A last look at Professors Dan Grausam and Marina MacKay
Assistant English professor Dan Grausam and associate English professor Marina MacKay met at Wash. U. nine years ago and will leave the University together at the end of the academic year.
After issues arising with the University granting tenure, the couple decided to depart Wash. U. and take up positions at Durham University in the U.K. This spring will be the last time students will see MacKay and Grausam teaching courses or playing fetch with their golden retriever around campus. However, despite the choice to leave, they expressed their fondness for the University and its students.
MacKay hails from the Isle of Lewis off the west coast of Scotland. She completed her undergraduate degree at the University of St. Andrews and her doctorate in English from the University of East Anglia before moving to St. Louis. She specializes in 20th-century British writing and the history of the novel with a research interest in World War II literature.
Grausam grew up in Los Angeles and attended the University of California, Berkley, for both his undergraduate and graduate degrees. He specializes in 20th- and 21st-century American literature with a research focus on the culture and literature of the Cold War era. Both professors spend a majority of their time in the classroom teaching, but they also supervise graduate students and undergraduate honors-seeking students and are actively involved in research in their respective fields.
The two professors met in 2003 during Grausam’s job interview with the University.
“I was impressed with his interview,” MacKay, who was on the interviewing committee, said.
Their relationship grew and developed over the following years. With some enjoyment, MacKay discussed their one shared hobby, caring for their adopted dog from Dirk’s Fund in St. Louis, a golden retriever rescue service.
Grausam enjoys the responsibilities that come with owning a dog. “Walking the dog, hanging out with the dog, playing fetch,” Grausam said. “Fetch, I think, is therapy for the dog, of course, but it’s also therapy for the owner.”
Both professors agreed that their time at Wash. U. has been rewarding.
“The best part of the job has been in the classroom,” Grausam said. “It’s not that the individual folks are outstanding but that the consistency of intelligence is shocking.” MacKay agreed: “The undergrads are just the absolute highlight.”
“There’s something about the undergrads who decide to come to the Midwest. It’s a remarkably supportive group, and though people, I think, are incredibly competitive with themselves, there doesn’t seem to be an antagonistic vibe with their classmates,” Grausam said.
Some of their most exciting experiences, in fact, have stemmed from teaching freshman-level courses.
“The place that I expect real surprises is often at the intro level,” Grausam said. “I taught the Introduction to Literary Studies course and that should be kind of bread and butter—the same old nuts and bolts, introductory stuff that you do every other semester—and that often produces some of the most exciting stuff for me. I’ve taught it so many times, and every time has been completely different.”
“A freshman seminar can also be super exciting, especially if you are teaching it in the fall of freshman year when the students are so intellectually hungry and alive and full of energy riding that emotional high from moving to college,” he added.
Both MacKay and Grausam were full of advice for students across all stages of their academic lives.
“Do more with less,” Grausam said. “By that I mean the student body here has been under such enormous pressure to succeed for so long that there can be a tendency to try to do too much and over-extend oneself in terms of a diversity of interests that prevents them from pursuing their deepest passion with the intensity they could give to it if they did a little less.”
“My advice is to take advice,” MacKay added. “It’s always extraordinary when students are like, ‘I’m so sorry to bother you,’ and then they’ll ask some question, and it’ll be a really important question. That happens with sufficient regularity. There are all sorts of students you could help with intellectual manners and career matters. Students are too afraid of eating into your time to ask for the help you can give them.”
According to Grausam, in addition to seeking advice, it is essential to emphasize the significance of a liberal arts education.
“The culture will tell you that the classic question of an English major is, ‘What will you do with an English major?’” Grausam said. “It’s the same question for a philosophy major or a history major. Answer those questions with, ‘I will work in a career that requires me to consume massive amounts of information, to synthesize that information, to think critically about it, and then to report back on the synthesis of that information at a very high level.’ And it is precisely the flexibility of the humanities or the liberal arts in terms of synthesizing diverse kinds of information that makes it such powerful training.”
Grausam and McKay are both excited but apprehensive about the trans-Atlantic move, but they encourage current and former students to stay in touch—both before and after their departure.