Madeleine Wolfe headshot

Major: French
Profession: Ph.D. Candidate in French at Harvard University
Hometown: Minneapolis, MN

What are you doing now?

I am a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate at Harvard University, where I am writing my dissertation on 19th century French literature. This year I received grants to conduct research in Paris, France, so I am based there this year while I work on my dissertation. I spend most of my time writing, reading at the library, or consulting 19th century materials in Paris archives. Before moving to Paris, I taught French classes at Harvard University, which I loved! Even though I miss teaching and working with students, it has been wonderful to pursue my research full time and make my own schedule this year. Being a graduate student has been a dream come true in a lot of ways—it's allowed me to read and write about the things I find most fascinating!

How did you get there?

I was inspired to pursue a Ph.D. in French studies because of my French professors at Pomona—Jack Abecassis, Virginie Duzer and Margaret Waller. I did not expect to pursue a career in academia, and I didn’t even expect to major in French! But I loved the work I did for my French courses, and once I realized I could do that for the rest of my life, academia seemed like the perfect fit.

Before beginning graduate school, however, I wanted to take time to do something slightly different. I also wanted to go back to Paris, a city I’d fallen in love with after studying abroad there junior year. After graduating, I taught English to elementary school students in Paris for a year as part of TAPIF (Teaching Assistant Program in France).

During that year, I worked on my graduate school applications, and my professors were so generous in reading over my materials, writing letters of recommendation for me, and helping me decide which program would be the best fit. It was hard to choose the right place because I could imagine my life going in so many different directions, but I am very happy to have chosen Harvard. It reminds me a lot of Pomona in some ways; it has a vibrant student community, and my department has been friendly and welcoming.

How did Pomona prepare you?

I feel especially grateful to my professors in the French section, who prepared me so well for graduate school and to become a scholar in my own right. Not only did they encourage me to think critically, ask new questions, and have confidence in expressing my ideas, but they also displayed such a joy for both teaching and learning. They showed me how to balance intellectual rigor with the pleasure of sharing ideas and learning in collaboration with others, and I think I have carried that spirit into my Ph.D. work and my teaching. My professors took an interest in my development and success, not just as a scholar but as a person. I hope I can help my own students feel as valued and encouraged as I have felt.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

In five years, I hope to be working as a professor in a university. I'd love to be at a small liberal arts school like Pomona!

Any advice for current or prospective students?

  1. Meet as many people as you can! Pomona gives you so many opportunities to form friendships, so take advantage. I am so grateful to have friends from Pomona across the country and the world.
  2. Study abroad! My semester in Paris was extremely formative for me, instilling in me a sense of independence, adventure, and also humility.
  3. Finally, don’t take the weather for granted! After living through my fair share of Minnesota and Boston winters, I miss the California sunshine dearly.