BEST TEACHER: Dr. Kylie Cardell

Tucked away on the second floor of the Humanities building is a brilliant but modest academic and teacher, Kylie Cardell. This down-to-earth powerhouse is a senior lecturer in English and Creative writing, the School of Humanities and Creative Arts representative for the Faculty of Research Higher Degrees Committee, one of the two School level Postgraduate Coordinators for Humanities and Creative Arts, as well as teaching and coordinating in a range of English topics, from Life Writing to Exploring Genres. After being nominated as one of Flinders’ Best Teachers by readers of Empire Times, Kylie sat down with Simone Corletto to chat about her impressive career and the importance of the Humanities.

Growing up in Queensland, Kylie recalls that her path to academia wasn’t a straight one.

‘I wasn’t a very good student in high school. I wasn’t really interested in what my teachers had to tell me, and I really didn’t do well at all,’ she says. ‘I was a checkout chick for a long time.’ Eventually she found her way to the University of Queensland, which she says opened many doors and really invigorated her passion for knowledge and research. University felt like somewhere she belonged, with others who shared her love of reading. ‘I loved university so much that I didn’t want to leave,’ she says, before acknowledging that it took her a while to realise that being an academic could be a career path, as it didn’t, and still doesn’t, seem like a very realistic option, considering how competitive it is.

When asked about how she balances her busy career, Kylie jokes that she doesn’t. She admits it can be a struggle to find a balance in academia between research, admin and teaching, but most students will understand this struggle. Certain responsibilities get pushed aside, but it’s about managing what is flexible and what needs immediate attention.

Of all her roles, Kylie says her favourite is definitely teaching. She enjoys being able to connect her research and her teaching, and sharing with students what she’s passionate about. She says it’s ‘energising to talk about the things that matter to students and scholars at the same time.’ She remarks that she often learns from her students, just as the old adage goes about the teacher becoming the student, discovering new books or research that her students bring from their own circles. Having been in several topics Kylie has helped run, I can see evidence of this especially through FLO, where students are encouraged to share any relevant finds for everyone to enjoy and supplement their learning.

Teaching Life Writing alongside Kate Douglas, Kylie notes that she loves getting to pass on knowledge that she wishes she had as a student. ‘My degree was very literature based, and the idea that non-fiction is important didn’t really exist,’ she notes. While she studied fiction and poetry, the closest they had to non-fiction was academic essays. Creative non-fiction, such as memoir, simply weren’t recognised as literature. But after working in a bookshop, she saw how popular these genres were, and so when it came to doing her PhD she really became interested in those previously excluded forms. Now in Life Writing, students are taught to value all sorts of forms of creative non-fiction, from diary writing to blogging.

While some academics are quick to dismiss Facebook and Twitter and blogs as time-wasting, Kylie points out that these are simply new mediums for communication, and should be recognised as forms of life writing, which often give a voice to people who have been traditionally marginalised or erased in culture, especially children and teenage girls. Now thanks to the internet, everyone can have a voice, and let their stories be heard, and that’s a really ground-breaking thing that hasn’t happened in our history before.

Speaking of children, Kylie is currently working on a project about children’s diaries, having just published a book last year, Dear World: Contemporary Uses of the Diary, much of which came out of her PhD work. She says the new work is a bit contentious, due to the ethics around reading diaries and privacy. ‘We don’t really like when children have secrets, but we also think it’s important that they do,’ she says. ‘We think of the diary as a kind of private space for writing, but then we want to know what they’re writing about, while questioning if we even should want to know what they’re writing about.’ This is what she and Kate Douglas are trying to investigate, once again citing the importance of bringing attention to the kinds of voices that aren’t well represented in history. Kylie is also working on a series of articles about humour and memoir and how comedians, like Judith Lucy for example, often combine these two aspects in their act.

Kylie agrees that Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Creative Arts degrees often get a bad rap for not being as career-focused as other degrees, such as Education and Law. But she argues this is a misinterpretation. ‘We’re currently in a society where certain kinds of knowledge are viewed a little more highly,’ she says, arguing that there’s nothing less valuable about knowledge from the humanities, but the perception of being less employable seems to feed into the idea that these degrees aren’t worth it. Of course, this perception is false. The humanities are responsible for many of the things we all enjoy. ‘When you come home from your “job”, what are you going to do? You’re going to read a book, watch a TV program, play some music. Without that [Humanities] production, then our culture would be a lot less rich.’

Kylie does admit that Humanities industries can be harder in many ways, especially because these degrees don’t always have a clear path for students. ‘You need a lot more confidence, and you need to be a lot more committed, in some sense, to what you’re doing.’ But BA and BCA degrees aren’t necessarily about the end result; they’re about finding what you’re passionate about and learning how to pursue that. She adds that the skills learned in humanities degrees can be used in almost any industry, making them very flexible qualifications. Kylie believes that ‘if you’re strong and brave and bold, then the jobs will turn up.’

When asked what the hardest thing about her job is, Kylie says it is juggling the needs of her students and the needs of the university. The best thing she replies is getting to read and write for a living, and sharing her passion with students.

When asked what she wished students knew about her, Kylie joked that she wished her students realised ‘I was once young and cool too.’ She does understand their fears about uni and how hard it can be, but she wants them to know that she’s challenging them for good reasons. ‘The students tend to transfer authority to me, where I feel like we’re more in this together. It’s important to earn mutual respect’.

Words by Simone Corletto