Keelite of the Month August 2017: Harriet Earle

2009 English and American Literature and 2014 PhD American Comics

What are you doing now?
I’m a lecturer in English Literature and Creative Writing at Sheffield Hallam University. My first book has just come out too!

Harriet at the White House 2007 How did you get to where you are now?  
After my BA at Keele, I went to Nottingham for a Masters in Theology. Then to Durham… for a Masters in Theology. That was a strange and convoluted decision but I got back on track and started my PhD just after leaving Durham. After PhD was the usual itinerant hourly-paid lecturing work at Birkbeck and University Centre Peterborough before starting at SHU.

What has been your biggest achievement so far?  
A ‘C’ grade in GCSE Maths. No, really – I hate Maths. I had to fill out a graph thingy last week and I cried. Pathetic, but true. Beyond that, that’s a really hard question. I’d like to say my book, which is my PhD thesis completely overhauled and is being affectionately referred to as ‘the firstborn’. However, I think the other, perhaps bigger, achievement is maintaining some strong friendships through both the PhD and the book process. Being an academic can be lonely, horribly stressful and involve a lot of anti-social work hours and anti-social behaviour.

Photo left: Harriet at the White House, 2007

‌And your biggest mistake?
My diversion into Theology – it added nothing to my career progression and was a waste of two years.

What are your ambitions now?
To carry on as I’m going. As long as I’m moving forward, it doesn’t matter the speed – ‘Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day’ (A.A. Milne). Ultimately, I’d be happy with a senior position at a university in the Midlands and a few more books. To have a good career and not lose my soul to get it would be perfect.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to work in a similar field? 
Persist, persevere, publish. Write, submit, revise, re-submit. Teach, learn, question, teach some more. Academia is all about learning and developing. You must be prepared to keep working – in your field but also on yourself, your ideas and your ways of seeing the world – because academia is also a conversation and it’ll leave you behind if you’re not careful. I have met academics who have not changed their teaching in longer than I’ve been alive and I don’t get it – that’s not what this is about! It can be a stressful and hectic sector to work in but it’s worth it. But then, I would say that.

What made you choose Keele University?   
When I first came to Keele, it was an Open Day in the summer. The weather was lovely (someone told me Janet Finch made a devilish deal to guarantee good open day weather) and the whole campus was aglow. It just felt right. My mum and I had a sandwich for lunch – an Earle’s sandwich. That was the omen that I needed. I chose to come back to Keele for my PhD because I knew that I would be able to be a part of a strong, supportive research community and that my supervisors would… actually supervise. Plus, the location is ideal. Middle of England – not too far to anywhere. Oh, and there are cows nearby. You can’t go wrong with cows.

Harriet Earle, PhD 2015 What kind of a student were you? 
I was an unbearable nerd. I read everything, stuck my hand up far too much in seminars, frequented office hours with reams of bizarre questions for lecturers and acted worryingly keen. I was probably a nightmare. In fact, now that I’m a lecturer, the keen students are the ones I want to shake and shriek at: ‘GO AND HAVE FUN FOR A CHANGE, YOU WEIRDO!’. I loved being a student and loved all aspects of both undergrad and postgrad life but I don’t think I did enough of the social stuff. If I was going to change anything, it would probably be that.

Photo right: PhD graduatiuon at Keele, in 2015.

How has Keele influenced your life? 
I think I’m a similar type of academic to my supervisors and colleagues. Certainly, a lot of the ways they led supervision meetings (and taught when I was an undergrad) have stayed with me. But more broadly, the Keele communal philosophy has influenced the way I like to do things. The PGR community impressed on me the importance of good working relationships and close friends in getting through… well… anything!

What is your favourite memory of Keele?
I’m not sure there’s one big memory, as much as plenty of little moments that knit together into a big quilt of memories. When I was writing my thesis, my friend Sian Jones had an office down the corridor. We would take it in turns to make tea and then arrive with it and a ‘Pens Down!’ approach to working. I miss that now. I also miss the Wednesday at 11 coffee moan/chill out meetings in the Moser atrium. There were plenty of memorable moments when I started teaching too – the students who bought me a pot plant as a thank you gift and handed it over with the words, ‘It was the ugliest one in B&Q so we thought you’d love it!’ And as hard as I try, I can’t forget the student who boldly claimed that ‘sexism ended in 1980’, adding that if I didn’t understand, it was because it didn’t affect me. Ah, students! Never change!

What is your impression of Keele now?  
My impression of Keele hasn’t changed but has been strengthened. Since finishing my PhD, I’ve met a lot of people and heard A LOT of horror stories from elsewhere. My supervisors – Jim Peacock and Tim Lustig – were both incredible. I never doubted that I had their support in my studies and, though I’m sure they had many hair-pulling moments, they never wavered. Furthermore, the support from the department (Jayne and Tracey – woo!) and the research team (Louise, Mike, Helen) was brilliant. I don’t know how people get through a PhD without a huge network of people holding the fort and giving advice. I’m so relieved I never had to find out. For PhD research, I can’t see how Keele could be bettered.

Anything else you would like to add?
On reflection, my school years were not the best years of my life but my time at Keele is certainly in the running for that title. Thank you to everyone who made it what it was – formative, fun, occasionally fraught and generally unforgettable.