By Rebecca Bowyer
Elizabeth Robinson's hometown of Elmira is only an hour car ride away from Binghamton University, but her journey to campus spanned several states, continents and a few thousand miles.
Robinson is an assistant professor in the Department of Classical and Near Eastern Studies at Harpur College, and received her doctorate from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2013. When she began her undergraduate career at Bowdoin College in Maine, Robinson was studying physics. In fact, it was the degree she graduated with. It was halfway through her college career when she picked up a minor in classics.
"They are not as completely opposed as you might think," Robinson said. "There's a lot of overlap between the two, but for me, it was more the chance to do my own research."
As a student, Robinson wanted her questions answered. Her work as a research assistant for one of her physics professor's projects triggered her decision to switch career tracks.
"The project was a huge series of things. I felt like my research was such a tiny piece of that," Robinson said. "I never really understood what the big picture was, or what the final outcome was supposed to be, or how I really fit into that. With classics, I decide what my research questions are, and then I can go answer them. Even at the graduate level I could already start answering questions that were my own questions, with my own research."
The shift away from physics came during a one-year post-baccalaureate at Chapel Hill.
"I was able to take some classes that helped me make the transition from physics to classics — Latin, ancient Greek, the sorts of things you have to have to get into grad school."
Robinson met her future faculty advisor, Nicola Terrenato, during this year at the University of North Carolina. She worked with him for almost a decade afterwards, from 2004 to 2013.
In 2009 Robinson received a Fulbright grant to work on her dissertation in Italy. She was able to live in a village of 7,000 people, which sat on top of the ancient site she was studying. The wheel of fortune continued to spin and Robinson was granted a two-year fellowship in Rome. She was then able to win a third fellowship for a further year to finish her work.
"I feel at home there," Robinson said of her five years in Italy. "In some ways coming back, I have a reverse culture shock. It's been such a long time."
Upon her return stateside, Robinson was drawn to Binghamton University and its Transdisciplinary Areas of Excellence program. TAE's encompass five areas of crossover research and scholarship, and attempts to hire faculty to help develop solutions to current national problems.
"The idea that there was this initiative that the president, and the provost, and the faculty were already trying to think of ways to make these connections across disciplines was really exciting," Robinson said. "My research deals a lot with material culture and visual culture. Having done physics already as an undergrad, I'm already used to working with bigger teams and collaborating with people who you wouldn't necessarily think of as collaborators."
Robinson has only been in Binghamton since mid-August, making her as new to Harpur
College as the incoming freshman class.
"Your first semester is a lot about finding your feet. Teaching your classes, making sure everything is doing what its supposed to be doing, and thinking about research," Robinson said, sounding off a list of deadlines and conferences. "It's figuring out how to move forward."
After constantly packing and repacking her belongings for the past few years, Robinson is ready to stop moving and focus on the present at the University.
"They seem to care a lot about faculty, and they make an effort to try with the TAE's to make it an intellectually engaging atmosphere," Robinson said.
"The great thing about Binghamton is that it's the sort of place where you can stay forever, and so far I don't see any reason why I wouldn't want to."
Last Updated: 3/1/17