Where are they now? – Profiling Robin Curtis

Where are they now? – Profiling Robin Curtis

The objective of our initiative ‘Where are they now?’ is to create a forum or a bridge for German alumni to share their career stories with current students, and for students to ask alumni questions about careers.  We kicked off the project in June 2017, by emailing German alumni, asking them if they would be willing to share their career stories with current students of German studies.  Response was very positive, with over 15 alumni from a wide variety of careers, inside and outside of academia, indicating their interest in participating.

This project was led by Joan Andersen, as part of her volunteer position as Alumni Ambassador and Executive in Residence.  Joan is a German alumna of the University of Toronto, and moved into a career outside of German studies after graduating with a Master’s Degree.  Joan conducted a telephone or email interview with each participant with the objective or drafting a 5-8 minute long article profiling his/her career.

We will publish one or two ‘Career Profile’ articles every month which we hope our readers will find informative and maybe even inspirational. We welcome your feedback on this initiative by sending Joan an email at j.andersen.ma@gmail.com

Our sixth article profiles the career of  Robin Curtis.

Welcome to this edition of ‘Where are they now’?  In this article, we profile Robin Curtis – UofT  1988.  I hope you find this article interesting and maybe even inspirational.

Robin Curtis completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto (St. Michael’s College) in 1988.  She completed the degree as a specialist in Cinema Studies and a major in German.  She decided to complete her Masters and PhD in Berlin because she had grown to love the city from having completed the third year of her undergraduate studies on the Study-Elsewhere-Programme in Berlin. Robin is Professor of Media and Cultural Studies at the Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg as of 1.9.2017. Between 2012 and 2017 she was Professor of Theory and Practice of Audio-visual Media at the Heinrich-Heine-University in Düsseldorf. Born in Toronto. Filmmaker (Nachlass, 1992), Curator (e.g. Special Programme “Out of Time” Oberhausen 2001, Werkleitz Biennale, 2002, Goethe Institute Tour “Geschlecht-Konfliktbewältigung” Israel/Palestine 2003) and Film and Media Scholar. Feodor-Lynen Fellow, Alexander von Humboldt Foundation 2008-2011 at SUNY Buffalo, NY, USA. Adjunct Professor at New York University, Global Academic Center in Berlin, 2009-2012. Senior Research Fellow at the Freie Universität Berlin in the Collaborative Research Centre “Cultures of Performativity” 2002-2010, Doctorate 2003 at the Freie Universität Berlin. On editorial board of the journal Pop. Kultur und Kritik (Transcript Verlag) and the Jahrbuch immersiver Medien (Schüren Verlag) as well as the advisory board of the internet journal nachdemfilm.de.

Recent Publications: Conscientious Viscerality: The Autobiographical Stance in German Film and Video, Berlin: Gebrüder Mann Verlag / Edition Imorde, 2006; The Autobiographical Turn in Germanophone Documentary and Experimental Film Hg. Robin Curtis and Angelica Fenner, Camden House Press, 2014; Synchronisierung der Künste. [Synchronizing the Arts] Ed. Robin Curtis Gertrud Koch, Marc Siegel, Fink Verlag 2013; Synästhesie-Effekte: zur Intermodalität der äisthetischen Wahrnehmung. [Synaesthetic Effects:  The Intermodality of Aesthetic Experience] Ed. Robin Curtis, Marc Glöde and Gertrud Koch. Munich: Fink Verlag, 2010; Einfühlung – Zu Geschichte und Gegenwart eines ästhetischen Konzepts. [From Einfühlung to Empathy: The History and Contemporary Career of an Aesthetic Concept] Ed. Robin Curtis and Gertrud Koch. Munich: Fink Verlag, 2008; Special Issue “Immersion”, montage/av. Ed. Robin Curtis and Christiane Voss. 2/2/2008; Deixis und Evidenz. [Deixis and Evidence] Ed. Horst Wenzel, Ludwig Jäger, Robin Curtis and Christina Lechtermann. Freiburg: Rombach Verlag, 2008. She is currently completing a monograph entitled Immersion and Abstraction that considers the ways in which immersion is a historically specific term that has often pertained to forms of media experience that depart quite radically from realism or naturalism.

