Sean Gerrity, Graduate Center Alum Now Teaching at Hostos, on Winning Grants, Working Toward Tenure, and a Pedagogy of Radical Kindness

Sean Gerrity (Photo courtesy of Gerrity)

Sean Gerrity (Ph.D. ’17, English), who is in his third year as a faculty member at CUNY’s Hostos Community College, was just awarded a Mellon/ACLS Community College Faculty Fellowship, which provides up to $40,000 in support for research projects.

Gerrity’s research focuses on U.S. literatures of the 19th century, with an emphasis on the pre-Civil War period. His previous projects have been supported by a Lillian Gary Taylor Fellowship and an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fellowship, among others. He recently spoke to The Graduate Center about joining CUNY as a professor and his hopes for how the academic world might emerge from the COVID-19 crisis:

The Graduate Center: How do you intend to use your Mellon/ACLS funding?

Gerrity: I plan to use the grant to complete my book project that emerged from my dissertation. The book is tentatively titled A Canada in the South: Maroons in American Literature. Primarily, I’m going to use grant funds for course releases, allowing me to teach only one class or no classes during the next few semesters so that I can focus on the research and writing. But I also plan to use funds to buy a home computer to actually write this book on and to pay (pandemic depending) for travel to present at some conferences.

GC: Can you discuss your trajectory toward a tenure-track position at Hostos?

Gerrity: I was a WAC Fellow (Writing Across the Curriculum) at Hostos in my fourth and fifth years at The Graduate Center and managed to make some fortuitous connections in Hostos’ English department. The WAC co-coordinator there is now my department chair. Don’t underestimate the potential value of contacts you make during your various stages of the program and across the many campuses where you’ll find yourself working in some capacity. 

I feel extraordinarily lucky to have the chance to remain a part of the CUNY community post-Ph.D. At Hostos I primarily teach in the first-year composition sequence, and while this isn’t necessarily what I imagined I was training for while at The Graduate Center, I can’t imagine being anywhere else. I began adjuncting at LaGuardia in my very first semester, and this put me on a trajectory that would prepare me to ultimately apply to community college jobs. Teaching and working with students — especially CUNY students — has always been my favorite part of academia, and at Hostos I get to spend the majority of my time doing exactly that.

GC: You have a great track record on getting grants. Do you have any advice for current students who are applying for funding?

Gerrity: Apply early and apply often to opportunities inside and outside of CUNY. Like publishing, it’s not something you can afford to put off, no matter what your field is, and there’s no reason not to start applying for grants and fellowships as soon as you have a project that is even just beginning to coalesce. 

I owe an immense debt of gratitude to The Graduate Center’s Advanced Research Collaborative, particularly Professor Duncan Faherty and then-Provost Louise Lennihan, for the grant money I was awarded during two summers to focus on archival research for my dissertation. I used these opportunities as a springboard to apply for external grants as my project began to take shape. I received a lot of advice and guidance from my committee about where to look for grants, but I also spent a ton of time searching around online for opportunities and applied widely. Once you have a few proposals done, it’s quite easy to tailor them for different applications. As with anything else, it’s crucial to network with people in order to locate relevant grants.

GC: The coronavirus has made this semester an extraordinarily hard time for students and faculty. Do you have any advice for The Graduate Center community?

Gerrity: Lean on the vast support networks that CUNY offers, whatever those look like for you. It certainly seems like online teaching and learning are going to be a much more pronounced aspect of the higher education landscape going forward, so personally I’ve been trying to figure out how become as competent as possible in those modalities: attending virtual workshops, doing trainings, learning from colleagues who are experts. My hope is that a more widespread pedagogy of radical kindness and generosity emerges from this crisis.


Submitted on: MAY 18, 2020

Category: Alumni News | English | General GC News | Grants | Voices of the GC