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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Saturday, April 20, 2024

Tufts then and now, through the eyes of a Daily alumnus

Professor Jess Keiser reflects on the Daily, teaching and the evolution of Tufts.


Jess Keiser is pictured.

Editor’s note: The Daily’s editorial department acknowledges that this article is premised on a conflict of interest. This article is a special feature for Daily Week that does not represent the Daily’s standard journalistic practices.

The Tufts Department of English is home to over 20 full-time and part-time faculty specializing in drastically diverse kinds of literature and hailing from a variety of educational backgrounds.

But some also come from not so far away. One of these professors, Jess Keiser, is not only a Tufts alumnus but also a Daily alumnus.

Keiser graduated from Tufts in 2006, then obtained his master’s and Ph.D. at Cornell in 2009 and 2013, respectively.

Keiser is also a faculty member in the Science, Technology, and Society program at Tufts, which aims to use social sciences and the humanities to analyze science and technologies in a social context.

During his time at Tufts, Keiser pursued an English major and got involved in the Daily as an underclassman.

“I think I started writing for the Daily my sophomore year at Tufts, and I wrote mainly for the Arts section … so I did music and movies mainly, some books too,” Keiser said. “I just wrote more and more reviews and eventually I became an arts editor … and then from there, I was managing editor.”

Just like many of those currently on staff, Keiser’s time at the Daily stands out as one of the most important — and demanding — aspects of his undergraduate experience.

“It was great. … I loved it. When I was here, my two big centers of gravity, the things that I poured most of my time and energy into, [were] taking English classes, being involved in the English department, but the other thing was the Daily,” Keiser said. “It was a full-time job. … It was incredible what we did [and] what we were able to achieve, just as undergrads that were also taking classes.”

Although Keiser originally planned to pursue a career in journalism post-graduation, he hit some unexpected roadblocks in the industry.

“Some of it was just a frustration with the sense that getting anywhere in journalism required a lot of family connections and money, which I didn’t have, Keiser said. “It quickly became evident to me that you needed an internship at Condé Nast [and] you needed to be able to live in New York City for a summer with an unpaid internship, and I just neither had the money nor family connections for that. So as odd as it sounds, academia was a little more meritocratic.”

Keiser never went on to work full time in journalism, but he still found ways to contribute to the field. His work for the Daily prepared him well for part-time work in media such as writing book reviews that appeared in the Washington Post.

Keiser instead pursued a career in academia as an English professor and found the work was very different from his journalistic background.

“Writing under a deadline, understanding what a lead is and how to spell it correctly, a pitch … all of that … stuck with me,” Keiser said. “Academic writing just doesn’t work like that. It’s super slow. It takes forever.”

Nevertheless, despite the differences between the fields, Keiser still found his experience at the Daily applicable to his current role and noted the freedom that the Daily offered its journalists, allowing them to write in various sections, creating stronger writers overall.

“I think any kind of writing always helps. I think being able to do different kinds of writing for different kinds of audiences is always an important skill to have,” Keiser said. “It’s cool that that is one of the things you can do at the Daily right, because … with bigger student newspapers or certainly professional student papers, you’re stuck in your one sort of field. … But I think because the Daily is student-run … you can really move around and see what’s good.”

Beyond the Daily, the wider Tufts community also greatly impacted Keiser, including his teaching style.

“Your images of [academia] as an undergrad are very different from the reality. … One thing I can say though, is my style of teaching was very influenced by the kind of teachers I had here at Tufts,” Keiser said. “I’m trying to recreate the kind of classroom experience I had as an undergrad, which I very much enjoyed and found intellectually stimulating and important.”

When reflecting on how Tufts and the Daily have changed over the past couple of years, Keiser noted that the Daily has remained relatively the same, despite constant shifts in leadership and the passage of time.

“I don’t think it’s changed much. Honestly, it’s kind of uncanny. Opening it up, I still think it’s the same paper in a lot of ways. Which is sort of incredible, right? That it’s been kind of passed down from one generation to another, Keiser said.

For Tufts as a whole, one of the bigger changes that Keiser has noticed over the years is the attributes of students attending the institution.

The quality of students I’ve had in class [has] been through the roof. We’ve just been really impressed by the quality, the professionalism, the curiosity [and] the capaciousness of the undergraduate student population,” Keiser said.

Keiser also commends the variety of academic interests that today’s students at Tufts wish to pursue. Ideas of double-majoring or minoring seemed to be not as nearly common as they are now.

“I have advisees who are trying to triple major … [and] a couple of minors,” he said. “I think it’s also great that we have students who are thinking about [majoring] in a hard science … but also major in something like [political science]. ... That’s what you can do at Tufts, and I feel like you can’t do it at other places.”

Keiser attributes this unique quality of Tufts students to Tufts’ unique history as a small liberal arts college that gained a stronger research presence in the 1970s.

“Tufts is this Goldilocks school, in the sense that we’re kind of a small liberal arts college, but we’re also kind of a big research school, we’re sort of somewhere in the middle,” Keiser said.

Keiser views this dual nature as a strength and a weakness. Tufts’ ambitious breadth makes it a strong suit for those with diverse academic interests, but has also forced Tufts to continually extend its capabilities and capacities, which can be seen through the recent years of over-enrollment.

“[It’s] a strength in the sense that we can do things that other places can’t, you can get the small liberal arts classroom experience with professors who are still very research active,” Keiser said. “But then, there is this sense to constantly be expanding. Which direction are you going to push in?”

Throughout the years since Keiser was an undergraduate himself, one experience that has stood the test of time was his work for the Daily.

“I think it’s one of the few clubs on campus … where you're really producing something that’s going to be around and that’s going to last, for better and for worse.”