We caught up with Robin during her recent trip to Toronto

1. What made you decide to pursue German studies at the U of T?

I grew up in Toronto and had met my first husband who came from Berlin while he was on an exchange to my high school. Between grade 12 and grade 13, I visited him in Berlin and fell in love with the city. I began learning German in a Saturday school meant for German immigrants’ children and then returned to Berlin for 6 months after I graduated from high school. That was where I began to learn German in a more serious fashion. I started first year at University of Toronto the next year and began a German degree with the 4-day-a-week beginners’ class.

I took German as an undergraduate to become fluent in the language.  I did not take many literature courses because my main focus was to use my knowledge of German to continue my cinema and media studies at the graduate level.  Although I had not initially identified teaching as my career goal, I found that I really enjoyed doing this and so decided to pursue teaching at the university level as my career.

2. Describe your current position and job responsibilities. What career path lead you to your current job?

I moved to Berlin permanently in 1989 and began to work as a TA at the Freie Universität Berlin where I was studying and completing my MA. After that each separate step lead somehow to the next, although the process through a doctorate and a habilitation has taken a very long time in Germany as did the process through the non-permanent academic positions, of which there are many, to the permanent full professorship (Lehrstuhl) that I now hold.

3. How did you come to select this position as your career?

To begin with the TA job was the only legal one I could hold on my student visa in Germany. That, and the fact that I found the instruction not very good in the Theater Studies Department where I was studying in Berlin in the 1990s, led me to think that I could do better.

4. What made you decide to pursue a career abroad?

I knew I wanted to stay in Berlin first and foremost. I only left Berlin when I got my first full professorship (which took me to Düsseldorf).

5. What does a typical day at work for you look like?

Mostly it is never ending and takes place at work in my office and at home; in essence it is always happening. There is always more to do.

6. What do you like most about your job?

I like teaching a great deal. I have loved my students in Düsseldorf in particular, who are bright and challenging and talkative and have great solidarity among each other – and in distinction to those in Berlin – are very diverse ethnically and as regards class.  I also love writing, when I do actually get to it – but that seems rare in the last few years.

7. What are some of the challenges that you face on a day-to-day basis?

It is no mean feat to navigate the German academic world as a foreigner. There is a great deal of xenophobia here even if it is not recognized as such. Also, I would say that Germany is certainly something like 15-20 years behind Canada as far as issues surrounding Gender are concerned. This has also made my day-to-day work rather irksome at times. Particularly perhaps because I was not socialized here and often times refuse to accept the status quo.

8. What skills do you possess that make you a good fit for your current job?

I am “international” per se, something officially valued by the German academia at the moment. But more than that, I represent the fruits of two academic systems having studied in both. I enjoyed immensely the freedoms the German university system offered me as a student and the opportunities I have had in my positions as research fellow. I have had a varied set of experiences and this makes me valuable.

9. How have your German studies equipped you with the skills you need to do your job?

I got a solid basis in German over the 4 years I studied at U of T before I moved into the German university system. Of course my German was not sufficient at that point by any means to participate in a meaningful way. But the basis was strong.

10. What are your ultimate career goals?

To see where this road takes me. To take up the fantastic opportunities for research offered by the university in Freiburg.

11. What do you do in your spare time?

Yoga and roller derby. I used to sing in a choir in Berlin but I have not managed to return to this since we moved. I hope to do so in Freiburg.

12. What advice do you have for German students who are pursuing their studies with the goal of securing meaningful employment post-graduation, outside of German studies (AND, if you have any advice – for those who are want to pursue careers related to their German studies or post graduate German studies)?

Language skills are absolutely key. Make sure you are functional in day-to-day situations through internships abroad.

13. What advice do you have for graduates seeking positions abroad?

Try to gain experience of the system you are seeking to enter into through other opportunities. You can rarely make this leap otherwise.

14. For those readers who want to learn more, how can they contact you?

By email at: Robin.curtis@uni-duesseldorf.de