Faculty Portrait

Contact Information

Name: Hellen S. Lee (she/her)

Title: Professor and Chair, Department of English

Office Location: Calaveras Hall 106

Email: engl-chair@csus.edu

Office Phone: 916-278-6586

Mailing Address: Department of English, California State University, Sacramento, 6000 J Street, Sacramento, CA 95819-6075

Office Hours: https://calendly.com/hellenlee/officehours


Ph.D., Literature/Cultural Studies, University of California, San Diego

M.A., Humanities, California State University, Dominguez Hills

B.A., French, University of California, Irvine

B.A., Art, University of California, Santa Cruz


 As a graduate of California's public school and university systems, I am well aware of the talents that students in the public education system possess as well as the numerous challenges you face. My commitment is to provide the highest caliber education for each of my students and to provide the necessary skills for each of you to reach your greatest potential.

Aside from the immediate goals of helping you refine your critical thinking, reading, and writing skills, my larger goal is to foster generations of scholars, teachers, and citizens who are intellectually curious, politically aware, and socially responsible. I hope you are as excited as I am as we take this intellectual journey together.



  • To provide diverse and challenging courses that will require you to move beyond your comfort zones in order to help you develop as a reader, thinker, and writer.
  • To act as a role model of someone who is interested in ideas and in learning.
  • To help you to learn to ask questions that will not lead to dead-ends, but will help expand your critical abilities.
  • To be on time and be prepared for each class.
  • To be available during posted office hours and by appointment.
  • To aid your comprehension of the course materials.
  • To offer encouragement and guidance as you develop your critical reading and analytical thinking skills.
  • To be honest and forthright in my interactions with you and in discussing your work with you.
  • To grade your work in a fair and timely manner.
  • To praise work that is well done.
  • To help you reach your academic goals!



  • To act as your personal counselor. I am not trained to advise you on personal issues, but I can direct you to appropriate people on campus who are trained and can act in those capacities.
  • To be your surrogate parent/guardian/personal secretary. Just as you are responsible for your own personal hygiene and health, you are responsible for scheduling/managing/ remembering your personal, academic, and work requirements and obligations. If you miss class, it is your responsibility to contact your peers and find out what you missed. It is simply impossible for me to rehearse a lecture or discussion that passed. Plan ahead accordingly.
  • To do your work for you. While I can direct, advise, encourage, and provoke you to think, read, and write, I cannot tell you what to think or what to write. It is up to you to make those intellectual journeys and decisions; I am here to offer you guidance, encouragement, and direction. In short, while I am here to teach, it is up to you to learn.
  • To be your cheerleader each day or in class. As much as I am invested in the success of each and every one of my students, I must divide my attentions equitably in class. If you need individualized attention, please visit office hours regularly where I can focus exclusively on your individual needs.
  • To be your friend. This is because I am very aware that the inherent hierarchical nature of the student-teacher relationship precludes the equality on which friendship is based. That said, I strive for cordial, professional, and respectful relationships with each of my students. And, as many of you know, that doesn't exclude laughter and fun along the way!



 I am deeply interested in your successes and challenges. So, please visit me in office hours every semester, or at least each year at a minimum. I find that students who check in regularly with their advisor have a more fulfilling and meaningful experience.

Also, I want to help you avoid any potential scheduling pitfalls by talking with you about taking courses in sequence, overloading in a semester, and meeting graduation requirements.

Remember, if you cannot make office hours because you are taking classes during that time, your work schedule conflicts, or you have childcare issues, I am happy to schedule an appointment with you.

If are you currently being advised by another faculty member and would like me to become your advisor, please just drop in during office hours. Additionally, if, for any reason, you want to switch to another advisor, I'm happy to direct you to someone who might be better suited to your specific needs.

I am able to advise you on major and General Education requirements.

Please note: I do not answer any advising questions via email because there are simply too many variables. If you have any advising questions or concerns, please come to office hours. They are noted above.



I'm willing to write letters of recommendation and to act as a reference to help my students achieve their various goals. It is a great delight for me when you win awards, scholarships, and prizes; when you go onto graduate programs, both masters and doctoral levels; or you move into new internships and jobs. For me, one of the best things about my role as a professor is being able to support my students as they move onto new challenges and then succeed! I find that writing letters is one small way that I can help.

CAVEAT: I am usually juggling numerous teaching, advising, research, and service activities every semester. While I will make every effort to meet deadlines, I do not guarantee that I will. If I anticipate being late with the letter, I will contact the institution and inform them that a letter will be arriving late. If this condition is troubling to you, then I suggest that you turn elsewhere for your letters. Please remember that for each letter it takes me several hours to read your statement and transcripts, review your work in my classes, and draft and revise the letter.

