With Multiple Tenure-Track Offers, a Ph.D. Graduate Chooses CUNY
Edwin Grimsley, a New Yorker with close ties to public schools and CUNY, is starting as an assistant professor at Baruch College this fall.
Edwin Grimsley (Ph.D. ’23, Sociology) received several offers of tenure-track positions as he finished his dissertation on the impact of marijuana policy in the U.S. He decided to start as an assistant professor at Baruch College’s Marxe School of Public and International Affairs because it was where his research fit best, and because of his strong commitment to CUNY and public education.
Grimsley was featured on the Graduate Center website in 2021, when he spoke about his decade of work for the Innocence Project and his time at John Jay College’s Data Collaborative For Justice. In a recent interview, he discussed his dissertation process, the impact of COVID, and his advice for the academic job market.
The Graduate Center: We last spoke when you’d just started your dissertation. How did your goals change in the last two years?
Grimsley: It’s been tough because of COVID. I was doing my comprehensive oral exams right when COVID started, and we went into the lockdown and then everything had to change a little bit. In my dissertation, I was going to do interviews, and you couldn’t do interviews at that time. I had chapters on archival research, and the National Archives were closed for months on end, and then they had requirements and appointments. That probably pushed things back at least a year. Most Ph.D. students at that time had to adapt. The Graduate Center gave us a little extra funding, and committee members gave considerations to many of us who had to modify our projects.
It actually helped me to focus more on different parts, and to go more in depth — to focus complete chapters on parts that might have been a background story. Some of the disruptions built up parts of the work that might have been sidelined and that I now think are a key part of my dissertation.
GC: You had several offers of tenure-track positions. Why did you pick Baruch?
Grimsley: I think one of the things is I just love CUNY. My mom went to Hunter as an undergrad. I went to public school high schools in New York City. I’m born and raised in New York City. I graduated from Brooklyn College Academy High School, and I took college classes at Brooklyn College. I’ve worked teaching CUNY students while doing my Ph.D. There’s something special about public institutions and public education.
I’ll be teaching people who are working in city government. I’m a sociologist by training, but I see a lot of my work influencing policies. Also, working in New York City is very important, because my dissertation is very New York City– and New York State–focused. Looking at the cannabis industry in New York City is a future goal of mine. I’ve been invited already to one of the New York State cannabis commission meetings in May. Having a position at a public policy school, and having more influence and moving my work towards that kind of field, is where I see myself, even as a sociologist.
GC: Looking at your offers from Baruch and other institutions, what do you think made you stand out on the academic job market?
Grimsley: I think mostly it was my research. It’s very ambitious. I mean, studying marijuana, cannabis, gets peoples’ eyes rolling right away, and I think one of the things that I do is to make it interesting. The dissertation tells us a past story, but also tells it in a completely different way, and through multiple methods, archival research, quantitative analyses over time. How do we move towards legalization, and toward what many states call social and racial equity, based on the war on drugs in the past, the policing of marijuana possession specifically, in communities of color? In New York City, there were almost a million arrests in the last couple decades. The majority of those were Black and brown people. Did they need to be arrested for marijuana possession? We don’t really know the consequences, the outcomes of it. So my dissertation looks broadly at the outcomes, and I find very stark outcomes for Black people in employment and income generation over time. It’s a story that seems familiar, but the results that I have on the impact on the Black community, and communities of color, are pretty striking. And I think that story needs to be told. In job talks, people seemed to be very conscious of that.
GC: Is there anything you wish you’d known earlier about applying for academic jobs?
Grimsley: The academic job market is very hard. I started my dissertation project well before COVID, and I just ran with it. Sometimes you just have to trust your gut. I think it’s important to trust yourself, and to trust that you really have all the tools. For Ph.D. students of color, Black students, a lot of us don’t have the privileges, the training, that other people have, we’re not given the opportunities generally, and so a lot of times we have to trust ourselves even more to know where we’re going.
And getting a good mentor is important — Van Tran (Sociology, International Migration Studies) has been great for me. He gives very considerate advice. Find somebody who’s going to believe in you, and who matches well — sometimes it’s not just the topic or their past, it’s also their methodologies, who they are as a person, the skills they bring to you.
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