The Value of a PhD?

Criticism / Susanna Compton Underland


:: The Value of a PhD? ::

About six months after tak­ing a staff job at my uni­ver­si­ty, func­tion­al­ly leav­ing the tenure-track job mar­ket in Amer­i­can lit­er­ary stud­ies, I met up with a for­mer men­tor of mine while vis­it­ing the city where he teach­es. I was hap­py to find that I could still catch up with a dis­ser­ta­tion com­mit­tee mem­ber out­side of the grad­u­ate school con­text, even more so because Kevin had ties to more than just my dis­ser­ta­tion: in a sense, he rep­re­sents the entire arc of my doc­tor­al career. Years after tak­ing his Civ­il War lit­er­a­ture course my sopho­more year of col­lege, I came across his first mono­graph in the library while work­ing on a dis­ser­ta­tion prospec­tus about reli­gion and sentimentalism—precisely the top­ic of his book. How uncan­ny, I thought, that I wound up in the very same sub­field as him. I reached out, we crossed paths at con­fer­ences, and even­tu­al­ly he joined my dis­ser­ta­tion com­mit­tee. And now, from dual sides of acad­e­mia, we were some­thing like peers. Over lunch, our con­ver­sa­tion ranged top­ics from cam­pus pol­i­tics and the joys of new par­ent­hood to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Cus­tom-House” sketch (1850). I had just picked up The Scar­let Let­ter after months of find­ing no time for read­ing while accli­mat­ing to my new admin­is­tra­tive posi­tion and was floored by the rel­e­vance of Hawthorne’s writ­ing to my own expe­ri­ence. I explained to Kevin that it seemed like Hawthorne had hit the nail on the head in describ­ing what it means to shift from lit­er­ary pur­suits to more bureau­crat­ic work. I was heart­ened by Hawthorne’s spin on the mer­its of this kind of change in work, par­tic­u­lar­ly in terms of embrac­ing a dif­fer­ent set of col­leagues. And I had gen­uine­ly laughed out loud when Hawthorne pokes fun at his for­mer set of eclec­tic lit­er­ary acquain­tances, issu­ing the sick burn, “Even the old Inspec­tor was desir­able, as a change of diet, to a man who had known Alcott.” [i] Those of us depart­ing work in Eng­lish depart­ments might sim­i­lar­ly chuck­le about the relief of leav­ing some col­leagues behind—who, I joked, is my Bron­son Alcott? [ii] Kevin laughed along with me before quip­ping, “You might be the only per­son who has ever enjoyed read­ing ‘The Custom-House.’” 

What made read­ing “The Cus­tom-House,” a text often deployed to vary­ing degrees of suc­cess as a teach­ing tool, so plea­sur­able to me at this junc­ture in my life? Well, there was the read­ing, and then there was the talk­ing about the read­ing. I enjoyed con­nect­ing to Nathaniel Hawthorne through our shared work­place expe­ri­ences, and I enjoyed return­ing to con­ver­sa­tions about lit­er­a­ture with schol­ar­ly col­leagues. My con­ver­sa­tion with Kevin rep­re­sents an abil­i­ty to bridge a past life as a doc­tor­al stu­dent and schol­ar with a future as an aca­d­e­m­ic admin­is­tra­tor. Much has been writ­ten about doc­tor­al grad­u­ates hav­ing to give up on the tenure-track job mar­ket. Those of us who spent the bet­ter part of a decade in train­ing for a job that no longer seems to exist have had to rec­on­cile what we lost; our respec­tive fields of study have also had to come to terms with what our depar­ture means for schol­ar­ship. [iii] I had cer­tain­ly har­bored dreams of becom­ing a tenure-track fac­ul­ty mem­ber and spend­ing the rest of my work­ing life research­ing nine­teenth-cen­tu­ry Amer­i­can domes­tic fic­tion, and I don’t exact­ly find in my new work a per­fect real­iza­tion of intel­lec­tu­al pur­pose. But in “The Cus­tom-House,” Hawthorne artic­u­lates a cer­tain sense of self that I found to be help­ful for devel­op­ing a new intel­lec­tu­al ori­en­ta­tion toward the val­ue of my work, past and present. Tak­ing up Hawthorne’s reflec­tion on his brief stint as sur­vey­or of Salem’s Cus­tom House, the goal of this essay is not to grieve the tenure-track path (or to cel­e­brate high­er ed admin­is­tra­tion, which is not with­out its faults), but rather to explore what it means to chart a new intel­lec­tu­al path. What does my PhD mean to me now? 


