Pembroke Center

For graduate students, Pembroke Center proctorships provide career-building experiences

When Michelle Rada, doctoral candidate in English, began her graduate student Interdisciplinary Opportunities proctorship with differences: a Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies, little did she know the impact it would have on her career trajectory. Today, she credits the proctorship as the springboard into her career as an editor.

Rada says, “I was able to find well-compensated work pretty much entirely because of my experience at differences. The work I did was broad enough to allow me to shift from academic publishing to managing the editorial desks for a popular magazine.” Rada elaborates that  “it's also thanks to everything I learned at differences that I was able to become a valuable member of a small team of editors in starting our own magazine.” Currently Rada is Associate Editor at differences, Director of Public Affairs at the American Psychoanalytic Association, and Senior Editor of Parapraxis. Her trajectory is emblematic of the career experience and support the Pembroke Center aims to provide graduate student proctors as they enter a competitive and challenging job market. 

Graduate student proctors are a critical part of the Pembroke Center academic community. Most of these positions are funded through the Graduate School’s Interdisciplinary Opportunities Fellowship program, which enables advanced graduate students to participate substantively in the academic life of interdisciplinary institutes and centers in the humanities and social sciences such as the Pembroke Center. Proctorships provide opportunities for graduate students to gain valuable academic and professional experience while supporting key work of the Center: the undergraduate concentration in Gender and Sexuality Studies; the Pembroke Center-housed and supported academic journal differences; and the Pembroke Center Archives. Proctors join the Center for what are generally academic year-long positions and receive supervision and mentorship from the faculty or staff member managing that programmatic area. 

Four graduate student proctors
Clockwise from top left: former graduate proctors N’Kosi Oates, Michelle Rada, Kristen Maye, and Christina Gilligan

Christina Gilligan, a graduate proctor in summer 2020, an editorial assistant in 2020-21, and a 2022-23 Interdisciplinary Opportunities proctor, found her experience as a teaching assistant to the GNSS introductory course taught by Associate Director Wendy Allison Lee exciting and eye-opening. “It was so amazing to see students from different disciplinary backgrounds grapple with the difficulty and potential of these texts that have been so formative to my own development as a thinker,” comments Gilligan. “It was also great to learn to encounter texts that were new to me and to figure out the best ways into them.”  Instructing a survey course that introduces foundational feminist texts to undergraduates provides an opportunity for graduate students deep into their research to re-examine work with a fresh perspective. The course instructor (Lee or Denise Davis, Senior Lecturer and Editor of differences) serves as supervisor for these proctors, and this experience was another highlight for Gilligan. She notes, “I particularly benefited from the mentorship of Wendy Lee. Wendy does such an incredible job of making texts accessible to students without reducing their complexity, especially through her engagements with popular culture. In my own teaching, I try to emulate her approach.” As Lee notes, “working closely with undergraduate students in weekly discussion sections and on their written assignments, proctors enable students to experience and understand the breadth and depth of Gender and Sexuality Studies’ interdisciplinarity and how gender and sexuality have been constructed in a range of legal, medical, scientific, historical, and cultural contexts.” 

Graduate proctors at differences work as assistant editors and learn the full editorial and publication process. Davis trains and supervises the editorial proctors as they assume “greater and greater professional responsibilities.” As Rada explains, “I learned how an academic journal works, about relations with university presses, authors, publication schedules, production differences between special and open issues, the different phases and elements of editorial labor, and all the details that go into successfully publishing issue after issue of a prominent journal in an interdisciplinary field.” The differences proctorship also enables students to examine their own research in new ways. "While managing the peer-review process,” notes 2021-22 proctor Kristen Maye Ph.D. ’23, “I became more rigorously attuned to the centrality of argumentative structure and organization as critical to the production of compelling ideas. I have matured as a writer, reader and critic thanks to the practices I've honed during my time working with differences." Maye is now an Associate Editor at differences and Assistant Professor of English at Mount Holyoke College.

The 2022-23 academic year also saw differences piloting a second editorial proctorship, in addition to the one funded by the Interdisciplinary Opportunities program. Scott Jackshaw, a doctoral candidate in English, is the inaugural proctor in this role. Davis is hopeful that this second proctorship opportunity will become permanent; as she notes, “Participating as junior colleagues, proctors’ ideas are welcomed and their labor is valued."

In summer 2021, N’Kosi Oates served as a Black Feminist Theory Project Graduate Curatorial Proctor. Oates describes his responsibilities: “I researched and solicited potential donors to the Feminist Theory Archive. I augmented these responsibilities by leading a potential donor meeting with Black feminist journalist and scholar Paula J. Giddings.” He notes, “one of my proudest highlights was that by the end of my proctorship, Giddings gave a verbal commitment to preserving her legacy at the Pembroke Center Archives.” (Giddings’ papers are now open for research.) Proctors in the Center Archives, under the supervision of Nancy L. Buc '65 LLD'94 hon Archivist Mary Murphy, gain firsthand experience of the curatorial process. The experience is mutually beneficial; as Murphy puts it, “Proctors bring rich knowledge of current scholarship to the conversation. Through the proctorship, graduate students gain key curatorial skills while they offer important insights about scholars to watch. We have absolutely solicited papers from new scholars because of the recommendations of our proctors."

Many students serving as graduate proctors have gone on to careers in the field of their proctorship. Oates, for example, credits the “foundational skills'' he learned working with Murphy as key to his success achieving a curatorial role after receiving his Ph.D. in Africana Studies in 2022. Oates is currently Curator for Black Arts and Culture & Instruction Librarian at James Madison University. In this role, Oates co-manages the instructional program within Special Collections. He also leads collection development in Black Arts and Culture acquisitions materials. Gilligan, for her part, found her Pembroke Center teaching experience so useful that she successfully applied to the Deans’ Faculty Fellow Program for 2023-24 and is the Pembroke Center Deans’ Faculty Fellow 2023-24, teaching undergraduate courses in fall and spring. “I felt like the challenge of teaching these texts from different disciplines really helped me to develop as a teacher,” she says, noting her enjoyment of “these productive and generative conversations with the students in my self-designed seminars.”

Graduate student proctors provide the Pembroke Center with teaching, curatorial, and editorial support that is essential to the Center’s work as a hub of feminist scholarship. In return, the Center supports these students with professional development and mentoring that serves as a foundation for their careers after Brown. As Oates comments, “I return to my proctor experience quite often. These experiences enabled me to develop foundational skills for the [curatorial] profession.”