Professor Spotlight: Dr. Viet Thanh Nguyen

For the second part of our professor series, we contacted fiction and critical writer, Dr. Viet Thanh Nguyen.

1) Who are you (name, title(s), positions of relevance), and how would you describe your academic career in general?

“Viet Thanh Nguyen, Associate Professor of English and American Studies and Ethnicity, USC. I’m a tenure-track professor who writes both criticism and fiction, and who blogs for fun.”

2) What first inspired you to pursue a career in academia?

“When I applied for graduate school, I wasn’t thinking of a career, and I certainly wasn’t thinking of teaching. I liked reading fiction, theory and criticism and was pretty good at writing critical papers, so I thought going to graduate school for a PhD would make sense. Of course I was thinking that there would be a job as a professor at the end of school, but I really had no idea what that meant. So what inspired me to pursue a “career” was really just a love of books, ideas, and arguments. The reality of a career in academia is much, much different than anything I’d imagined as an undergraduate.”

3) What are you currently working on?

“After I published my tenure book on Asian American literature, I wrote a novel and a short story collection, now in the hands of an agent. I was also working on a second critical book on memory and the Vietnam War, which is two-thirds finished and which I can focus on now that the fictional projects are out of the way.”

4) What kind of change would you like to see in the culture of academia?

“I would like to see a more humane market in academia where the supply and demand of PhDs was closer to equilibrium than it is now. Short of that, I would like to see livable salaries for non-tenure track faculty. Equally unrealistically, I’d like to see academic culture be less cliquish, gossipy, materialistic, trendy, snobbish, condescending, petty and spiteful…or perhaps my corner of academia is warping me and the rest of academia isn’t marked by these characteristics.”

5) What advice would you offer to aspiring academics?

“Work really, really hard; communicate clearly with your advisors and reach out to informal mentors; never go to graduate school without full funding; know your personal and professional limits in terms of where you want to work and what kind of work you want to do; and have an exit plan, or at least know that you may need to exit and that there’s no shame in that. Everyone I know who’s left academia is happy, and many people I know in academia are unhappy or seem to be unhappy or should be unhappy because that at least would be a good excuse for some unfortunate behavior.”