Alumni Q&A: Katie Beth Kohn, Film, 2007
Katie studied an MA in Contemporary Cinema Cultures (Film Studies), a programme from which she graduated in 2007. She is now a PhD candidate and fellow of the Film and Visual Studies Programme of Harvard University.
Briefly describe what you do now:
This fall (2010) I will be starting a doctoral course in Film and Visual studies at the Harvard Graduate School of the Arts and Sciences. American doctoral programs are a little different than those in the UK. I’ll be working as a university fellow and “Presidential scholar”, teaching Harvard undergraduate film courses, assisting full-time and visiting professors and fulfilling a (long overdue) secondary language requirement before starting up a dissertation. (That’s usually why it takes 4-6 years to get a doctorate over here!)
What attracted you to this field of work?
This is only the second year Harvard has even offered the PhD in Film and Visual Studies. As an undergraduate course, it is still only offered as a “secondary concentration” meant to supplement other majors in the humanities. I am largely attracted to media and generally, visual studies because of their underdog status in academia even as the world outside university walls becomes increasingly influenced by visual media. You have on the one hand, incoming students who are more and more aware of the dominant presence of visual media in their lives and on the other hand, very few academic opportunities to explore that relationship. The course in cinema and culture at Kings is a rare and precious exception!
How have the skills you learnt, and the time you spent at King’s helped you in your career?
I was incredibly fortunate to have started my graduate work at Kings not only because the course left me confident in my academic background, but because the people I met there have helped me immeasurably in my continued graduate work. When I was applying to doctoral programs in film and media studies in the states, I was incredibly disheartened to learn that the professor I most wanted to study with had just taken up a post at one of the most competitive universities in the country! Film and media programs are already fairly competitive so I was worried that despite being more than prepared for this level of study at Kings, I would not be able to secure a fellowship in the middle of crippling recession in the states. Then, lo and behold, it turned out the tutor I had in mind had previously been a director of the cinema course at Kings! One could chalk this up to dumb luck, but really, when you study at a place with the reputation of Kings College, the so-called “network” practically builds itself!
What is your favourite memory from King’s?
The year of my course turned out to be a pretty small group so most of us were all taking the same classes together. One of the very first times we met up it was for an afternoon screening and discussion period and about half way through it became very clear that we were all going to head to the dingy little pub across the street for a pint (or two...or four). I’ll tell all you non-EU students one thing: courses at Kings are not only fabulously intimate settings to make lifelong friends and professional connections, but don’t be shocked if the natives are eager break the ice by dousing it in scotch and bitters! Long story short, as an American (and then, a 20 yr old; still underage in my homeland!), our first night spent pub hopping was a genuine surprise and a wicked start to our year studying together and more importantly, learning from each other both in the course room and out. To boot, our tutor—despite being from Canada—was up for the ride as well (at least, for the first round). Right off the bat I found that, the amazing tuition at Kings aside (compared to U.S rates, at any rate) it’s what you learn from your professors at the pub that is truly priceless. It’s a lesson I’ll be taking with me wherever I teach and wherever I study. First round’s on me!
What are your plans for the future?
Thanks to the long road to doctoral eligibility here in the states, the next four or five years of my career are pretty much set, and in the long run I plan to be teaching in my field—ideally, to high school (secondary school) students who I think show an enthusiasm and curiosity for media and visual studies that could transform the academic landscape at the collegiate level if encouraged before they arrive at university! That said, if I end up keeping one foot outside of academia, I’ll be writing fiction. It’s hard to absorb so much film and entertainment history without wanting to contribute a little yourself, and as I’ve become more intensely interested in comics and graphic novels in the past few years, I have been working on a number of comic scripts and young adult novels—the being a very “visual” genre in fiction and more open to fantasy or science-fiction influences, especially as of late. Not surprisingly, you end up meting a lot of creative professionals in this branch of academia and that has been a considerable advantage as well as an ongoing source of inspiration.
What advice would you offer future students of your subject area?
My best advice for incoming students interested in the fields of media and visual studies is simply, go for it! We need more of you! Don’t be afraid when someone asks you, “Well what can you do with a degree in that?” The developed world is chest-deep in visual media and being able to process it, understand it and remain in touch with its interdisciplinary, cosmopolitan history is both a social and professional advantage and deeply fulfilling unto itself. Learning the language of film and visual media is like learning the 21st century’s true Esperanto!