By Jillian Poland
Assistant News Editor
What is your academic and employment background?
I did my Ph.D. on the exiled House of Stuart which spent most of the eighteenth century being banished or travelling from one European capital to the next, and in many ways, my academic career has reflected that. I started off teaching. My first job was at the University of Toronto. Then I went to Notre Dame in Indiana. Then I went back to Ireland and spent two years as a post-doc at Trinity College, Dublin. Then I got a job at the university I’m at now, which is the University of Ulster, which is in the Northern part of Ireland. … But in that interim, I’ve held visiting professorships in Germany at the University of the Saarland in Saabrücken, The University of Vienna – that was last fall – and this semester I have the great pleasure of being at Framingham State University.
What brought you to FSU?
I run the study-abroad program on one of the four campuses of Ulster University, which is the campus in Derry, which is the second city in Northern Ireland. … We have a longstanding relationship with Framingham State. We always get a few students. I have a great relationship and strong friendships with the international office here, so my visiting professorship effectively stemmed from that. So, as well as teaching here, I’m also doing a little bit of recruitment, you know, in talking to students about study abroad. It’s a wonderful opportunity.
Knowing what you do about living in the United States, how was it a different experience to grow up in Ireland?
I don’t see an enormous amount of difference between students. You know, I’ve taught in six countries. Always the class is a mixed bag – you’ll have some absolutely first-rate students, you’ll have students who are very good, but who tend to be shy. Sometimes, I suppose, the types of classes I teach … it’s often hard to draw students out. I think that American students, they tend to put up their hand during a lecture. They tend to ask questions. They tend to stop you in full flow, which I really like because it breaks the monotony of me droning on, but also shows that they have an interest. I also think it’s good for students to hear a different accent. I have a lot in common with many of my colleagues, but I also have a different experience. The Ph.D. program in the U.S. has, I think, a lot of advantages over ours. It’s longer and it’s involves a lot of exam. … I wrote my Ph.D. in Cambridge at university in England and I went in the first day and a very nice professor handed us a booklet and said, “Here’s how you write a Ph.D., now go on and do it.” I met my supervisor, who was a Catholic priest – brilliant man. He didn’t have a TV. He didn’t have a radio. He didn’t use a computer or a typewriter. We talked. He would meet me on Saturday night … and we’d just talk. He’d take out a bottle of whiskey and he’d pour me a large glass – he wouldn’t have one himself because he would be saying mass the next day – and we’d talk. It’s a different education and it’s a different academic culture.
What is it like to transfer between universities?
I’ve been teaching for most of 25 years, but my first day in class I always feel like a freshman. Because in many ways, you are a freshman. I’m always terrified walking in – not terrified, but, you know, you have accrued a certain amount of ability as a lecturer, as a scholar. I pretty much know what I’m talking about, or at least I should at this stage, but at the same time, when you walk in front of a class you never know what to expect, in the same way the students don’t know what to expect. But I actually like that.
What’s something your students would be surprised to know about you?
I could say this generally about American students that I’ve taught, they’re probably surprised about how much I would know about American culture, and I’m not talking about beat poetry or rap music. I’m talking Western films, Western soap operas and shows like “Rawhide” or “The High Chaparral,” shows like “Bonanza” that you’ve never heard of. But we were fed on a stable diet of these in the 1970s. … And I’m also very interested in American politics, and I always have been.
What advice would you give FSU students?
It’s very easy for me to sit here as somebody who went to university nearly 30 years ago, but university is the best time of your life. It is challenging. … It’s a different type of education. … But it’s not just about education. You meet people. You might meet your husband or your wife at university. You’ll definitely meet some of the best friends you’ll ever have in university. I think that’s important. Universities evolved from monasteries and have become businesses, and that is a shame. … We do put a monetary value on your degree. Sadly, you know exactly what it cost you at the end. But I think it’s important to remember that it’s more than that. … There’s enormous pressure on students to do what they call in the U.K. the STEM subjects, and that’s absolutely fine, there’s a place for that. But I think it’s also important to do what you want – what you’re passionate about. Because at the end of the day, I did history and people told me – members of family told me – I was wasting my time and I would never get a job. I’ve worked in six countries. I do a job that sometimes is challenging, but I wouldn’t want to do anything else. It’s a cliché, but it’s true – if you enjoy your job you’ll never work a day in your life.