Wednesday, October 24, 2012

5 Questions Series - Annette Van






1. How did you arrive at your dissertation topic or most recent project of considerable scope?


I paid attention to the kinds of questions I was interested in, what kinds of problems drew me. I found myself going back again and again to thinking about form and aesthetics. I surprised myself in graduate school when I became a Victorianist. I had spent my first years of graduate school thinking I would do film and/or cultural studies, but I kept signing up for classes on the Victorian novel (revisiting the books I had read and loved in high school). My career trajectory has also influenced what I'm working on. I'm teaching in a small teaching-centered school now and this has enabled me to expand my research scope. I'm finding myself more and more thinking and writing about aesthetics (the sublime in particular) in the composition classroom. I guess my shorthand answer would be something like stay open, let your interests lead you.

2. If you could go back and teach your grad school self one important thing about reading/writing/teaching/etc. that you learned after grad school, what would it be?
 
This is a terrible question. The correct answer is something very patronizing like "use the time you have to think in grad school because it gets much much harder later on to find the time to read and write and think." But I'm not sure if that's entirely helpful. Can I be so crass as to say something like "don't defer life?" If you aren't living one yet, start living a full, rich, fun, meaningful life. Don't delay until some mythical date (when you're PhD'ed, when you have a job, etc.) when you think you will be able to start having a life. My grad school self spent a lot of time avoiding a good time out of guilt that I wasn't writing fast enough.

3. What aspect of being a professional scholar and teacher do you find most difficult?
 
Keeping my sense of self and self-worth separated from my job. I am not what I do, although I do enjoy and get a lot out of what I do. Because academics tend to work in structures that have fairly rigid ideas of success and productivity (in which we are often very personally invested), it feels terribly important to me that I stay very clear about what I consider success. At times, my values and those of my workplace clash and that can be hard to negotiate. For example, one of the things I have been thinking about lately is how to integrate my spiritually-informed (Buddhist) notions about what it means to be a teacher with the kinds of more quantifiable assessment that my institution demands. How does one measure the effectiveness of a teaching practice that is detached from outcomes?
 
4. What do you like most about being a professional scholar and teacher?
 
Being in a profession where thinking and curiosity are valued. Creating spaces for those things in the classroom. Being surprised and charmed by what students/colleagues say and do. Being around words, playing with them. That even when I am sitting in a faculty meeting and there are arguments and the usual displays of douchebaggery, that we're all basically on the same side, rowing the boat together.

5. What kinds of things do you do to maintain your intellectual curiosity?

I've never really had a problem with this since I'm naturally super curious, annoyingly so at times. But I am also naturally introverted and a homebody, so I try to challenge myself to do new things and get involved with stuff outside work. Right now, for example, I'm screening films for a documentary film festival and it's been an amazing way to keep the creative juices flowing. Be open to experience, there's just so much that can inspire out there. It's very humbling. Intellectual curiosity is so fundamental to my writing and teaching practice, I have no idea how I would proceed if it vanished.
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Annette Van is learning new stuff every day at a small college in Mid-Missouri.

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