My PhD supervisor is Dr Kélina Gotman, who has worked at King’s the entirety of the time I have been based there. Through this relationship we’ve struck up something of a friendship – I was over at her house eating pies and drinking wine this Sunday – and it’s so easily forgotten that she has been the most influential teacher in my academic life. The first time I met Kélina, she was teaching my first ever class of a course called ‘Introducing Literary Theories’. This was in the days when the university still budgeted for lecturers to take seminars, rather than postgraduate researchers known as Graduate Teaching ‘Assistants’; or ‘GTA’s, ‘TA’s or ‘PGTA’s, supposedly ‘supporting’ or reinforcing the learning that the students glean from the lectures.
I remember Kélina started the first class of the first term with a reflection on her own pedagogical practice. I can’t remember who she referenced, but she taught us about being active readers, and about how she wanted to go forwards as an active teacher, or to make us active students, or to join in a shared activity of thought … Though the details are not clear (it was over 7 years ago now), I distinctly remember how touched I was that a lecturer was opening her process of teaching to her first-year undergraduate students. I thought it was admirable and amazing to invite us into her teaching philosophy. It was brand new to me that teachers might even have a ‘teaching philosophy’. I guess it was the moment I began to realise that this was a space where I could think and write as me, not according to a curriculum.
So much of what I have done at university has followed from that moment. Knowing I could think actively has influenced my decisions as a writer and as a reader. It is no surprise that Kélina took up my PhD supervision – considering I am writing about such an odd topic, with my English Studies thesis on clouds. She’s so supportive of these potentially digressive moves. She makes you confident to be experimental – and that’s been hugely important, as the academic permission to experiment immediately folds into a demand to perform that experimentation in a scholarly and rigorous way, always examining the stakes of what you are doing.