Hi, I am Frances Tran and I currently work as an Assistant Professor of English at Florida State University. When I first entered Queens College in 2006, I had no intention of becoming an English major or pursuing a doctoral degree. As immigrants who wanted the best for their children, my parents believed that there were only two paths to a successful career and life in the United States: either become a doctor or a lawyer. They never imagined that I would become a different kind of doctor, one that does not operate in antiseptic offices or hospitals but rather teaches in classrooms and conducts research in libraries. Honestly, this was never a future I would have imagined for myself either, until I started studying English at Queens College.
It was almost by chance that I ended up in Jesse Schwartz’s “Introduction to Literary Theory” course, the first of many English classes that changed my outlook on what I wanted to do with my life and how I saw the world. It was in this class that I was first introduced to that elusive, mind-blowing thing called theory. Between reading works on psychoanalysis, Marxism, and feminist critique, I learned from Jesse the joy that comes from being completely unsettled and disoriented, to rethink the things I thought I knew. I learned that engaging theory isn’t just about applying various theoretical lenses to different texts but rather using the insights I gained from them to construct an alternative way of seeing and knowing- to create an argument that is uniquely my own. Although we discussed primarily literature in his class, I went through a period of seeing theory in all of the things I encountered, from movies and TV shows to random strangers’ conversations in the subway.
It was also at Jesse’s encouragement that I entered an essay I wrote for his class into the English department’s writing awards. At the prize ceremony, I met Duncan Faherty, who has influenced my life in more ways than I can say. He was the first person to float the idea of applying to graduate school for a doctoral degree in English; the first person who made me realize that I could turn my love for literature and theory into a career. And, I should add, that he helped turn it into more than just an idea; Duncan worked tirelessly to help me prepare my graduate school applications. I still remember with no small amount of horror the red marks he left on my writing sample that seemed to make the paper bleed. Still, those red marks were a sign of Duncan’s sincere support and care, the effort he put into making sure that I submitted the strongest essay possible. His mentorship helped sustain me throughout my time at Queens College and through the difficult years of grad school.
It was also through Duncan’s recommendation that I met so many other amazing professors at QC, including: Roger Sedarat, whose 1-page essay assignments taught me the skill of writing succinctly and still compellingly; Karen Weingarten who sharpened my theoretical chops with readings on Giorgio Agamben and Judith Butler; Jason Tougaw whose use of blogs and digital media in the classroom showed me what an engaged virtual community looks like; Gordon Whatley, who instilled in me the importance of reading (poetry) aloud, to learn from listening to literature; Caroline Hong, who taught the first Asian American literature course I would take and introduced me to texts that I am still teaching my students today; Richard McCoy, whose honors seminar on “Love,” in my last year, was where I not only grasped the purpose of the annotated bibliography but also finally felt like I could write; Seo-young Chu, whose class on science fiction has had a lasting impact on my research, and so many others I cannot name here who impacted my life in both big and small ways.
Writing this has made me realize that it wasn’t just studying English but studying it alongside these teachers and mentors that made all the difference. They modeled the generosity, engagement, and care that I try to bring to my own teaching and research today. After Queens College, I entered the CUNY Graduate Center in the English PhD program. My undergraduate coursework did not make the transition into grad school any easier; it was hard work and more reading than I ever dreamed I could do but my time at QC did lay the foundation for the skills that I would continue to develop and strengthen over time. While I was a graduate student, I had the pleasure of returning to and teaching at Queens College, encountering students who made the work of lesson planning and grading worth it. I have had the rewarding experience of encouraging my own students to enter the English department writing contest; I have composed letters of recommendation for internships and graduate school and worked with students on personal statements and writing samples, in hopes that I could touch their lives in the same way that my mentors have influenced and inspired me.
After earning my doctorate in English in 2016, I worked as a lecturer at Fordham University and received a postdoctoral fellowship with the Futures Initiative at the CUNY Graduate Center, which gave me invaluable administrative experience and ample time to develop my research. I finally landed a tenure-track position at Florida State University two years after completing my PhD, which led me to do something I never thought possible: I moved away from New York City. Now, I am heading into my third year in Tallahassee working at Florida State University; I am thrilled to have found a supportive and engaging community of friends, colleagues, and students, doing work that I find both intellectually stimulating and challenging. It still feels strange to encounter students who have joined the English graduate program at FSU to work with me; who have read and are excited about my research. It is a reminder that the work I do has meaning and purpose and can impact more people than I even realize. For this reason too, I am constantly reminded of the wonderful mentorship I received at Queens College, the people who first gave me models for the kind of scholar and teacher I want to be and I strive to carry on their work by being there for my students in the same way. In light of all of the uncertainty and anxieties that come with the recent global pandemic and the ongoing struggle of living in a country founded on racism and the devaluation of minoritized life, I understand that what we do in the classroom has transformative potential; it can change the way students perceive themselves and the worlds they live in; it can open up new opportunities and show them how they might achieve things they never even dreamed possible. This is what propels me to continue doing the work that I do; it is my way of paying forward the generosity, kindness, and care that has helped me get where I am today.