A bit of back­sto­ry: about a year ago, I accept­ed a full-time staff posi­tion man­ag­ing an hon­ors pro­gram at the uni­ver­si­ty where I com­plet­ed my doc­tor­ate in nine­teenth-cen­tu­ry Amer­i­can lit­er­a­ture. I felt hap­py about my tran­si­tion to a staff job on cam­pus because the tan­gi­ble cir­cum­stances of my work improved, name­ly my salary and my rou­tine. Tran­si­tion­ing to admin­is­tra­tion from research and teach­ing was also sat­is­fy­ing because it was a choice, a dif­fer­ence from feel­ing like one’s life is in some­one else’s hands. After some years in lim­bo on the aca­d­e­m­ic job mar­ket, writ­ing the next arti­cle, propos­ing the next con­fer­ence pan­el, work­ing toward the next round of appli­ca­tions and inter­views, to sign a con­tract was to end the cycle—a relief in itself. 

Iron­i­cal­ly, my new office was direct­ly across the street from the Eng­lish depart­ment build­ing. I could see my dis­ser­ta­tion advisor’s office win­dow from my own. While it felt like I had made a sig­nif­i­cant career shift, I was also mere­ly moved to the oth­er side of a plaza where I had met stu­dents dur­ing out­door office hours and vent­ed to friends about fel­low­ship sea­son. This phys­i­cal prox­im­i­ty to my for­mer depart­ment rep­re­sent­ed how I want­ed to feel about my job: that it would not be that dif­fer­ent, that far away from my aca­d­e­m­ic train­ing. I would still be involved with a human­i­ties-skew­ing cur­ricu­lum, I would still inter­act with stu­dents, and I would remain a part of the aca­d­e­m­ic com­mu­ni­ty. Ulti­mate­ly, for the most part, I was not wrong. And when it came to the things that would change (the extent to which every hour of my day would come to be orga­nized by Google Cal­en­dar, for instance), I found in Hawthorne a solace. 

Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804 – 1864) was already an estab­lished writer of tales when, in 1846, he was appoint­ed sur­vey­or of the Cus­tom-House in Salem, Mass­a­chu­setts. This tran­si­tion was Hawthorne’s own fig­u­ra­tive move across a plaza, from his lit­er­ary home in Con­cord, where he wrote Moss­es from an Old Manse (1846), to his gov­ern­ment post in Salem. Hawthorne frames much of his time in the Cus­tom-House through his col­leagues, who dif­fer from his pri­or, lit­er­ary com­rades in their busi­nesslike demeanors. And at least for a while, Hawthorne finds the applied util­i­ty of his new posi­tion inspiring: 

I took it in good part, at the hands of Prov­i­dence, that I was thrown into a posi­tion so lit­tle akin to my past habits; and set myself seri­ous­ly to gath­er from it what­ev­er prof­it was to be had. After my fel­low­ship of toil and imprac­ti­ca­ble schemes with the dreamy brethren of Brook Farm; after liv­ing for three years with­in the sub­tile influ­ence of an intel­lect like Emerson’s; after those wild, free days on the Ass­a­beth, indulging fan­tas­tic spec­u­la­tions, beside our fire of fall­en boughs, with Ellery Chan­ning; after talk­ing with Thore­au about pine-trees and Indi­an relics, in his her­mitage at Walden; … it was time, at length, that I should exer­cise oth­er fac­ul­ties of my nature, and nour­ish myself with food for which I had hith­er­to had lit­tle appetite. (21)

