Alumni Testimonials

Sharon Tran

Sharon Tran: English Professor

Hello! I am Sharon, and I currently work as an Assistant Professor in the English Department at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. I entered Queens College with a very different vision of the career I would pursue. My parents had always pushed me toward the hard sciences, where I would be able to develop tangible, marketable skills that would set me up for a stable, lucrative STEM job. The English courses that I took at QC, however, ended up being the ones that I found the most intellectually stimulating and inspiring. They taught me how to think, speak, and write critically about different texts and the world I inhabit. Reading Edward Said’s Orientalism for the first time in Professor Jesse Schwartz’s class completely blew my mind and provided me with a whole new theoretical framework for apprehending gendered and racialized imperial power relations. For a short while, I managed to trick my parents (as well as myself) into believing that I was majoring in English with plans to apply for law school. By the end of junior year, I knew I had to come clean and finally told them that I wanted to pursue a PhD in English. They were very apprehensive about my choice but ultimately, supportive of my passion for studying literature. Upon graduation, I entered the English doctoral program at the University of California, Los Angeles and obtained my PhD in 2017.

I can say that studying English at QC has directly shaped and changed my life in major ways. It led me to move away from New York, where I have found new communities and wonderful peers, mentors, and friends. I have had the pleasure to learn from the brilliant faculty at UCLA and work with Rachel Lee, an amazing advisor who continues to challenge and push me intellectually with regards to my research on multiethnic American literatures and cultures. In the courses I have taught at UCLA, the University of Southern California (where I did one postdoctoral fellowship year), and UMBC, my current institution, I continue to draw on the teaching strategies and styles modeled by my excellent QC English professors such as Duncan Faherty, Caroline Hong, and Jason Tougaw, to only name few. Teaching continues to be, for me, one of the most rewarding aspects of being an academic and I hope to continue helping students become more critically engaged readers and writers in the world that they live.

Looking back at the original testimonial I composed, I described Queens College as the place where “I found myself falling precariously in love with literature.” That statement came from a place of intense anxiety as a graduate student struggling to make ends meet on my meager stipend and on the cusp of entering a highly competitive academic job market. My situation has since changed in dramatic ways. I feel very lucky and grateful to have obtained a tenure-track position at an institution with the most wonderful, supportive colleagues that a junior faculty member could ever hope for. However, I remain deeply aware of my privileged position and the fact that I am the exception, not the rule. Precarity in academia can be gleaned from the dwindling number of tenure-track jobs and the growing pool of part-time, contingent faculty without adequate healthcare benefits and who remain at the mercy of uncertain contract renewals. These structures and experiences of precarity have only been made more visible with the COVID-19 pandemic. At this juncture, the fallout for higher education is still unclear. I love what I do and have pushed myself to be more resilient, to not allow this sense of precarity to immobilize me when it comes to my research and teaching. At the same time, I do not believe that it is acceptable that faculty, staff, and students are increasingly compelled to embrace precarity as the norm and to figure out ways to repeatedly transform crisis and damage into productivity. I hope that in my role at UMBC, I will be able to facilitate the restructuring of higher education in more equitable and inclusive ways.

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