PhD Title, Location, Date of Award:
My PhD project focused on trauma and memory in contemporary US-American culture, exploring the entanglement of intimate vulnerability and virtual spectacle that is typical of the globalized present. Routledge published a revised version of my thesis in 2016 under the title ‘A Poetics of Trauma after 9/11: representing Vulnerability in a Digitized Present’, but I originally submitted it in 2014 at Augsburg University. I will be eternally grateful to the ‘Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes’ (National Academic Foundation, Germany) for providing all necessary funding for my postgrad years!
I am also still active in research – I have just published my second book, The Politics of Literature in a Divided 21st Century (Routledge 2020) because, really, why should research end once you take a job outside of academia? This project is inspired by ecocritical research, and asks how literature matters politically in a world in which horizons of the imagination (and language) can seem scarily limited.
Current Role and Brief Description:
I work as Acting Head of English/ Teacher of English at a small North London Secondary school, which means I spend my days exploring all things literary with 11-18-year-olds, sometimes sparkling with creative curiosity, sometimes swept up by the sheer weirdness of Romeo and Juliet…I am also interested in developing metacognitive styles of teaching and learning, and have worked with the UCL Institute of Education to explore how teachers and students can drive educational research together. When not dealing with the ups and downs of online lessons, I spent most of lockdown developing an English curriculum with more cutting-edge and diverse literary voices.
Other Roles (if any) post-PhD, not including your current role:
I have held a number of teaching and research appointments in the UK, the US and in Germany, including Visiting Professor at the English Department at the University of Texas at Austin (2016 and 2018), a post-doctoral fellowship at Augsburg University, and a junior research fellowship with the UCL Institute of Advanced Studies in London. I have also taught English and German in a variety of secondary school settings, as full-time teacher and as post-doctoral tutor with the charity ‘Brilliant Club’
One example (if relevant) of how you are able to use your PhD skills/expertise in your current role:
Most obviously, I use my PhD skills in my role as ‘EPQ coordinator’ at my school. The EPQ is an extended research project for students in year 12 and 13, and is perhaps the only qualification which gives A-Level students the opportunity to try out what it might feel like to be a university student working on a term paper (or lab project, or art project). Students have near-total autonomy over their own work and lead their own projects, so my role is to coach them in the basics of research and project management – much as I would do with undergraduate university students.
But besides this, I find that the broad horizon and flexibility that comes with having completed a PhD is pretty much invaluable. I am so immersed in contemporary literature because of my ongoing research activities that I find it easy to develop new approaches to what and how we teach, whether this means gauging cross-curricular links between literature and science in our ‘Are we Posthuman?’ unit or introducing voices, texts and text types which are perhaps not as widely studied in classrooms as they should be, Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis or the poetry of the Harlem Renaissance being just two examples.
One piece of job advice you wish you’d had prior to finishing your PhD:
I find that there is this mostly unspoken idea that developing a career outside of academia means you have failed – that ‘not getting an academic job’ is used almost synonymously with ‘not getting a job at all’. Or that the PhD is wasted once you take a non-academic job, because after all, ‘would you really have needed the PhD for this’? There’s so much wrong with these ideas that sometimes I find myself at a loss as to how to counter them, and I fear they create unnecessary anxiety for postgrad students. I think the more thinkers and researchers are out and about in our decidedly troubled public sphere, the better.
I certainly try to counter the all-too-pervasive thoughtlessness of our times in my own small way with school students, and even if I succeed with only a small handful of them, that’s already a step in the right direction. I also found that stepping out of academia with all the challenging questions this brings (and I mean challenging questions literally: “Miss, why do we have to read this?” “Miss, what’s the point?”) has actually sharpened my understanding of why and how my own field of American literature and my own role in it matters in contemporary culture and society.