In order to best help you, I need help from you so that I can write a letter tailored to your specific needs. I never write a boilerplate letter where I fill in the blank with your name. I write each letter to draw attention to your particular strengths and talents and if I need to I will try to mitigate any small shortcomings. In order to do all this, I need you to carefully consider your request.

Before you read on, you might ask yourself if I am really the best person to ask for a letter. How will you know? Well, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Have I done my best work in her classes?
  • Have I studied with her long enough (at least one full semester)?
  • Have I visited her office hours regularly enough so that she knows me both as a student and a person?

If any of the answers to the above questions are no, then you might want to wait for the semester to complete (grades turned in) and ask at the beginning of the following semester. Or, you might want to visit more regularly in office hours so I can get a better sense of your thoughts, your intellectual curiosity, and your interests. Or, you might also want to take another class with me so, if you didn't do your best work the first time around, you can do better the next time.

If the answers to the above questions are yes, then here are some easy steps I need you to accomplish to help me help you attain your goals! Please be sure to submit a complete and orderly package or I will be unable to write a letter for you.

Here they are in brief, the explanations follow below.

  1. Come to office hours to talk with me about the letter you'd like me to write at least one to two months in advance of the deadline. It will help me better understand what you are trying to achieve. As a rule, I will write letters for students once they have finished at least one course with me. I will, in certain cases, agree to write the letter before you finish your first course with me, but I will most likely wait until the beginning of the following semester to actually write it and send it off.
  2. You will need to be organized. Provide complete and accruate information that I need in one large envelope so that the various pieces of information don't get lost! Please do not place random sheets of paper in my hand or in my mailbox. I will be confused as to what it is and will probably throw into my "sort" pile to address in the summer. 

    I will need:

    1. Transcripts, unofficial is fine.
    2. CV or resume with relevant information. In short, a CV is a detailed outlineof your academic life and the resume is a quick outline of your professional life. Click on the following links for pdf samples of an academic CV and a resume for editing job.

    For each letter you want me to write, I will need:

    1. A formal statement of purpose that you will be submitting with your package. If you are applying to several programs, I will want to see the statement of purpose for each program/job/scholarship. 
    2. An informal, one-page statement of purpose explaining what the letter is for, including the complete scholarship/job/program description. Also, include information regarding which courses you took with me, which semesters, and what grades you earned. If you wrote a paper, please jog my memory about your paper or include a copy of it. (This is different from your formal statement of purpose listed above.)
    3. A stamped, addressed envelope, if I'm supposed to send it directly.
    4. Any accompanying forms that must be filled out.

    For each letter you want me to write that requires an online submission, I will also need:

    1. An email of the link where I will need to submit the materials.

Make sure all your information is accurate and complete. If I don't have everything the first time I sit down to draft your letter, then I will contact you to provide what I need and wait until I get it and I can schedule in time to attempt writing your letter again. This may jeopardize meeting deadlines. 

If you would like me to write several letters of recommendation at the same time, please include a cover sheet that clearly indicates what is due to whom and where and by when. Please indicate hard deadlines as well as preferred deadlines.

Each time you ask me to write subsequent letters, you will need to provide the above information again since I shred all your materials after I write the letters.

Please send me reminders. Please send me reminders about your due dates once a week after I have agreed to act as a reference and you have submitted your materials to me, and, then, email me daily during the week leading up to your deadline. I will not reply until I confirm that I've sent it. Please note that at any given time, I am working on 3-10 different student's letters of recommendation (with each student applying to one or more different things) so while your application is important to me, it is not in the forefront of my mind as it is to you. Therefore, please be clear in all your correspondence with me about what you are applying for and when the due date is.

Please do not expect me to write letters during finals and grading weeks or during the breaks; I will get to them as soon as we return to classes. 

One last thing: If you get accepted, win the scholarship/award, or get the job, please let me know! I want to hear the good news and add your accomplishments to the above list.



If you are interested in applying to a graduate program to study literature or literary criticism, then you might begin by seriously examining your reasons for wanting to do so. Literary study can be pursued at many different levels of engagement and commitment, from book clubs to teaching English in high school to publishing in peer-reviewed journals to, of course, teaching literature in a college or university. Each of these different levels requires different levels of preparation, time, commitment, and, quite frankly, money. Graduate school is not required to "live the life of the mind." An advanced degree is not necessary to read, think, discuss, and publish about literature. An advanced degree is necessary, however, if you want to teach in a college or university. And, obtaining an MA degree is significantly different from earning a PhD in ways too numerous to count.