Not to roman­ti­cize grad­u­ate school as “wild, free days” (“fel­low­ship of toil” is more like it), but Hawthorne’s assess­ment of this change in work­place scenery was akin to my own, thrown as I was into a 9 – 5 world of spread­sheets, spread­sheets, and more spread­sheets. At its best, the aca­d­e­m­ic pro­fes­sion can feel like “indulging fan­tas­tic spec­u­la­tions, beside [a] fire of fall­en boughs.” Work­ing with a men­tor can feel like “liv­ing … with­in the sub­tile influ­ence of [a great] intel­lect.” (Explic­it com­par­isons of any­one liv­ing to Ralph Wal­do Emer­son have been redact­ed to pro­tect the egos of those involved.) At the same time, I was hap­py to step away, to “exer­cise oth­er fac­ul­ties” and engage with, as Hawthorne will lat­er sug­gest, the real world. Hawthorne’s new col­leagues are “men of alto­geth­er dif­fer­ent qual­i­ties” from Emer­son, Chan­ning, and Thore­au, but Hawthorne embraces the fact that the oth­er men of the Cus­tom-House “care lit­tle for his pur­suits,” pre­sum­ably unin­ter­est­ed in lit­er­a­ture or his lit­er­ary past (20). They teach him about the new and dif­fer­ent tal­ents of busi­ness­men. So too, even if my exper­tise in nine­teenth-cen­tu­ry women’s domes­tic fic­tion did not come up in con­ver­sa­tions by the water cool­er, I quick­ly learned how to write a fac­ul­ty con­tract; how to scale a pro­gram bud­get (up fol­low­ing siz­able cam­pus invest­ment, and then down fol­low­ing the con­se­quences of a glob­al pan­dem­ic); how to make sure someone’s park­ing per­mit gets acti­vat­ed on the right day. No small thing, real­ly. Cam­pus park­ing enforce­ment is aggressive. 

But in addi­tion to the ben­e­fits of learn­ing new skills, Hawthorne also describes what all of this change means for his iden­ti­ty as a writer. He admits, “Lit­er­a­ture, its exer­tions and objects, were now of lit­tle moment in my regard. I cared not, at this peri­od, for books; they were apart from me.… A gift, a fac­ul­ty, if it had not depart­ed, was sus­pend­ed and inan­i­mate with­in me” (21). I felt this too. I had not nec­es­sar­i­ly lost the researcher or writer inside me; my staff office, dec­o­rat­ed with a wall of book­shelves for which I had repeat­ed­ly asked, sug­gests that I was at least cling­ing to the ves­tiges of a researcher or writer out­side of me. Even so, that ver­sion of myself did feel “sus­pend­ed and inan­i­mate.” For a time, I had read very lit­tle at all, either for plea­sure or to attempt inde­pen­dent schol­ar­ship. Through­out my life as a stu­dent of lit­er­a­ture, I had cer­tain­ly tak­en breaks like this, and I had always thought of my brain as need­ing rest from the rig­ors of crit­i­cal read­ing. “Sus­pend­ed and inan­i­mate” describes a pause, rather than a stop. So, in those months when I was first learn­ing the ropes of my admin­is­tra­tive posi­tion, books might have been “apart” from me, but they were no fur­ther away than at the times dur­ing grad­u­ate school I indulged in watch­ing hours on end of The Bach­e­lor fran­chise (tru­ly a brain-sus­pend­ing exer­cise). Per­haps the months before I picked up The Scar­let Let­ter and its prefa­to­ry essay were just an extra-long Mon­day night—a break from exertion. 

Hawthorne like­wise empha­sizes that the depar­ture of his lit­er­ary fac­ul­ty is tem­po­rary. He reas­sures the read­er that all was not lost, and in fact, all was still read­i­ly acces­si­ble: “There would have been some­thing sad, unut­ter­ably drea­ry, in all this, had I not been con­scious that it lay at my own option to recall what­ev­er was valu­able in the past” (21). It is in this moment that Hawthorne pro­vid­ed a bit of self-help, prompt­ing me to con­tex­tu­al­ize my new posi­tion in rec­ol­lec­tions of my pri­or expe­ri­ence. What stands out is Hawthorne’s empha­sis on his “own option,” a choice with­in his con­trol. By hold­ing on to his past expe­ri­ences and their val­ue to him, Hawthorne can rec­on­cile him­self (he says, any­way) to the new real­i­ty of his place in the Cus­tom-House. Here, Hawthorne inspired me to rumi­nate on what was “valu­able” in my past as a schol­ar and student. 

