An Alum Joins the Tenure Track at Lehman After Writing Her Dissertation in ‘Record Time’
A 2022 graduate, who wrote her dissertation in one year, shares her experience and advice.
Agustina Checa (Ph.D. ’22, Music: Ethnomusicology) deposited her dissertation in late August, one day before starting as an assistant professor in the Music, Multimedia, Theatre and Dance Department at Lehman College. Checa studies alternative economies of music, specifically the trend among independent record labels in Argentina to make cassettes from digitally available music. While at the Graduate Center, Checa was a Carnegie Ed Tech Fellow, a fellow at the Teaching and Learning Center, and a winner of the Images of Research Exhibition. She also won a New Media Lab Digital Dissertation Award for Magnetismo Sónico, an archive of Latin American cassette production that complements her dissertation.
She recently spoke to the Graduate Center about her experience and shared her advice.
The Graduate Center: What advice do you have for current students who are preparing to go on the academic job market?
Checa: The first thing that I tell everyone is to take advantage of all the resources that you have at the Grad Center because we’re all a big team. And everyone around you that has been helping you like your adviser but also people in your program and outside of your program, the people at the Teaching and Learning Center, people at the career planning center, all of these people are in your corner. I don’t think I would be where I am today if I hadn’t had that support and that help. I keep telling people just prepare in advance and make sure that you know that you have all these resources to help you. The people at the Writing Center helped me write my dissertation in record time because I had to finish it in record time. I wrote 200 pages in less than a year. I met with Allison Douglass, a fellow at the Writing Center, every single week. I feel like, without this team of people, I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this. So I really am very grateful.
GC: What was the timeline for your job search?
Checa: I feel like maybe the story that I’m going to tell you is a little bit exceptional. Last year, for the most part, I was sending out applications for dissertation writing grants. My plan was to stay for another year writing the dissertation. And, at the same time, I applied to Lehman. My adviser, Professor Eliot Bates, was like, ‘Hey, this looks like a great opportunity; you seem like you would be a good fit for this particular job description.’ So I applied to the job in October, as in seeing what applying to a job was like.
While I was advancing in the stages of the job search, I was awarded most of the dissertation writing grants I applied for, including an ACLS Mellon Dissertation Fellowship. Knowing that I had some funding to support me if the job didn’t turn out gave me some relief. But the timing of everything was still very stressful. I didn’t know if I had a whole other year to finish writing my dissertation (if the job didn't work out) or if I had to deposit in the summer, which is what ended up happening. The day in early May that I got my written offer for the position at Lehman, I declined the dissertation writing grants and sped up my dissertation writing.
GC: What do you think helped you stand out when you applied to Lehman?
Checa: I think that teaching at CUNY made a difference. I remember that when I had my campus visit and when I had interviews with the committee, I would bring up things that I know are specific to teaching at CUNY. For example, knowing that students may have jobs and families to support. So I feel like I came to this job at Lehman with a very realistic understanding of what my position was going to entail and what students at Lehman need from me.
I have a student-centered approach to teaching that is tailored to CUNY students that has been developed by my work at the Teaching and Learning Center. I had all of these instances or unique opportunities to really think about teaching and really develop a conscious and critical practice towards teaching that is tailored to the students that I know the most — students at CUNY. And I feel like that came through, not only in my interviews, but also in the materials that I provided.
I think the other thing that was important is that my research and my interests, like music and technology, music and multimedia, were also aligned with where Lehman wants to go or the things that they see students are more interested in. I knew that Lehman had a new minor in digital music applications. So I was making them see that I would be a good fit for their interdisciplinary music department. I was playing to my strengths in multimedia and my interests in music technologies and in diversifying the study of music. Not just teaching people how to appreciate music through the Western canon but diversifying the methods through which people can appreciate and understand music, which is what I like to do in my teaching.
GC: Is there anything that you know now that you wished you’d known at the beginning of your Ph.D. experience?
Checa: I remember that when I joined the program, I had a vague idea of what I wanted to do for my research. But you don’t really have a clear vision of what that research project is going to turn out to be. Sometimes it just takes a little bit of exploring, and anything that you do with the mindset of learning and trying to see whether or not this is where I’m going contributes to whatever it is that you do end up studying. All I’m saying is it’s OK to be overwhelmed and frustrated and confused about what your journey is. You just have to walk the journey until it becomes a path.
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