Graduate school in the Humanities is not like graduate school in programs like business, law, or medicine. Graduate schools in the Humanities do not act like those schools that offer and, sometimes, require professionalization and training for a future job. In fact, many statistics and reports over the last few decades show that graduates in the Humanities face decreasing job prospects as more and more universities and colleges hire contingent faculty rather than permanent faculty (I'm not including any notes here since any quick web search about this topic will disclose this very public information that would be more current). This declining job market coupled with an increased number of students entering graduate study leads to a situation not dissimilar to, as David Perlmutter has described it, the case of countless young and talented athletes who hope to make it to the NBA, NFL, MLB, or NHL.[1] Many are gifted, too few will actually make it, but most believe they are the exception and will be The One.

If you still think that graduate-level study, either in a MA or PhD program, is what you'd like to do, then you will probably want to think long and hard about the time and financial commitment you will be making for what could be a few years (in the case of an MA) or up to a decade (in the case of a PhD) of more study. The Chronicle of Higher Education is publishing a series of articles called, "Academic Bait and Switch." It's a 12-part (and still growing) sobering look at the various stages of doctoral work and job-seeking in the Humanities that has sparked a lot of debate. Here's the link to the twelfth installment that has links to the earlier ones.

While not all persons who work on an advanced degree seek to join the professoriate, for those of you who do, you might want to start by following these few steps:

