Alumni Profiles Series: Nora Hanagan
Nora Hanagan received her Ph.D. in Political Science from Duke in 2011 and has more than 10 years of experience teaching undergraduate seminars and coordinating university programs, including public events and signature first-year experiences. Following a postdoc at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, she returned to Duke as a Visiting Assistant Professor and as Managing Director for the American Values and Institutions Program. In 2020, she transitioned to UNC to take on dual roles as Teaching Assistant Professor and Event Coordinator for the Program for Public Discourse.
Tell me about yourself.
I grew up as a child of two academic parents outside Poughkeepsie, New York. Almost none of the kids I went to school with had parents with Ph.D.s, and I absolutely had no interest in being an academic.
In college I realized that I loved a lot of the questions I was studying. I felt like I wanted more. I thought increasingly, “I really like ideas; I really like teaching. I really like college. I see what my parents did here.”
I came to Duke for my Ph.D. thinking I was going to do contemporary democratic theory, but I just suddenly got really interested in American political thought (APT). What I like about APT is it’s a little less abstract. You can think about how people—Jane Addams is a favorite of mine—are applying big ideas to particular problems, like child labor. My book, Democratic Responsibility: the Politics of Many Hands in America, ended up being a combination of democratic theory and American political thought.
What has your career path looked like since you graduated?
I was on the national academic job market and applied to all kinds of jobs for about five years, but I fell in love with Durham. There’s so much to do. I really love the fact that there are also so many people who are committed to improving Durham; it feels like a community. I met my wife here, and we ultimately found it hard to leave. So as much as I loved political theory, I felt like staying in Durham was right for me and my family.
I spent one year at a great postdoc at the University of Wisconsin, and then Michael Gillespie hired me to teach American political thought and also to help run the American Values and Institutions (AVI) program at Duke. This was a great opportunity, in terms of developing skills that they maybe don’t teach in graduate school—organizational and event planning skills.
What is your favorite thing about your current job?
In 2020 I transitioned from Duke to UNC and my current job is a mix of things: I'm a Teaching Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Political Science, and I serve as Event Coordinator for the UNC Program for Public Discourse (PPD), which is a relatively new program. It’s a really exciting program; the idea is to create spaces for public discourse on campus and foster best practices among students. We do several public-facing events a semester. Most of our big events are associated with the Abbey Speaker Series. I get to help plan those events and meet very interesting people and bring them in contact with students.
I’m someone who is very mission-driven, and I find my work with PPD very meaningful. Democratic citizens need to be able to engage each other in a constructive manner, especially in the university. I don’t think that the university works if people can’t talk to each other and talk about big and controversial ideas.
Any advice you’d like to share with current Duke graduate students?
The academic job market is difficult, and to be honest, some of the jobs out there, with the decline of tenure, are not desirable. I would encourage people to think about multiple options. I didn’t really start thinking about multiple options until I was a postdoc. I considered alt-ac [academic administration] positions, and I was also thinking about non-profit work because I felt like I had developed strong writing skills through my doctoral training.
Something I did as a postdoc that I thought was very helpful was that I deliberately tried to develop transferable skills. I learned how to use WordPress, and I took a training in communications. I didn’t deliberately learn how to plan events, but I did get experience with that. I was asked to join the board of the Duke faculty union, and I met a lot of great people there, but I also felt like being on the union helped me to further develop some of those communication skills.
I would encourage graduate students to think about how they can develop a wide variety of skills. A lot of those skills are going to be useful no matter where your career takes you. Being able to communicate more clearly or to have more organizational or management skills are all things that are beneficial to almost any workplace. Especially at the dissertation phase, there is room do to something else, as you can’t just write for eight hours a day. That something else could be volunteering or being part of an organization or even maybe working part-time—something that would help you develop other skills while still completing your Ph.D.
Are there any upcoming projects that you’d like to share?
I’m super excited about the PPD events coming up this fall. Our first pubic event is in October, and it’s about intellectual diversity on campus. We’re thinking about multiple questions: What does intellectual diversity mean? Is it important? How do we foster it on campus? We’ve invited several panelists to help us think through these questions, including the President of Wesleyan University, Michael Roth, who wrote a book called Safe Enough Spaces: A Pragmatist's Approach to Inclusion, Free Speech, and Political Correctness on College Campuses; Rob Henderson, an essayist, Gates Cambridge Scholar, and doctoral candidate in psychology who believes that mainstream universities are hostile to unpopular views; and Amna Khalid, a history professor at Carleton College who speaks frequently about free expression and campus politics. Associate Professor of History William Sturkey will moderate the conversation. We welcome people to come in person, but it will also be livestreamed on Zoom. If folks want more information, they can join our email list.
Katelyn Mehling Ice, Ph.D.
Recent graduate, Political Science
Katelyn Mehling Ice is a recent graduate and holds a Ph.D. in Political Science, with a focus on American political institutions. She is also the Graduate Student Affairs Intern in The Graduate School for 2021-22. In her spare time, she runs a meal prep service and trains in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and powerlifting. She is currently searching for her dream position in academic administration.