Aubrey's Story

Aubrey's Story

The Historian

Aubrey is in the process of completing her doctorate at UNC-CH. We were so happy to hear her story and how she is impacting the lives of countless others. We are proud to have her in Ameliora as she begins this new chapter of her professional career. Read more below about Aubrey below and be inspired by her determination to help others #AchieveMore

My name is Aubrey Lauersdorf. I'm originally from Wisconsin, but I've been living in North Carolina for the past five years. Currently, I'm finishing my doctorate in United States History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I hope to defend my dissertation next year, in 2020. I research and teach in the field of early American history. My dissertation focuses on the Apalachee Indians, who historically lived in the Florida panhandle. I'm especially interested in the diplomatic and political choices they made in the seventeenth century, in response to the growing threat of Spanish colonialism. I think it's still a common misconception that you should only get a doctoral degree if you want to become a professor– especially if you're in the humanities. However, in recent years, doctoral programs in the humanities have become wonderful options for those who want to pursue so-called "non-traditional" career paths. Increasingly, doctoral programs are preparing students for fields like public history (at museums or historic sites, for example), higher education consulting, government and think-tank research, and more. In the past, programs treated these alternative career paths more as 'back-up plans'– things you did if you couldn't find a tenure-track faculty job at a college or university. Now, students are entering programs already articulating their desire to use graduate school to prepare for other career paths, and it's so exciting that many programs are responding positively!

I think a lot of people believe you shouldn't apply to graduate programs until you have this really specific interest you want to pursue, but I'd strongly encourage young (and not-so-young) people to consider applying to graduate school even if they aren't entirely sure what they want to specialize in. When I applied to graduate school, I knew the general field I wanted to focus on–early America, and specifically Native American history–but I didn't have a clear idea beyond that. I was worried that professors wouldn't be interested in working with me, but I didn't find that to be the case at all. The whole point of graduate school is to learn and grow as a scholar. It's more important to show that you've developed the research, writing, and analytical skills that graduate programs expect of incoming students– and that you are passionate about the field and want to keep developing those skills. In fact, I think everyone I know who started graduate school with a clear idea of the focus of their dissertation has since made significant changes to their topic!

I absolutely love research, and I'm so excited to finish my dissertation and begin sharing my work with an even broader audience. Nonetheless, I've found that teaching at the college level is the most exciting part of graduate school. My program provides a lot of opportunities to build skills in the classroom through teaching assistant positions, but I've also taken every opportunity I can to develop and teach my own courses. I've been able to teach first-year students in small seminars, as well as larger lecture classes. Planning every class session is just so exciting– each day when I sit down to write out my lesson plan and prepare my lecture notes, it's a fun challenge to consider how to best present this new material to students, how to make primary sources accessible, and how to guide students to see the connections between different events or ideas. I try to avoid using the same classroom activity more than once during a semester. Students learn in very different ways, and not every student is going to find the same activities helpful. It's important to try to accommodate different learning styles in the classroom. Still, no matter how prepared you are before a class, things never go exactly as planned. The dynamic of every group of students is different, and what works well in one classroom won't necessarily work well in another. You always have to be ready to adapt. Even though it really makes you think on your feet, one of my favorite things is when a student asks a question or shares a perspective that I've never heard before– it reminds me that my students are also teaching me as I'm teaching them!

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