Amazing Students Profiles

Nicole Camastra

Nicole Camastra

Ph.D. candidate Nicole Camastra epitomizes achievement and determination.


Mt. Vernon, New York

Degree objective:

Ph.D. in American Literature

Expected graduation:

December 2011

University highlights, achievements, awards and scholarships:

Throughout the course of my graduate career at UGA, I have been the recipient of three Travel Awards from the Graduate School, which helped defray the costs for me to present research at domestic and international conferences. Much of the research I shared at these gatherings has been published in peer-reviewed journals. In Spring 2010, I was awarded the Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award by the Graduate School. Retrospectively, it looks like 2010 was a particularly good year, for in December I won the Graduate School Dean’s Award, which allowed me to travel to Princeton University where I conducted dissertation research in the Rare and Special Collections Library. This year promises to be just as successful, however, since I was recently awarded the Dissertation Completion Award by the Graduate School, which releases me from teaching responsibilities next semester so that I can focus only on writing and finishing the dissertation.

Current Employment:

I work for UGA, teaching mostly freshman composition in the English department.

I chose to attend UGA because…

…I wanted to study with Dr. James Nagel, a renowned Hemingway scholar and one of the founders of the American Literature Association. The English department at Georgia has an impressive number of scholars, and I’m glad I got to study with several of them.

My favorite things to do on campus are…

…attend any number of lectures. In the almost six years I’ve been here, I’ve seen some really great speakers; Stanley Fish, Frederic Jameson and Michael Ondaatje are three examples.

When I have free time, I like…

…to read something that is not related to my dissertation. Recently, I’ve been reading Michael Pollan, the journalist responsible for educating most Americans on what it means to eat well. Subsequently, in my free time, I really like to cook and bake. If the Ph.D. doesn’t work out, a friend and I are opening a bakery: The Bun Also Rises!

The craziest thing I’ve done is…

… travel through some parts of Europe by myself for three months. I think of it as crazy because it seems so age-specific. Twelve years ago, it seemed a grand idea to go through the Czech Republic, Hungary and Croatia by myself. I don’t know if I would do that now. Doing it alone, however, exposed me to a cultural experience most Americans are too insulated to have when they travel. Traveling alone can be the best way to really cultivate a sense of place and local knowledge.

My favorite place to study is…

…my home. There are fewer distractions, and if I give in to them, I have only myself to blame. On campus, I’ve got everyone else to contend with as far as dividing my time between work and socializing.

My favorite professor is…

…is an impossible question to answer. No answer would be appropriate since I have three professors on my committee. I will say, though, that I continue to be grateful for the chance to study with Dr. Nagel. Getting a graduate degree takes tenacity and hard work, and he has been an enduring advocate.

If I could share an afternoon with anyone, I would love to share it with…

…I would like to spend it with my grandparents. Three of them died by the time my parents were 18. There is no substitute for knowing your own history, your own past. Spending an afternoon with a stranger doesn’t offer me nearly as much as with those who are related to me.

If I knew I could not fail, I would…

I’m already doing it: getting a Ph.D. and doing it well. After going through treatment for breast cancer, failure now means something very different from what it meant when I was “healthy” and ostensibly invulnerable. There are not dozens of other chances waiting around the corner; this is it. Changing my perspective helped me adapt to what I thought would be impossible.You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.

After graduation, I plan to…

…get on the job market and find a job as an English professor, hopefully in the Northeast. I miss New York!

The one UGA experience I will always remember will be…

… working with Will Rooks, past president of the Graduate Student Association at Georgia, (and another UGA English major) to challenge policy changes in the graduate student health insurance. Using my experience with breast cancer as his primary impetus, Will worked tirelessly to petition the university and the Board of Regents so that graduate students could keep a reasonable out-of-pocket cost on a policy that we are mandated to carry. I’m not usually one to use personal experience in a very public manner, but, in this case, it seemed to benefit so many others besides myself. I’m proud of what we were able to accomplish.