We catch up with graduate Emma Long, to see what she’s been up to since leaving Kent.
What are you doing now?
I’m currently a Senior Lecturer in American Studies at the University of East Anglia. I teach and research in the field of American Studies, which was the subject of my degree at Kent.
What attracted you to your undergraduate course, and to Kent?
The sister of a friend had studied at Kent and told me so many good things about it, it was always on my list of places to consider. When I decided on American Studies, Kent was one of the few that had a programme with history and politics as part of the course, and that appealed to my interests. Plus there was a year abroad (so exciting!) and it was compulsory so you weren’t in competition for a place with other people on the course. So long as my grades were good, I knew I’d get to spend a year in the US. That was a huge draw. On the visit day, I had an interview with Steve Reilly, one of the academic staff in the department. It was really that discussion with him about the course and what I could do with it that convinced me to make Kent my first choice.
Which aspects of your degree did you enjoy the most, and why?
I have a long interest in American history and politics, so being able to combine the two in my degree was great. I had such wonderful teachers who brought their enthusiasm to the subject. I loved the academic challenge, and the idea I was learning new things all the time. And the year abroad was an experience I would recommend to anyone.
What impressed you most about our academic staff?
This is really hard to answer in retrospect because some of the staff who taught me as an undergraduate became colleagues when I returned for my PhD. It’s hard to separate the earlier from the later memories. But I remember their enthusiasm and their dedication to making sure that we, as students, developed as independent thinkers and learners.
Which skills/knowledge did you learn on your course that you use most now in your career?
I use pretty much everything on a regular basis because I teach a range of American history modules! I still have notes from my lectures and seminars (and some of my original course books) that I refer back to sometimes.
Did you take the Year Abroad? And if so, how was that experience for you?
We say it a lot, but the year abroad was transformative for me. I never had a lot of confidence in myself or my academic ability and hated speaking in class because I was embarrassed by the sound of my own voice. But when I went abroad I sounded so British that people looked at me and asked questions and judged what I said anyway so I think I learned not to worry. And once I stopped worrying, I got more involved in discussions and my confidence grew. I travelled widely around the US while I was there and doing that meant I saw places and had experiences that I’ve carried with me ever since. I came back, if not a completely different person, at least someone who was happier and more confident in themselves. I honestly don’t think I’d have ever considered doing what I do now if it hadn’t been for my year abroad. Plus I got interested in the subject that became my PhD as a result of one of the courses I took at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, so my academic journey started there too.
Are you still in touch with any of your fellow students?
A few from my undergraduate degree, although mostly indirectly via Facebook. There are a handful of friends from my PhD years who I’m in regular contact with still.
What attracted you to continue on at Kent to study your PhD?
My PhD supervisor was the only person I knew in the UK who had the subject knowledge I needed during my PhD. Plus we already knew each other and he was the one who convinced me I could do a PhD, so it was a good fit all round.
During your PhD Candidacy, were you actively involved in any research centres or projects?
I was based in the School of History for my PhD but kept close ties to the Centre for American Studies and tried to get involved with as many of their events as possible. After I moved to Norwich, and before Covid, I always tried to get down to Kent for at least one American Studies event a year.
How did your PhD equip you for your career?
As an academic, a PhD is absolutely essential: it’s the key to the door. I use the writing and research skills constantly. And it’s probably worth noting here that I was a part-time PhD student and combined that with an almost full-time job as well as some extra teaching. That turned out to be the best preparation for an academic career I could have hoped for. Research is only a small part of what you do as an academic, so learning how to balance research with other demands was good training for what came later.
Could you describe a typical day in your current role?
There’s no such thing as a typical day in an academic job! That’s one of the things I like. But, to give you today as an example: I was in the office by 8am and responded to some e-mail enquiries from colleagues and students. I looked at some draft work submitted to me by a couple of my undergraduate students and then at work from one of my PhD students. I then had an office hour which involved meetings with some of my students. This afternoon I had a two hour seminar with my first year students (this week we were discussing the Cold War). After that I had additional meetings with a couple of students who are currently having some difficulties with their studies, so we chatted about ways in which I can help them get back on track. Since then I’ve been working on revising a draft book chapter that is due with the editors next week. I have some work to do for a conference paper that needs to be completed by next week too. I should be home by about 8pm.
What are your future plans/aspirations?
I’d like to keep doing what I’m doing. It’s such a varied job that there’s always a new challenge. Plus, new students every year means meeting new people which is great too.
What is your favourite memory of Kent?
All-in-all, I was at Kent for almost seventeen years: I started as an undergraduate, then did my PhD, and my first academic job was there too. I have so many memories. Nights out at Woody’s in the first year of my undergraduate degree, and mass gatherings to watch Euro96 that summer. The group paddling pool (old friends from Purchas Court will remember that one!). The walk from Park Wood to campus. The squirrels. From my PhD, Rutherford College and the hours I spent there! The view of the cathedral from the edge of campus. Curly fries from Origins in Darwin. My office in Rutherford College. And all the friends I met there over the years. Happy memories!
What advice would you give to somebody thinking of coming to Kent?
Come and visit and speak to the staff. You’ll see what a great location it is to live and study (try Evensong at the cathedral, whether you’re religious or not; I think it’s beautiful and I’m agnostic!). And you’ll see how enthusiastic and engaging the people who will teach you are.
How would you describe your time at Kent in three words?
Life-changing. Challenging. Fun.