BY EKİNSU POLAT (AMER/II)
Dr. Emine Geçgil has been teaching at the Department of American Culture and Literature since 2018. She has been with Bilkent for 15 years. She started teaching at the Vocational Program in Translation in 2009, where she taught translation courses for two years. When the department closed she transferred to the English Language Preparatory Program and she has been teaching there ever since. She received her undergraduate degree in Foreign Languages Education from the Middle East Technical University in 2000. She completed her MSc degree in English Language Teaching from Hacettepe University in 2007. While working as a full-time English teacher, she completed her PhD in American Culture and Literature between 2011–2015. She specializes in the history and literature of the Progressive Era, particularly women’s literature. In the department she has recently taught AMER 207 (American Texts and Context I) and is teaching AMER 294 (American History II) in the spring semester.
Why did you choose an academic career?
Being an academic requires one to both teach and do research. I have always loved teaching. I mean it. In my first year at university, when I was 18, I saw a quote that read, “To teach is to touch a heart.” I think I love touching my students’ hearts. This is why I became a teacher. Be it the English language, American history or American literature, I enjoy broadening my students’ perspectives by teaching ideas and showing them how to think critically. As for research, learning new things and sharing them with other scholars through conference presentations and publications rejuvenates me. It helps me to flourish as a teacher-researcher.
Why/how did you choose Bilkent? What do you like the most about being at Bilkent?
Perhaps the very same reason that students choose it: because Bilkent is the best! This is what I always tell my students when they ask me the same question. Additionally, the academic environment, the professionalism and the exceptional quality of the people I would be colleagues with are reasons why I am here.
What projects are you working on currently?
What has excited me most for some time is the Humane Movement in the United States, which was a part of social reform during the nineteenth century. I am researching the history of legislation against animal cruelty and how literary circles, women’s literature in particular, responded to this social problem. Because I am an animal lover and the human of a lovely five-year-old cat, this project is very important to me. I guess this will be my best work when I complete it.
What’s your best work?
I have a number of research articles published in journals and edited volumes about women’s writing in the late nineteenth century. For scholars who want to cite any of my works, those can be considered my best works, I suppose. In other words, what makes an academic work one’s best is its potential value and contribution to the academic community.
What excites you about your work? What’s the coolest thing about your work?
Every morning I walk into the classroom I feel so enthusiastic about the content I am going to teach. I ask some warm-up questions and try to elicit answers from my students. I love surprising them with fun facts about the material we are studying. When I see amazement in their eyes, there I feel the enthusiasm. The excitement of filling young brains with information; this is touching hearts, which I mentioned earlier.
As for the coolest thing, I think there are three coolest things about my job. Firstly, I can communicate with young people from 12 to 20 as I have three children. I am very acquainted with the language Gen Z uses in their daily interactions. Chatting with my students outside class and surprising them is cool. Secondly, I love attending extra-curricular activities with my students. Especially when I teach history or literature at AMER, I invite my students to the theatre to see plays or movies relevant to the historical periods or the literary works that we study. My students enjoy it very much. It is simply learning by doing and very cool, I think. And finally, being a prep school teacher, I know most of the students in the main campus from the various departments because they are all former students of mine. While roaming between blocks, in the cafeterias or up and down the stairs, I smile and say hello to many students, which is so cool. Although I may have difficulty remembering their names, I never forget the faces as they run into me and say an intimate “Hello hocam! Beni hatırladınız mı?” Well, of course I do! How can’t I?
Could you share a turning point or defining moment in your career?
In my teaching career, there may have been many turning points: when I first started teaching in a high school, started working at tertiary education, got my master’s degree as a teacher, took the PhD comprehensive exam or completed my dissertation. However, the last turning point might have been when I started teaching at AMER in 2018. I was offered to teach AMER 357, American Intellectual History, a third-year class. Although I was an experienced teacher, it seemed quite a challenge for me because, for the first time in my academic career, I was going to teach Humanities. But why was I worrying? All I needed to do was to incorporate the pedagogical skills that I had been using for years as an English teacher into my expertise in American Studies and the teaching of American intellectual history. The rest followed as I taught a variety of classes in the department over the years. Therefore, the fall of 2018 was indeed a defining moment in my career.
What has been the most exciting moment of your career so far?
My most exciting moments have been when I first presented a paper at an American Studies conference and when I first published an academic article.
What’s one piece of information from your field that you think everyone should know?
That America has a long, long history and deserves in-depth study. In addition, engaging in American Studies is not about being a fan of America but about studying the nation’s history, politics, culture and society through a critical lens.
When and where do you do your best thinking?
I can do all my work-related duties in a cozy café where soothing jazz music is played. It is the best place for me to function effectively. Other than that, I might do my best thinking while crocheting at home on my couch.
What distracts you?
Not having a good night’s sleep really distracts me.
What are you most curious about?
I can be curious about anything. I love to learn any information, whether important or irrelevant.
What’s the most common misconception about your work?
One common misconception is that teaching is a straightforward job where you simply impart knowledge. However, it involves not only delivering content but also engaging students, managing a classroom, differentiating instruction for diverse students and continuously adapting to new standards and institutional practices. Besides, it never ends in the classroom or the office. Homework is an indispensable part of the job.
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
I love spending time in the comfort of my home with my family as well as cooking and doing handcrafts.
Which books have influenced you the most, and why?
African American writer Alice Walker’s 1982 novel The Color Purple has influenced me the most as it chronicles the plight of African American women in the early 1900s when they were oppressed not only by white society but also by their husbands, fathers or brothers.
If you weren’t an academic, what career would you choose?
This answer changes frequently and is related to my temporary interests and motivations. It ranges from being a dietician to a historian to an interior architect to a musician.
What’s the secret to leading a happy life?
Adopt pets, be resilient and do not expect much from the people around you.
If you could go back to your undergraduate/graduate student years, what advice would you give to your younger-self?
I would tell my undergrad self to be a visionary and do anything to be able to go to the United States to acquire a master’s and PhD.