Any­one who has com­plet­ed a PhD in the human­i­ties can enu­mer­ate its chal­lenges, which make the per­ceived lack of a return-on-invest­ment that much more painful. In short, did the degree cost more than it was worth? The abysmal­ly-low stipends, the imposter syn­drome, the com­pe­ti­tion with equal­ly-deserv­ing peers for too-few fel­low­ships (or, alter­na­tive­ly, the feel­ing that some­one less-than-deserv­ing has scored one), the pow­er dynam­ics with (and among) faculty—all these are famil­iar. My father recent­ly spec­u­lat­ed about the kind of retire­ment sav­ings I lost over the course of my doc­tor­al career, pre­sum­ing that I would have had a full-time job with ben­e­fits dur­ing my twen­ties if I hadn’t attend­ed grad­u­ate school. In response to that trade-off, I some­times feel a com­pul­sive need to item­ize the ben­e­fits of sus­tained lit­er­ary study. Like an Eng­lish depart­ment extolling the prac­ti­cal uses of their Eng­lish major to con­cerned, skep­ti­cal under­grad­u­ates and their fam­i­lies, I can lay out here the many skills learned and honed in grad­u­ate school that I use at my staff job today: the abil­i­ty to gath­er and con­sid­er dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives before form­ing my own argu­ment, to self-direct a project or ini­tia­tive and build a time­line for its com­ple­tion, to revise some­thing over and over (and over) with patience. And I can’t help but think that doc­tor­al grad­u­ates are more equipped than any­one to spend months tele­work­ing with no one but them­selves to keep us on task. That skill has to be worth some­thing, right? 

Hawthorne con­sis­tent­ly uses such lan­guage around worth, which is to say mar­ket val­ue, to describe his own vexed feel­ings about his two occu­pa­tions as sur­vey­or and writer. As I men­tioned, while work­ing as sur­vey­or, Hawthorne is con­soled by the fact that he can draw on what was “valu­able in his past,” and he sim­i­lar­ly sup­pos­es that there might be “prof­it” in his present occu­pa­tion (21). Ulti­mate­ly, though, Hawthorne does escape the Cus­tom-House and return to his ful­ly-cre­ative life. Thus, “The Cus­tom-House,” writ­ten ret­ro­spec­tive­ly, treats Hawthorne’s staff job (as I like to think of it) as use­ful only inso­far as it is a tem­po­rary posi­tion. The Cus­tom-House, Hawthorne writes, “might make me per­ma­nent­ly oth­er than I had been, with­out trans­form­ing me into any shape which it would be worth my while to take. But I had nev­er con­sid­ered it as oth­er than a tran­si­to­ry life” (21). Hawthorne pon­ders what might have been had he remained a sur­vey­or: he might have changed, per­ma­nent­ly, and that change might not have been worth­while. Notably, though the Cus­tom-House job cen­ters on mon­e­tary val­ue, for Hawthorne, “worth” is con­nect­ed to Romance. 

Hawthorne main­tains that the worth­while shape of his self must retain an intel­lec­tu­al warmth con­ducive to writ­ing. He shares that The Scar­let Let­ter could nev­er have been writ­ten if he remained a surveyor: 

The char­ac­ters of the nar­ra­tive would not be warmed and ren­dered mal­leable by any heat that I could kin­dle at my intel­lec­tu­al forge. They would take nei­ther the glow of pas­sion nor the ten­der­ness of sen­ti­ment, but retained all the rigid­i­ty of corpses, and stared at me in the face with a fixed and ghast­ly grin of con­temp­tu­ous defi­ance. “What have you to do with us?” that expres­sion seemed to say. “The lit­tle pow­er you might have once pos­sessed over the tribe of unre­al­i­ties is gone! You have bartered it for a pit­tance of the pub­lic gold. Go, then, and earn your wages!” (27) 

Hawthorne’s inter­nal con­flict between mal­leable warmth and cold rigid­i­ty res­onates with some per­cep­tions of leav­ing acad­e­mia. After years of liv­ing on so lit­tle in order to pur­sue schol­ar­ship, it can feel like sell­ing out to trade in your adjunct con­tract for the secu­ri­ty of a salaried job. One of the first ques­tions a men­tor asked me when I told him about my new posi­tion was “What’s the salary?” This came from a kinder place than “Go, then, and earn your wages!” but even so, I won­dered what I had “bartered” for my “pit­tance of the pub­lic gold.” [iv] Cer­tain­ly not the next great Amer­i­can nov­el, but per­haps some kind of unde­fin­able qual­i­ty of “my intel­lec­tu­al forge.” 

So, where does this leave me? Nos­tal­gic about the ear­ly, thrilling days of learn­ing? Vin­di­cat­ed to have left a pro­fes­sion that con­tributed noth­ing to my 401k? Some­where in between, of course. On some days, the fact that I spend hours trans­lat­ing per­son­nel cat­e­gories into finan­cial object codes does make my brain feel like a “tar­nished mir­ror” that reflects only a “mis­er­able dim­ness” of a cre­ative life (27). Hawthorne admits toward the end of the sketch, “I had ceased to be a writer of tol­er­a­bly poor tales and essays, and had become a tol­er­a­bly good Sur­vey­or of the Cus­toms” (29). Had I ceased to be a writer of tol­er­a­bly poor crit­i­cism (ouch) only to become a tol­er­a­bly good man­ag­er of an hon­ors pro­gram? I think not, in part because I can con­tin­ue tak­ing my cue from Hawthorne, who imag­ines an alter­na­tive to the tar­nished mirror. 

