Reproductive Rights Scholar With a Forthcoming Book Will Return to CUNY on the Tenure Track

August 15, 2023

Alumna Andréa Becker discusses why her work feels ‘endlessly relevant’ in this political moment, her job search, and turning her dissertation into a book.

Andréa Becker headshot
Andréa Becker (Photo courtesy of Becker)

Just over a year from now, Andréa “Dre” Becker (Ph.D. ’22, Sociology) will begin a tenure-track position as an assistant professor of sociology at Hunter College. Currently a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, San Francisco, Becker, who immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico as a child, describes herself as a medical sociologist, researcher, and writer. She explores the way gender, culture, and race shape people’s experiences with health care and is especially interested in reproductive health and technologies. Most of her work focuses on abortion and contraception — elements of medicine that have become especially controversial in the wake of the Dobbs decision.


Becker’s writing has appeared in The New York Times, Slate, and The Washington Post. Her book Unchoosable, based on her dissertation and forthcoming in 2024 from NYU Press, examines the history, science, and technology of elective hysterectomies from a feminist perspective. A dynamic presence on Twitter, with over 9,400 followers, she mixes humorous takes on academic life (“But would my dissertation defend ME”) with pointed commentary on issues of race, labor, and women’s rights and health.

Over email from California, Becker filled us in on why her research feels “endlessly relevant,” how she managed the faculty job search, and her advice for Ph.D. students and job seekers.

The Graduate Center: What sparked your passion for academic research and the subjects you explore?

Becker: The politics of reproduction have always been interesting to me, particularly given my Mexican-Jewish upbringing that really emphasizes family, and particularly motherhood. However, it wasn’t until I lived in Nashville, Tennessee, that a formal sociological interest in reproductive politics began for me. I started my academic journey at Vanderbilt, where I got my master’s degree, and I moved to Tennessee during a particularly volatile moment for reproductive rights there in 2016. A couple of years prior, Amendment 1 was passed, to essentially amend the state constitution to include anti-abortion sentiment, and the fall when I arrived, the state was up in arms over a bill to build a monument to the unborn on state capitol grounds — which passed. The activist community in Nashville was lively and welcoming, and I ended up getting folded in. This led to my first project in which I analyzed how women in Tennessee talked about their abortions, and this project sparked dozens of additional research questions. I’m now fully committed to and passionate about understanding how people talk about their reproductive choices, particularly those that are controversial or stigmatized. While it may seem niche to some, analyzing reproduction reveals rich insight into various parts of social life — not only gender and race, but also science and technology, social movements, medicine and the law, and the family. Reproductive politics for me are a window through which to examine social inequality more broadly. In this particularly volatile political moment for both reproductive rights and LGBTQ rights, my work feels endlessly relevant, and I’m motivated to keep producing knowledge that might nudge us back in a positive direction. Stopping doesn’t feel like an option nor is it something I want.

GC: Was it difficult to find a tenure-track position? Can you talk a little about that process?

Becker: Of course it was difficult. It’s a grueling process and explaining how it works to a non-academic makes this perfectly clear — particularly reading the campus visit schedule aloud. It’s a full day of back-to-back meetings, an hour and a half of presenting your work, and often meals with faculty and/or students. You’re simultaneously really grateful to get a flyout and excited to picture your life in that department, but it’s also probably the most exhausting day of your life. It can make a rejection all the more difficult, since you put so much into the application.

GC: Knowing what you know now, what advice would you offer to someone seeking such a position?

Becker: Get your hands on as many successful job applications as possible. I pored over a dozen or so personal statements and cover letters while putting together my own. Start drafting these materials early and get feedback. Put together a spreadsheet of job openings and deadlines and share these with your letter writers. Once it comes time to send them off, it can feel like a full-time job that you’re juggling along with your actual work, so having solid drafts ready is extremely helpful. In terms of the job talk, practice it as many times as you can, to as many audiences as you can. This process made mine so much stronger, and I basically had it memorized by the end. Also, rejection is part of the game. It can be really devastating and embarrassing, but there are dozens of reasons why you weren’t picked that aren’t personal to you: Maybe the dean wanted to hire a more senior scholar, maybe students have been begging for a professor who can teach on a certain topic, so on and so forth. Weirdly enough, the professors in departments that rejected you will likely send you notes of congratulations once you land the job elsewhere. It’s truly a bizarre process.

GC: Was there someone who was particularly helpful or influential during your studies at the GC?

Becker: Dr. Susan Markens was absolutely pivotal in my success at the Graduate Center. As an already big fan of her work, I reached out to her the summer before my first semester, and she immediately took me in under her wing. She is the example of the kind of sociologist I wanted to be, and she has been incredibly supportive in nurturing my research interests — looking over drafts and job materials and talking over research questions. I had dozens of admittedly terrible dissertation ideas, and she patiently turned these down until I finally landed on studying hysterectomies. She’s also the reason I’m publishing the dissertation as a book. I use present tense because she still graciously looks at my drafts and answers any and all questions about book publishing, the tenure track, etc. I’m so thrilled to now be her CUNY colleague!

GC: Has teaching always been a passion for you, or is research more central to your interests?

Becker: Teaching is much more challenging than research and writing, but being able to see individual students have flashbulb moments in front of you, and being able to support and mentor students, especially CUNY students who work so incredibly hard, is invaluable to me. I also really value thinking through research ideas with students and helping them find the words to formulate their questions and analyses about the world. I could get really gushy about my love for CUNY students, so I’ll stop there.

GC: Can you tell us more about your book?

Becker: I’ve been gestating this project for many years now, and I can’t wait to share it with the world. It’s fascinating to me how common hysterectomy is — a third of Americans born with a uterus will have it removed by the time they reach their 60s — yet it’s so understudied. Studying hysterectomy reveals how much work is left for making health care equitable, not only for Black and brown patients, but also trans and nonbinary patients, and people with chronic reproductive illness. Endometriosis, for instance, was first described in the year 1860 and affects one in 10 people with a uterus, and yet we still have no cure. The primary way of even diagnosing this illness involves surgery, and people often go undiagnosed for upwards of six to 10 years. My book digs into why people of various races and genders have or want hysterectomies, but also what this surgery means for health and social inequality more broadly.

GC: What advice would you give someone just beginning a Ph.D.?

Becker: Be curious. Follow your curiosity in different directions, as you don’t know what will ultimately grasp your full attention. I didn’t come into my Ph.D. thinking I would focus on reproductive health or even on gender, but saying yes to projects and following my curiosity led me to my ultimate research agenda. That said, you can’t say yes to everything, and you shouldn’t make the Ph.D. your entire life. Have hobbies that have nothing to do with your research, build a strong support system, take full breaks to rest your brain, learn early on how to de-stress — whether that’s going to the movies, getting into an exercise routine, or (ideally) seeing a therapist regularly. Ph.D. students have disproportionate rates of mental illness, and it’s critical to take care of ourselves and rest our minds. I got burnout countless times, and it took years to learn how to prevent and snap out of these moments. I started reading fiction for fun, cooking or running to de-stress, taking real vacations where I didn’t open my laptop, and learning to shut off that little voice that tells me I should be working when I’m having fun.

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