Grad School Mentorship: Cathy Hannabach, PhD

Grad School Mentorship: Cathy Hannabach, PhD

August 8, 2017
Cathy Hannabach wearing a black shirt and teal glasses

Your Rockstar coaches help you wade through the stress and expectations of academic life, and impart the skills you need to thrive in your careers and beyond. Through the Grad School Rockstars community, they help you become your best self. So why not get to know them a little better? Over the next few weeks, our resident Rockstar coaches, Cathy Hannabach, Kate Drabinski, Terry Park, and Julia Jordan-Zachery, will share their thoughts on community, mentoring, careers, and more. First up, the original Rockstar coach and Ideas on Fire founder Cathy Hannabach reflects on her career journey, her passion for collaboration, and helping others figure out what makes them tick.

What does mentoring mean to you?

My approach to mentoring is to help mentees identify what they really want to do and provide resources, opportunities, and support for them to achieve those goals. I’ve found that the question of “what do you really want?” to be incredibly illustrative because oftentimes folks have never actually been asked or had enough opportunities to answer (and change their answer). So mentorship for me is about helping mentees figure out the kind of life, world, and communities they actually want and then figuring out concrete ways to bring those into being in the present.

What advice do you wish you’d received as a grad student?

I wish someone had told me that that there are careers that let you use all parts of yourself, but they may not be the one you think you’re pursuing.

What is your favorite way to build community?

I love building friendships and communities by working on projects together. How we work together to plan a conference or put on an art show illustrates so much about our personalities, capabilities, ethics, politics, and relationships. Projects are definitely my favorite way to build communities and relationships of all kinds.

What has your career journey looked like?

I went straight to graduate school after getting my BA in 2005, which I tell students is generally a terrible idea but in my case it was absolutely the right one. I did my PhD in cultural studies at the University of California, Davis, focusing on queer studies and visual culture, and wrote a dissertation about queer corporeal ethics in art and performance. During graduate school, I also continued my involvement in activist and community arts work, which I had started long before, interweaving it into my scholarship and teaching.

For income, I taught courses, took research assistant positions, and continued the type of freelance work I had begin as an undergraduate in the fields of editing and research assistance. I noticed that professors would request me as their research assistants after getting recommendations from their colleagues and I spun that into a steady slew of freelance gigs and on-campus positions in which I further developed the skills that I had honed as an activist: project management, organization and scheduling, accounting, developmental editing, copyediting, building databases for community and research materials, and generally helping people get from an awesome idea to a concrete action plan.

In 2009, while in grad school, I founded Ideas on Fire (although that name was still a few years off) by turning my haphazard freelancing into a dedicated editing and indexing business. Over several years, several contingent faculty positions, and many tenure-track interviews, I continued this academic editing and indexing business, which grew to the point where I was consistently having to turn down potential clients because I didn’t have the time to take them all on while teaching full-time.

In December 2013, I taught my last class as a professor and said goodbye to the professorial dream, ready for a new year and a new life working on my company full-time. Running Ideas on Fire has been a wild ride and I have absolutely loved it.

What do you love most about being a Grad School Rockstars coach?

Helping Rockstars identify the ‘why’ behind what they do and how to value the unique perspectives, experiences, and talents they bring to their varied endeavors. I’m big on a holistic approach to one’s career, so I really love helping Rockstars see how they can build a varied career that reflects their ethics and politics and uses their whole selves.

What makes you feel confident?

Understanding a situation well (figuring out what the pieces and roles are, the history and dynamics); concrete deadlines and schedules; colleagues who are brilliant, trustworthy, and follow through; and delivering amazing work. And big dangly earrings because this femme likes to sparkle 🙂

Join our newsletter

Get articles, podcast episodes, and event announcements sent straight to your inbox

    Our privacy policy

    Related Stories

    Ideas on Fire's Favorite Blogs We Read for Fun - iPhone on top of paper next to a paintbrush
    March 21, 2017

    Ideas on Fire’s Favorite Blogs We Read for Fun

    Our favorite blogs we read for fun on queer of color fashion, art, biking, mindfulness, comics, and popular culture.

    Writing for Research - Desk with laptops, keyboard, computer monitor, and plant
    April 5, 2018

    Writing for Research: Writing Strategies for the Long Term

    Writing strategies to employ across the whole arc of a project, including note taking, outlining, compiling first drafts, and editing.

    Academic Politics for New & Contingent Faculty, blog - Icebergs in cold waters
    January 21, 2019

    Academic Politics for New and Contingent Faculty

    Help navigating academic politics for new and contingent faculty, including finding allies, trusting colleagues, and knowing when to stay out of it.