For Hawthorne, mere­ly remem­ber­ing his lit­er­ary past becomes unten­able; he must return to his cre­ative life in full. “It was a fol­ly,” he writes, “with the mate­ri­al­i­ty of this dai­ly life press­ing so intru­sive­ly upon me, to attempt to fling myself back into anoth­er age; or to insist on cre­at­ing the sem­blance of a world out of airy mat­ter, when, at every moment, the impal­pa­ble beau­ty of my soap-bub­ble was bro­ken by the rude con­tact of some actu­al cir­cum­stance” (28). The Scar­let Let­ter and its pref­ace, now known for rep­re­sent­ing Hawthorne’s the­o­ry of Romance as char­ac­ter­ized by moon­light, could not have been pro­duced while the writer was immersed in the sun­light of a staff job. Lucky for me, a per­son not try­ing to imag­ine a new world, but rather to find joy and cre­ativ­i­ty in my own, Hawthorne sup­pos­es a dif­fer­ent intel­lec­tu­al orientation: 

The wis­er effort would have been, to dif­fuse thought and imag­i­na­tion through the opaque sub­stance of to-day, and thus to make it a bright trans­paren­cy; to spir­i­tu­al­ize the bur­den that began to weigh so heav­i­ly; to seek, res­olute­ly, the true and inde­struc­tible val­ue that lay hid­den in the pet­ty and weari­some inci­dents, and ordi­nary char­ac­ters, with which I was now con­ver­sant. (28–29) 

This feels doable. I remem­ber inter­view­ing for my staff posi­tion and insist­ing that my PhD would make me a good admin­is­tra­tor, a more thought­ful, imag­i­na­tive admin­is­tra­tor who could bring a bit of the misty human­i­ties to our expense spread­sheets and pol­i­cy man­u­als. Indeed, I con­tin­u­al­ly say things like “This bud­get has to tell a sto­ry!” (I am fun to have in meet­ings.) But even beyond the util­i­ty of my degree for my “alt-ac” job, the val­ue of the PhD is big­ger than work. I have long got­ten past the idea that one’s PhD is only valu­able inso­far as it begets a tenure-track job. But here I find myself insist­ing that my PhD is valu­able inso­far as I use it at an admin­is­tra­tive job. When I real­ly con­sid­er Hawthorne’s advice to dif­fuse thought and imag­i­na­tion through the day and spir­i­tu­al­ize the bur­dens in our lives, I am not just think­ing about mak­ing the “pet­ty and weari­some inci­dents” of high­er ed admin­is­tra­tion more palat­able. Rather, I rec­og­nize in this pas­sage an entire mode of liv­ing, one Hawthorne would call Roman­tic, a mode I cul­ti­vat­ed while tru­ly immersed in nine­teenth-cen­tu­ry lit­er­a­ture and argu­ments about wom­an­hood, moral­i­ty, domes­tic­i­ty, and the after­life. To be sure, it is a priv­i­lege to have a full-time job with ben­e­fits and a retire­ment plan. But the val­ue of my PhD is not about the job I did or did not get, it is about the per­son I became: a per­son who can see in moon­light and sun­light just the same.

[i] Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scar­let Let­ter and Oth­er Writ­ings, ed. Leland S. Per­son (W. W. Nor­ton & Com­pa­ny, 2017), 21. Here­after cit­ed par­en­thet­i­cal­ly. (Among the more mun­dane things I miss about grad­u­ate school, sur­prise Nor­ton Crit­i­cal Edi­tions arriv­ing in the cam­pus mail is at the top of the list.)

[ii] Bron­son Alcott (1799 – 1888), father of Louisa May Alcott, was a promi­nent Tran­scen­den­tal­ist and part of the intel­lec­tu­al com­mu­ni­ty Hawthorne depart­ed when he moved to Salem pri­or to writ­ing “The Cus­tom-House” sketch. An abo­li­tion­ist and edu­ca­tion reformer, Alcott was also an eccen­tric whose imprac­ti­cal utopi­an com­mu­ni­ty, Fruit­lands, required that inhab­i­tants forego warm bathwater. 

