Princeton-Bound 2020 Graduate on Bridging the Gap Between ‘Being (and Feeling Like) a Student and Becoming a Scholar’

Natalia Castro Picón

Natalia Castro Picón (Latin American, Iberian, and Latino Cultures) was offered a tenure-track assistant professor position at Princeton University just weeks before the United States began to experience the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of the shutdown, she will now have to start her new position next spring, instead of this fall. 

Yet Castro Picón is making good use of the unexpected delay, continuing her research and preparing for her next project. She recently answered our questions from the island of Menorca, where her family lives:

The Graduate Center: What do you think made you stand out in your field?

Castro Picón: I think it is a combination of several elements. On the one hand, the subject of my thesis turned to be very topical, both conceptually and historically. My work analyzes the causes and consequences of the rise of apocalyptic imaginaries in the present, and its relationship with the crisis. The representation of different crises thorough apocalyptic narratives has been present since 2008 (as in other moments in history) and being able to recognize that phenomenon, I think, was a success. 

On the other hand, creating a collaborative network of colleagues, both graduate students and professors, has been enormously enriching. My thesis supervisor always insisted on that — that I had to define an intellectual community in which my work would belong. I have been lucky enough to meet and work with some of the people whose research informs mine, and that has helped me a lot to position myself in the field. Many collaborations have emerged from these networks, which has allowed me to come into some forums that have been fundamental to developing my academic profile.

GC: What are you working on now?

Castro Picón: I will use this extra time to write the proposal of a book based on my dissertation project and to progress with it. Starting from this book on apocalyptic imaginaries, I want to continue exploring other political meanings and functions of secularized theological imaginaries, as a basis for future projects. To that end, I am studying some treatises in theology and starting to analyze the persistence of other religious images and narratives in contemporary culture.

GC: What is your advice for students and recent graduates who are looking for tenure-track positions?

Castro Picón: I would tell them to be patient. I know my case is uncommon. Normally, at least nowadays, the path to a tenure is longer and harder, but also it may be very valuable and constructive. Visiting and postdoctoral positions are a very positive transition for recent graduates; I have seen that development in many of my colleagues. 

In terms of practical advice in looking for jobs (tenure or otherwise), I recommend becoming familiar with the institution, making an effort to know the place you are trying to fit in, but also to be honest and confident about who you are and how you work, and about your academic projects and your intellectual position. I really think that confidence, in professional terms, is something crucial to break the gap between being (and feeling like) a student and becoming a scholar.   

GC: What are your hopes for your new position? 

Castro Picón: I hope to continue enjoying research and teaching while growing professionally. I am also very glad that I’ll work with undergraduate and graduate students and collaborate in their own intellectual and professional growth. I especially hope to help young researchers who, like me, have come from far away and with different backgrounds to train themselves, learn to think critically, and build themselves a future in these uncertain times. I hope to help create a socially and intellectually rich and diverse collaborative environment like the one I encountered at The Graduate Center and in my program. 

GC: What did you find most helpful in terms of preparing for this stage of your career?

Castro Picón: The Latin American, Iberian, and Latino Cultures program has become a recognized center in the discipline. This can be traced to the topicality of courses and events, in the participation and organization of panels in the national and international conferences, in the collaborations that students and professors undertake with other institutions and scholars, as well as in the fact that some students have chosen The Graduate Center over Ivy League universities to pursue their Ph.Ds. 

Also, my experience as instructor in several CUNY colleges has been important in terms of my CV. I have taught not only Spanish, but also literature and cultural courses at different levels, taught both in Spanish and English. Finally, the administrative and decision-making processes at The Graduate Center, which usually include student representatives, gave me the possibility to gain experience in different committees, which prepared me for other important tasks you undertake when you become a tenure-track faculty member. I have been a student representative in the executive committee of my program and member of the admissions committee, among other things. Experience in this area is a great strength when looking for a job. 

Submitted on: SEP 2, 2020

Category: Alumni News | Diversity | General GC News | Latin American, Iberian, and Latino Cultures | Student News