  • Be internet savvy. Be sure you are confident with using the internet, making pdf files, uploading materials, using Skype/Zoom, and researching online. Most of the process of application will be done online. Saying "I'm not good with computers" is the equivalent of saying, "I'm not ready for grad school." Besides, once you're done with grad school, the job application for professorial jobs is also online.
  • Research potential programs thoroughly. Know who teaches there (and I mean actually teaches courses there rather than who is merely listed as a faculty member but is always away on some sabbatical or fellowship). You can find out by looking for schedules of classes over the last few years. Look at recent course schedules and descriptions to see if they are offering courses in areas of interest to you. Just because courses are listed in a general catalog doesn't mean that they are actually offered in any kind of frequency or at all.
  • Research and become familiar with the processes of applying to programs, selecting a program, completing a program, and applying for jobs—academic or non-academic. Search out and read books that address applying to and finishing graduate programs. Websites are nice, but books are usually more detailed and informative. Know when the deadlines are. Gather up all your materials, arrange for letters of recommendation, take your tests, etc well in advance of the deadline.
  • Talk to everyone who is in or has been in a graduate program. Talk to those who have completed the programs to find out how they did it. Talk to those who left programs and ask them what advice they can offer from their decision to leave. Ask about their experiences in their program, ask about their job search process, and ask about the placement of their graduate school friends.
  • Compare costs. To do this, you will need to assess financial aid, tuition remission, cost of living, fellowship/RA/TA wages/stipends, books, travel, etc. For instance, full tuition remission at a private university in a major metropolitan area but with no stipend from a fellowship or TAship would require you to come up with your costs of living and expenses. Graduate student stipends, whether from a fellowship or a TAship are notoriously small, usually hovering around the poverty line. Do you have a trust fund, personal savings, trust fund, or a rich significant other to augment your stipend? Just kidding, but not really. Many graduate students finish with large amounts of debt and not much job training and therefore end up in trouble.[2][3][4][5] Look into any and all kinds of fellowships that you can locate and apply to them. The California State University has a great Chancellor's Doctoral Incentive Program. The Jacob Javitsis also a good place to start. For underrepresented students, Sac State and most universities also have Graduate Equity/Diversity Scholarships. Other national scholarships and fellowships for underrepresented students include the Ford Foundation.
  • Seek mentoring, official and unofficial. Nothing is more helpful than getting insights and advice from as many people as possible about how to navigate what, at times, seems to be a byzantine and arbitrary system. (Remember, that the current university system has its roots in the monastic system of centuries ago.) Do not be narrow in whom you seek as a mentor; you may find terrific mentors in the most unlikely places and in the most unlikely people whereas the folks you may initially think would make a good mentor are not. Also, remember that not everyone wants to be or knows how to be a mentor.
  • Find out and understand what your job prospects are. Ask professors and administrators in the programs that you are considering for placement information: how many people have been placed, in what kinds of positions (tenure-track, visiting, post-doc, adjunct?). If you are seeking a tenure-track job, you just might have to move, sometimes to a remote monocultural location across the country that has bad or no dim sum (or replace with your favorite restaurant comfort food), has inhospitable weather, and is located hours away from a major airport. While for some people the thought of snowshoeing across the frozen tundras or riding out flooding hurricanes or hunkering down in the tornado-ridden plains or residing in a town with a population of 11,000 people is an exciting adventure, for others it would be a challenge. Are you prepared to do this?
  • Think about what kind of job you will be seeking. There are significantly different kinds of pressures of different kinds of jobs and their requirements. For instance, jobs at research-intensive institutions are generally light in teaching load (2-4 classes a year) and heavy in research requirements (several peer-reviewed articles plus a monograph in print or in contract) to obtain tenure whereas jobs in teaching-intensive institutions are lighter in research requirements (conference papers and/or peer-reviewed articles, if any) and heavier in teaching load (8-10 classes per year). And, jobs in comprehensive institutions, like the CSUs, are all over the place in terms of the research (from few to several peer-reviewed articles)/teaching (from 6-8 classes a year) balance. Additionally, there are significant differences between small liberal arts colleges, which frequently have small, intimate class sizes of about 5-25 students, and large public universities, which can have lower-division course sizes that run into the hundreds of students.
  • A significant portion of graduates, if not a majority, will find work as contingent faculty (also called adjunct faculty, lecturers, part-time faculty, and sometimes "freeway flyers"[6], [7], [8] According to one report, 73% of the professoriate is comprised of contingent faculty.[9] Contingent faculty teach anywhere from one to 20 classes a year at wages that sometimes are lower than what graduate students are paid. Some contingent faculty are unionized, like at the CSU, and have relatively fair and decent working conditions. Also, on the plus side, contingent faculty are rarely asked to serve on committees, can easily avoid intradepartmental politics, and don't have to relocate to the remote locations mentioned above. Some of the unpleasant realities, however, are that many contingent faculty often get no benefits, get short advance notification (a few weeks to a few days) of what they will be teaching, and teach over several different campuses within driving range ("driving range" meaning anywhere up to 100 miles away).
  • Find out what salary ranges areSalary ranges are available through theChronicle of Higher Education. Look it over. Will you be able to afford the life you want on these salaries? Will you be able to adjust your living expenses in line with faculty salaries?
  • The competition is stiff. Here is yet another story of the fierce competition for few tenure-track jobs. The position is in creative writing, but competition for literature is equally daunting.
  • If you are a person of color or a woman or LGBT or have a disability or all of the above, then you will likely face even greater challenges, not only in gaining admission, but in completing a program, finding a job, and earning tenure. Despite the push toward "diversifying the professoriate," many hidden and not-so-hidden obstacles will block your path. Please refer to all the data and organizations that are available to you to help you understand and navigate the challenges. Seek mentors to help guide you. There are several support networks, on the local and national levels, that you can join... join them! Don't get fooled or placated by anyone who says or suggests that "things" are not as bad as they used to be: Just because things used to be really terrible does not make current conditions for diversity in the professoriate good.
  • Remember that grad school is temporary. Whether you quit, fail, or graduate, the good news it that you will not be in grad school forever.

Here are some sites to help you get started researching:

"Making a Reasonable Choice"

"Master's in English: Will Mow Lawns"

"Graduate School in the Humanities: Just Don't Go"

"Just Don't Go, Part 2"

"The Big Lie of the 'Life of the Mind'"

"If You Must Go to Grad School"

"Data on Humantities Doctorate Recipients and Faculty Members by Race and Ethnicity"

"Professionalization in Perspective"

"Recruiting the Next Generation of the professoriate"

"Working Toward Equality"

"Outsiders Within?"

"Hidden Disability and an Academic Career" 

"Guidelines for Good Practice by the Committee of the Literatures of People of Color in U.S. and Canada"

Here is a great article on writing your statement of purpose (SOP):

"Leave Dr. Seuss Out of It" Just change the science angle to a humanities angle, and you'll still get the picture. Remember, the "personal" in "personal statement" is something pertinent about your individual intellectual interests and goals; it is not an invitation to wax eloquently about your private life.

Here are some books that proved helpful in different ways:

Getting What You Came For by Robert Peters

Prating to Take the GRE by ETS

Ultimate Grad School Survival Guide by Lesli Mitchell

Unlike other books, these books don't tell you to take shortcuts or offer them. They tell you what you really need to do to succeed (i.e. finish your degree with as little debt as possible and with likely job prospects): work very, very hard and make yourself very, very lucky.

Good luck!