Student of history believes her experiences at UW-Madison can't be matched
by Jack Kelly
Jillian Slaight arrived at the University of Wisconsin–Madison to pursue her Ph.D. in history in 2010. Seven years later, the New York native is poised to receive her doctorate.
Slaight’s interest in working in academia stems from her time as a research assistant as an undergraduate at Haverford College. A professor she worked with, Lisa Jane Graham, prompted her to consider furthering her education and making a career out of research and writing, Slaight explained. However, when she completed her bachelor’s degree in history in 2007, Slaight decided to pursue other opportunities.
She began her professional career with Springer Publishing in New York, working in the academic publisher’s plant genetics department. And though the material was not extremely interesting to Slaight, it prompted her to consider academia more seriously.
“Part of my job was to interact with the academics who were publishing the books and journals,” Slaight said. “I was in touch with a lot of people in academia who follow their curiosity for a living. That made me think about academia a little bit more.”
In 2010, she decided to come to UW–Madison to pursue her Ph.D. in history, citing her desire to work with her adviser, Suzanne Desan, among other considerations.
“It didn't seem like a grad school where people would be at each other's throats trying to compete for resources,” Slaight explained. “And I got a good vibe from the other students who were really eager to broaden the community.”
Slaight became a doctoral student after completing her master’s in 2013. Her dissertation examines the crime of seduction in pre-revolutionary France, a topic that led her to spend the 2013-2014 academic year living and researching in Paris and Nice.
Upon her return to Madison, Slaight began working as a teaching assistant while writing her dissertation. She loved her time as a teaching assistant, and explained that working with undergraduate students helped counter the sense of isolation that sometimes comes with research, and helped her to be more productive with her own academic work.
“It’s so much more sociable to be a TA. While you're writing and researching you're doing a lot of things alone. It can be very isolating,” Slaight said. “I actually make more progress the semesters I'm [teaching], even though I have less time, because you have to force yourself to be more disciplined.”
Slaight will earn her Ph.D. in history in August, and is eager to see what opportunities are in store for her after graduation. She is grateful for the opportunities that she has had at UW–Madison over the last seven years, and believes that the experiences the program provided her cannot be matched anywhere else.
Slaight continued, "Beyond that, my adviser talks to me all the time. In some programs, you hear about people who have advisers that are really hard to reach. [Here], if they took you on as a grad student, they want to help you advance your career.”
Before she departs UW–Madison, Slaight will spend the summer teaching a course titled “Close Encounters of a Cultural Kind” at Oakhill Correctional Institution.