co-author. Dr. Jackie Grutsch McKinney too is one of the most well-known and well- respected scholars in writing center studies. (She’s a three-time winner of the International Writing Center Association’s Outstanding Book Award!) Both Jennifer and Jackie are incredibly encouraging mentors, and I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to learn from them. Dr. Rory Lee and Dr. Mike Donnelly also helped me engage critically and meaningfully throughout my exam and dissertation process. Even English faculty outside of my area stepped in to help prepare me for the job market—from offering workshops on personal statements and CV design, to attending mock job talks and research presentations.

Teaching/Administrative Opportunities

One thing that I believe made me successful in my job search is the variety of teaching and administrative positions I was able to hold at Ball State. I served as  the Graduate Assistant Director of both the Writing Program and the Writing Center. In these roles, I explored strategies for programmatic evaluation, supervision, publicity, and assessment—all key to developing a comprehensive administrative philosophy.

Ball State also afforded me the opportunity to teach a variety of classes, including first-year English courses, a Digital Literacies class, and, as co-teacher with Dr. Grouling, a graduate level course, Teaching in English Studies. These pedagogical experiences supplemented my administrative roles, especially with regard to the opportunity to work closely with and mentor fellow graduate students.

Rigorous Research Preparation

When I was a student in Dr. Grouling’s Teaching in English Studies class, I began a research project that eventually became my first peer-reviewed publication. Have I mentioned that Jennifer is supportive? Well, she was there during every stage of this process.

I think that most current academics will tell you that it is always advantageous to emerge from grad school with at least one refereed publication, if a job in academe is the end goal. Navigating the publishing process can be hugely scary, but my coursework at Ball State—especially the Writing in the Professions course—helped me take important steps that would make my work legible within disciplinary contexts.

It was also this advanced preparation that helped me navigate how to pitch and revise my dissertation into a book, Open-Access, Multimodality, and Writing Center Studies.

In short, I am enormously thankful for my time at Ball State. The combination of highly engaged faculty, unique teaching and administrative opportunities, and an encouraging and thorough research program undoubtedly helped me make it to this point.

Editor’s Note: Elisabeth indicates that she would be happy to hear from students considering graduate school at Ball State. You can reach her at

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