Jessica Covil-Manset, Ph.D., recently joined the staff of The Graduate School as a Communications Specialist. She graduated from Duke with a Ph.D. in English in 2022 after earning a B.A. in English and Spanish at the University of Chicago. She continues to connect with the graduate student community through her work at TGS. Learn more about Jess and her journey at TGS in this Q&A.
Could you explain what you do in your new role as a Communications Specialist at The Graduate School?
This position really involves supporting communications of all kinds that are coming from The Graduate School to graduate and professional students, who are our primary audience. We make sure that they're aware of resources, whether that be wellness resources or funding opportunities. So we're sort of that liaison between opportunities that Duke has and the graduate student community. I support communications on the website and blog, and also through articles and social media. I believe that good communication makes for good work, and good output in general.
You recently graduated from The Graduate School with a Ph.D. in English. How are you using the skills you acquired during your graduate studies in your new position?
A Ph.D. in English is truly so useful to communications because it teaches you to consider a text from a number of different perspectives, while understanding genre and intended audience. When I’m creating content, I'm always thinking about how this will be understood or interpreted by our diverse student body. So I think it's really useful in that way. I think any kind of graduate study is really informative, especially at the Ph.D. stage, because you have to tackle this huge project that is a dissertation. This creates an understanding of how to see a project through and break it down into bite-sized pieces, even if it's really long-term. I think a Ph.D. in English is applicable to a number of academic and non-academic careers.
How do you feel about continuing your journey at The Graduate School after graduation?
It’s interesting going from a student to a staff member! I think I was in my third year at Duke when I realized I didn’t want to pursue a career in academia. So I started working at Duke University Press as a graduate student and gained really invaluable experience there. I didn’t set out to work for The Graduate School, but I saw this opportunity and realized how useful my experience as a former Duke graduate student would be in this Communications Specialist role. It has given me some perspective on what it’s like to be a student here, which helps me create messages with that intended audience in mind. I think it’s easy to think of a non-academic career after graduation as being disconnected from graduate studies, but this position as a Communications Specialist is so connected to my graduate studies.
When compared to STEM, I think a lot of people see the humanities and social sciences as not resulting in a particular career path. But in reality, I believe that there are a plethora of career paths available to students in the humanities. The connection to one career path in particular may be a little less clear-cut, so I looked for opportunities where I could utilize my strong background in English.
*Fun fact! Jess met her husband while in graduate school! While she was pursuing a Ph.D. in English, he was at Duke Law School. He proposed to her in Duke Gardens.*
Last year, you published your dissertation titled “Toward a Different Way of Knowing/Being/Speaking: Poetic Openings and Feminist Praxis in Contemporary Works.” What was the writing process like for you?
When I started writing my dissertation, I was trying to think of ways to better relate to my academic writing and make the process of writing a dissertation a lot less scary. So instead of starting the dissertation from scratch, I returned to pieces I had written for different courses as the jumping-off point for each chapter. Each chapter was a world of its own, connected by a string of poetry throughout the dissertation. My dissertation examines political interventions in contemporary literature and culture, and the ways that poetry can be used to imagine more just, equitable worlds. My favorite aspect of the dissertation was the fact that I included my own poetry across the chapters.
*Fun fact! Jess plans to publish her first poetry chapbook soon.*
What articles have you written for The Graduate School so far?
Right now I’m working on a story to highlight the diversity of religious life on campus. My intention is to uplift examples of interfaith collaboration and solidarity in a time that's incredibly divisive. I also want graduate students to be aware of the different religious organizations available to them because most communications about clubs and organizations are distributed to undergraduates living on campus. Graduate students living off campus need to be more intentional about finding opportunities to take part in, and a big part of my job as a Communications Specialist is to communicate these opportunities to them.