Student Spotlight: Rae Lontok , M.A. ’20

Rae Lontok ‘20 is a second-year graduate student in literature whose area of interest includes the Victorian novel, women’s literature, feminist theory and criticism, and gender studies. She is a recipient of the LMU English Department’s Spring 2019 Research Grant Award and has gone on to work with the Victorian Society of America in examining 19th-century culture.

Q: What brought you to LMU?

A: I studied at a state university for my undergrad, so the Jesuit aspect of LMU certainly played a factor in my decision. I’m not a religious person despite my Catholic upbringing, but I believed that being in a Jesuit environment would expose me to new ideas and new challenges—and it certainly did. While the people in my cohort have continuously motivated me to get better every time I’m in class, the professors I’ve had, without a doubt, have pushed me to be a better thinker. My professors here have given me a wealth of knowledge in such a short amount of time, and I think that really speaks to the intellectual level at which they function.

Q: What are some academic highlights you’ve had thus far during your time at LMU?

A: Winning the research award was an amazing way to end my first year at LMU. It was a great first year. I mean, I got to meet Jamaica Kincaid (thank you for that one Professor Julia Lee)! But winning the award not only gave me the opportunity to extend my studies outside the confines of a text, but it also gave me the chance to represent something other than myself.

I think when the department entrusts someone with that kind of honor, there is a responsibility on the recipient’s part to make sure that the people who gave that award are well represented. So, when I was working with the Victorian Society to fulfill my research, sure I was having fun learning about Victorian history, but I couldn’t just gush about my admiration for Becky Sharp or point out all the innuendos in “Goblin Market.” No, I had to show everyone I worked with that I was just as capable as the experienced Victorianists in that organization not only because I’m aiming to be a part of that field, but also because I’m representing LMU, because I’m representing the people who are counting on me.

Q: What are your future academic or professional plans? 

A: Right now, I coordinate a tutoring center in Orange County, and if my goal to get a Ph.D. does not come to fruition, I’ll most likely stay where I am. There are some things at the center that I want to do but haven’t done, so if I don’t end up in a Ph.D. program, I’ll make sure to do those things. But, of course, obtaining a Ph.D. in English literature and teaching at a college environment are the top priority. There’s a lot of content and commentary in Victorian novels regarding dominant practices like marriage, symbolic institutions like family and the home, and I want to examine those areas more closely.

Q: Do you have any advice for incoming graduate students?

A: There were instances during my first semester in the master’s program where I simply wanted to quit, and I think it affected some of my graduate work. I remember coming home late at night once telling myself, “Tomorrow, I’ll drop out.” But I didn’t. I think that as graduate students, there are moments where we’ll worry about finances, stress about work and school, and obsess over the idea of how we should be settled already. Those moments can be overwhelming a majority of the time, but we just have to constantly remind ourselves of the reasons why we’re here, why we’re doing this.