Graduate School Alumni
Elizabeth Robinson was a physics major who approached her choice of undergraduate electives with a sense of adventure. In the spring of her sophomore year, the Bowdoin College student selected an introductory archaeology course — and the rest is history (or, to be more specific, ancient history).
She describes a class visit to the college art museum as a part of that class: "He [her professor] took the glass off the cases and gave us all gloves, and that was it," she says of a new career direction that emerged that day. "You're holding in your hand something that someone made in seventh century B.C. You are holding an ancient pot on which you can put your own thumb in the potter's thumb impressions. That was it."
These are the small, carefully observed events that later seem monumental. By the end of her senior year, Robinson had taken advanced classes in physics and classics, she had completed an independent research project in physics, and she had served as a physics tutor for four years. She received her bachelor's degree in physics, and her wide-ranging academic experiences reinforced her decision to attend graduate school – in classics.
"One of my professors told me that when you get to graduate school, you really have to love what you are doing because it's going to be one of the hardest things you've ever done and the thing that gets you through is that you love this subject so much," she says.
UNC-Chapel Hill's classics department allowed post-baccalaureate students to audit graduate-level courses, which Robinson viewed as critical in building proficiency she would need for doctoral studies in classics. So she came to Carolina, where Robinson learned from world-renowned faculty experts in the field and worked hard to build her knowledge of ancient Greek and Latin.
Then, after she was admitted to the doctoral program in classics, The Graduate School offered her the five-year William R. Kenan Jr. Fellowship. As the recipient of that fellowship, Robinson became a member of The Graduate School's select interdisciplinary fellowship program: the Royster Society of Fellows.
Her first full year of dissertation research in classics was spent in Larino, a village of 7,000 people that sits atop Larinum, the ancient town she studied for her dissertation. Many Larino residents had never seen an American.
"Not only did I have to overcome my fear of speaking Italian in public (as I spoke only in Italian that year, as no one in the town spoke any English), I also had to win the support and help of the people who live in the town."
During her doctoral education, Robinson also received the Olivia James Traveling Fellowship (the Archaeological Institute of America), a Fulbright grant, the Werner P. Friederich Off-Campus Dissertation Research Fellowship, the Irene Rosenzweig/Samuel H. Kress Foundation Pre-Doctoral Rome Prize (the American Academy in Rome) and support from the UNC-Chapel Hill Department of Classics. "I was fortunate enough to win a series of fellowships that allowed me to spend the last four years in Italy."
On one of those later days in Italy, Robinson met a priest who was buying a parsley plant in the Larino piazza where she was taking photos. He asked her if she knew about a nearby unpublished inscription, a major finding for a scholar in classics if authentic. Robinson made arrangements to see it, using directions provided by the priest.
Robinson had found something valuable, indeed. She presented on her findings in winter 2013, and wrote of the discovery in a spring 2013 journal article. She received her doctorate in May 2013 and will join the Duke University Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies in Rome as an assistant professor in the fall.
The finding of the Larino inscription represented the achievement of two important goals: to advance valuable new knowledge in her field and to earn the trust of the people in the small village of Larino.
"I learned a lot about myself and about life in small-town Italy," she says. "I also was able to make connections with people in Italy who continued to support me throughout the rest of my work on my dissertation, some of whom have even become close friends."