Quantá Holden | Duke English Digital Communication Specialist
Catherine Ward, '18, Judicial Law Clerk, United States Court of Appeals, has not slowed down since her undergraduate days when she was a very active and involved member of the Duke Community. Ward was part of the first cohort of Duke English Ambassadors. She participated in Duke Engage Dublin and Bass Connections Citizenship Lab, and she was accepted into the Kenan Purpose Program during her junior year at Duke. She was the winner of the English Department’s Critical Essay award in 2018.
Following graduation from Duke with a degree in English, Ward attended the University of Cambridge as a Rotary Global Grant Scholar and obtained a Master of Philosophy in Education (Globalisation and International Development) prior to receiving her Doctor of Law degree from the University of Virginia (UVA), where she says she “continued engaging in academic research projects and interned in the public and private sector.” While at UVA, Ward served on the Editorial Board of the Virginia Law Review and was an Assistant Executive Editor for the Virginia Journal of International Law.
Recently Catherine Ward started a new position as a Judicial Law Clerk for the U.S. Courts of Appeal but took time out of her busy schedule to field questions from two current Duke English ambassadors who are interested in studying law. She shared her perspective on the value of majoring in English at Duke.
What advice do you have for students who are pre-law English majors? (Sophia Berg, '25, English)
"Question what makes writing strong. Determine what writing tactics you will try in constructing essays. Do not be afraid to experiment. But make sure you leave time to revise. Then, edit, edit, and edit some more. Make sure your thesis is clear, your topic sentences are cogent, and your language is concise. After you submit an essay, ask your professors if you can meet with them to learn (1) what you did well, and (2) what you could do to improve. The Duke English Department is home to brilliant professors who will support you as you learn to carefully read a text and create a well-reasoned essay about it. Take their advice. By doing so, you will be well-equipped to analyze case law and statutes and produce strong legal memoranda and briefs.
I also highly recommend pursuing an honors thesis. Crafting an honors thesis will allow you to research a topic that excites you. You will gain a better sense of how to (1) organize extensive research, (2) structure a lengthy argument with multiple sub-parts, and (3) learn what arguments are compelling and what ideas may be better left on the cutting room floor."
What does being a judicial law clerk for the U.S. Court of Appeals look like on a day-to-day basis? (Natalia Harnisch, ’27, English)
“It certainly varies day-to-day! I have worked as a law clerk at federal district and appellate courts. In both contexts, I have spent my days engaging diverse legal arguments, conducting extensive research, creating written work products based on my research, and dialoguing with my colleagues about various matters before the Court. Taking English seminars certainly prepared me for this sort of work, as I spent my time in those courses similarly engaging different arguments (though in the realm of literary criticism), crafting essays, and speaking with my peers and professors about the texts at issue.”
What internships/ research were you able to find that pertained to your interests as an English major at Duke? (Natalia Harnisch, ’27, English)
"I am flooded with happy memories as I think about my undergraduate internships and research. In 2016, I spent the summer in Dublin, Ireland, through DukeEngage, where I worked for Metro Éireann, Ireland's premier multicultural newspaper. Professor Suzanne Shanahan and Professor Bill Tobin, incredible mentors formerly at the Kenan Institute for Ethics, supported me as I worked for Editor-in-Chief Chinedu Onyejelem. I wrote stories about multicultural events for the newspaper and oversaw a national youth writing competition focused on ethics and interculturalism. I had a terrific time designing individualized writing workshops for entrants and curating submissions for a panel of judges. In the end, I collected and analyzed survey data related to lessons children learned through the competition, and it was rewarding to see how engaging the writing process affected young people from various regions across the country.
In terms of research, I became very interested in migration narratives as an English major. I participated in a fascinating working group for graduate students and professors that focused on representations of migrancy in literature. Professor Charlotte Sussman and Professor Tsitsi Jaji welcomed me into that group, and I enjoyed engaging in the roundtable discussions they hosted. That endeavor inspired my honors thesis, a three-chapter piece focused on the concept of ‘home’ as a layer of identity for migrant women."
What advice did someone give you while at Duke that has helped you in your profession? (Sophia Berg, ’25, English)
"Two statements come to mind. First, a professor at Duke told me that writing is thinking, and rewriting is writing. From that, I learned to process my ideas and develop my arguments while pre-writing and drafting before pouring time into strengthening my written work product. Second, someone at Duke told me that I would learn how to be a lawyer while attending law school and I should spend my undergraduate education learning how to be a well-rounded person. With that in mind, I elected to take a wide range of courses, opening myself up to new ideas from different eras and geographic regions. I explored topics related to race, gender, youth, maturation, political history, and more through my English coursework. I firmly believe that studying a variety of viewpoints on topics like these while an undergraduate has helped me understand the various perspectives related to a given legal matter. And for that, I am thankful."
Both student ambassadors were curious to learn how Ward’s degree in English helped prepare her for law school and her clerkships.
"The Duke English Department offers numerous incredible courses taught by amazing professors. I offer some recommendations in no particular order. I highly recommend that everyone take a course with Professor Kathy Psomiades. Her Victorian Literature course cemented my decision to major in English. She cultivates wonderful classroom discussions, provides supportive feedback, and lectures in an engaging manner. Professor Victor Strandberg's courses on American literature are famous amongst students for a reason, and I recommend them wholeheartedly. He is a brilliant lecturer and a deeply kind person. Even in his large lecture courses, he tries to get to know each of his students. Professor Tsitsi Jaji is absolutely incredible, and taking her course titled ‘Reading Zimbabwe and Its Diasporas’ changed how I approach literature. She is supportive of her students. For example, I attended my first academic conference because of her encouragement. She also fosters a wonderful environment for classroom discussion and pushes her students to think about the written word in new ways. She's an amazing poet on top of it all, and everyone should read her poetry. Professor Charlotte Sussman is another terrific professor, and I am grateful for the mentorship she offered me during my undergraduate years. She supervised my undergraduate thesis, working closely with me as I crafted each argument and sub-argument. She taught me valuable research skills in a one-on-one setting. I still chat with my friends Margaret ‘Maggie’ Booz (now an attorney) and Grace Peterson (now a businesswoman) about how much we enjoyed taking her Jane Austen course. Professor Sussman is a dynamic lecturer, offers room for students to learn from each other through group work and class dialogue, and pushes her students to think critically about the context surrounding the books they read.
Finally, I urge students to take a Shakespeare class with Professor Sarah Beckwith. She gave me constructive feedback as I crafted arguments about Elizabethan Era texts and related those arguments to modern literature. She pushed me to grow with each paper I wrote. She furthered my understanding of how other mediums can be ‘closely read’ in a manner akin to a novel or play. She did all that while being incredibly kind and creating a wonderful classroom atmosphere.
I had a wonderful four years in the Duke English Department. I will be forever thankful for its positive impact on my career and life beyond the workplace.” –Catherine Ward, ’18, Judicial Law Clerk, United States Court of Appeals