Wednesday, 5 January 2011

From undergrad to Chair, Part 1

So I am going to tell the story of how I came to be here. Of course, I have already told the story of how I happened to come here, to Cambridge, so I won't repeat it - just read this blog from the beginning. But I will go back to the start of my life as a diplaced hedgehog, before I got displaced.

Here, by the way, is the second part of Philip's story

I need to start with my undergrad studies because it is essential for my career. I applied to the Moscow University College of Foreign Languages rather than Moscow University, because I chickened out at the last moment. My family put extremely high demands on me, and if I failed my entrance exams they would be disappointed. I majored in English, but it was mostly grammar, Old English and conversation, not literature. After a year, I decided, not without pressure from the family, that teaching EFL was not my dream job, but changing your direction of studies was out of the question, so I changed to evening classes instead. I needed my degree for any decent job, but I took care of my education myself. To take evening classes you had to work full time, and I got a fake job as a secretary. I studied Swedish on my own and very soon got all kinds of odd jobs that I wouldn't have got with English, from interpreting to reviewing and eventually translating stories for a children's magazine and a children's radio programme. However, this was nothing you could support yourself by, so when I got the degree (which would be an MA if translated to Western system) I started looking for a job. Actually, I was accepted into a part-time PhD programme in general linguistics, on condition that I had a job.

Good jobs were scarce then as now, and in fact most of my former fulltime fellow students, who were forced to take whatever jobs the State allocated them for three years, were either sent as schoolteachers to Siberia or as custom officers to Moscow International Airport, which was arguably a waste of resources for people with an MA in English.

I was tentatively offered an adjuct teaching position at my College which I didn't really want (at that time I thought that teaching was the worst of all trades) so I wasn't upset when it fell through. Instead I went around to all places where I had freelance jobs. I had several interviews for jobs that would have been boring, like translating technical manuals, and the potential employers said openly: "I can give you the job and I am sure you'd do it well, but I know that you'd leave as soon as you found something more exciting". Yet one of the interviews was for a research assistant at the newly established Film Studies Institute, basically a sinecure for daughters of high officials, but my future boss wanted someone who could actually do some work. So after a long time of negotiations I got the job. The negotiations were long because I wasn't the daughter of a high official, and the Deputy Director who doubled as the KGB head (yes, there was one or several at every workplace) could not figure out how I got to be considered in the first place. But I was unquestionably qualified, because I knew English, German, Swedish, Norwegian and Danish, and I had a good record of published reviews.

Thus my career in linguistics was replaced by a career in Film Studies.

To be continued.

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