[iii] I am think­ing here of what may be the two most viral pieces of the genre known as “quit lit,” a genre that boomed dur­ing the years I was in grad­u­ate school (from 2012 – 2019). In “The­sis Hate­ment,” Rebec­ca Schu­man sar­don­ical­ly asserts that grad­u­ate school will “ruin your life in a very real way” and com­pares the aca­d­e­m­ic job mar­ket to small-cell lung can­cer. On the oth­er hand, Erin Bartram’s “The Sub­li­mat­ed Grief of Those Left Behind” both explains the author’s feel­ings upon depart­ing from acad­e­mia and con­sid­ers “how much knowl­edge … that’s just going to be lost to those who remain.” Both pieces spurred a litany of respons­es as acad­eme processed the reck­on­ing of a tru­ly bleak over­sup­ply of doc­tor­al graduates.

[iv] Giv­en that my work at a state uni­ver­si­ty is indeed fund­ed by “pub­lic gold,” it is worth not­ing anoth­er dimen­sion to the idea of sell­ing out: the bud­getary ten­sions between tenure-track fac­ul­ty and high­er ed admin­is­tra­tion. Some view decreas­ing tenure lines as direct­ly relat­ed to “the incre­men­tal and imper­cep­ti­ble increase over time of high­er edu­ca­tion admin­is­tra­tors” (John­son). David Grae­ber more flip­pant­ly names this phe­nom­e­non the “bull­shi­ti­za­tion of aca­d­e­m­ic life” and describes how an influx of strate­gic deans and “dean­lets” has required an influx of super­flu­ous sup­port staff. His argu­ment has been met with defens­es of admin­is­tra­tors, par­tic­u­lar­ly low­er-lev­el pro­fes­sion­al staff like me, who direct­ly serve stu­dents and fac­ul­ty, as nec­es­sary for the uni­ver­si­ty to func­tion (Rosen­berg). Some view adjunct fac­ul­ty and pro­fes­sion­al staff as in the same con­tin­gent boat; Lee Skallerup Bes­sette calls on fac­ul­ty and staff to “work to try and over­come those imag­i­nary hier­ar­chi­cal struc­tures to achieve pos­i­tive change.” Where we would all agree, I hope, is that resources should be direct­ed toward mak­ing the uni­ver­si­ty a humane work­place for employ­ees of all types.

Works Cit­ed

Bar­tram, Erin. “The Sub­li­mat­ed Grief of the Left Behind.” Erin Bar­tram: Doomed to Dis­trac­tion, 11 Feb. 2018,  

Bes­sette, Lee Skallerup. “Adjuncts, Staff, and Sol­i­dar­i­ty.” Pro­fes­sion, Fall 2018,  

Grae­ber, David. “Are You in a BS Job? In Acad­eme, You’re Hard­ly Alone.” The Chron­i­cle of High­er Edu­ca­tion, 6 May 2018,  

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scar­let Let­ter and Oth­er Writ­ings. Ed. Leland S. Per­son. W. W. Nor­ton & Com­pa­ny, 2017. 

John­son Jr., Michael. “Death by a Thou­sand Cuts.” Inside High­er Ed, 1 Nov. 2019,  

Rosen­berg, Bri­an. “Are You in a ‘BS’ Job? Thank You for Your Work. No, Real­ly.” The Chron­i­cle of High­er Edu­ca­tion, 29 May 2018,  

Schu­man, Rebec­ca. “The­sis Hate­ment.” Slate, 5 Apr. 2013,  

Susan­na Comp­ton Under­land is the pro­gram man­ag­er of Uni­ver­si­ty Hon­ors at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mary­land, over­see­ing finance, per­son­nel, and oper­a­tions in sup­port of UH stu­dents, fac­ul­ty, and staff. She earned her PhD in nine­teenth-cen­tu­ry Amer­i­can lit­er­a­ture in 2018 from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mary­land, where she taught in the Eng­lish depart­ment for six years. Her research focus­es on nine­teenth-cen­tu­ry Amer­i­can sen­ti­men­tal lit­er­a­ture, with par­tic­u­lar inter­est in the ten­sions between reli­gion and sec­u­lar­i­ty as medi­at­ed in and by domes­tic spaces. Under­land has pub­lished arti­cles and reviews in Leviathan: A Jour­nal of Melville Stud­ies, ESQ, and Jour­nal of Amer­i­can Stud­ies