The Academic Career: Launching a Career with an Award-Winning Dissertation

PhD alum Betsy Howard, recognized for her 2022 dissertation by the Graduate School, is an assistant professor at Bethlehem College
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Last year, the University of Minnesota Graduate School selected 2022 PhD alum Betsy Howard’s "The Parted Voice: Polyvocal Utterances in Victorian Elegies" for its 2023 Best Dissertation Award for the Arts & Humanities. Only four recent graduates are honored each year, one each from the humanities and the biological, physical, and social sciences. While the nineteenth century British literature scholar is quick to describe the award as “a testimony to Professor Andrew Elfenbein’s advising,” the excellence of Howard’s research was also recognized with a 2021-2022 Graduate School Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship, the 2022 Van Arsdel Prize (see below), and Graduate Research Partnership Program support in 2019. 

Howard was named Assistant Professor of Literature at Bethlehem College in 2021. She helped to found and continues to advise the Bethlehem student literary journal Artos. Her work has appeared in various collections of essays and academic journals, including Victorian Poetry and Religion and the Arts. She graciously answered our emailed questions.

What are you working on?

Right now, I am working on revisions for a monograph proposal submission to Edinburgh University Press—a project expanded from my dissertation research on Victorian elegies. I am starting to work on the georgic mode in nineteenth-century poetry, beginning with a foray into Victorian beekeeping practices as a means of reading G. M. Hopkins’s “Patience” and E. Dickinson’s everywhere bees.

What are you most proud of in your research?

For me, receiving the 2022 VanArsdel Prize for my work on Alice in Wonderland and the development of periodical leisure in Australia in the 1860s validated the excellent periodical studies mentorship I received from Professor Michael Hancher and Dr. Alexis Easley (University of St. Thomas). It underscored for me the often-unexpected benefit of reading across the pages of serialized forms like weeklies and monthlies. 

What experiences at the University of Minnesota were most formative for you?

Over my years in the program, I looked forward weekly to the Friday lunch lectures with the Center for Premodern Studies and the various lectures hosted by the Anselm House—I found it a generous and generative forum that cultivated collegiality and interdisciplinarity.

Traveling with others in the English PhD program to the 2019 North American Victorian Studies Association (NAVSA) conference was another highlight of my first years in the program; the scholarly camaraderie and connections with the Victorian Poetry Caucus from that conference helped get me through the first long months of the pandemic shutdowns. 

In establishing habits of writing and research, nothing formed me as much as the mentorship of Professor Katharine Gerbner (History) in the spring 2020 Center for the Study of the Premodern World Dissertation Development Fellowship. My research habits were also served by moving nimbly and sometimes painstakingly through poetry independent studies with Professors Brian Goldberg and John Watkins. To them and my fellow classmates in those independent studies, thank you.

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