At the end of June 2020, Dr Michele Gemelos joined the College as our new Senior Tutor. Before coming to Murray Edwards, Michele was a Fellow of St Edmund’s College, where she served as Director of Studies in English, Deputy Senior Tutor and Admissions Tutor.
We caught up with Michele to find out more about her and her plans for the coming months.
Welcome to Murray Edwards, Michele. How does it feel to be here?
I’m thrilled to have joined the College. I'm looking forward to getting to know all the members of our community, from the Fellows and staff members to all or students, new and returning, undergraduate and postgraduate. Having to work remotely means that I am getting more of a ‘virtual feel’ for the College, but I was fortunate to be able to visit Murray Edwards on several occasions over the years while I was at St Edmund’s. The colleagues and students I have met via Teams and Zoom have been so welcoming and supportive.
Can you tell us a bit about the role of Senior Tutor? What are your priorities for the next academic year?
Senior Tutors have wide-ranging responsibilities across both educational and pastoral matters. Simply put, I’m focused on education (or supporting those who are teaching and those who are being taught) and student welfare support. Staying in close contact with Directors of Studies, Fellows, Tutors, the Tutorial Office, the College Nurse and Counsellor is key to the role, but I also participate in intercollegiate strategic planning and educational policy-making through the Senior Tutors’ Committee and its working groups. Last but by no means least, I consult and collaborate with student representatives, who bring fresh ideas and valued viewpoints to both informal and formal discussions.
Most of my time at present is devoted to making plans for the recommencement of teaching and learning at Murray Edwards and across the University this autumn. This includes ensuring the safe arrival and safe return of our new and continuing students, and providing a warm ‘welcome home’ to them all. For this next academic year, I’m focused on facilitating the delivery of high-quality blended teaching and helping students to make the transition to blended learning. ‘Blended’ is a word everyone in educational circles is using freely at present. In simple terms, it means combining face-to-face teaching and online instruction, but to me it brings with it opportunities to think more flexibly and creatively about students’ educational experiences and can lead to a greater focus on student understanding, which is at the centre of the supervision system. Despite the challenges we are all facing, I will be promoting intellectual adventurousness, open exchange, and fearless exploration – but in line with all government health guidance!
Has anything surprised you about your chosen career path?
If you ask my parents, they are hardly surprised that I still spend most of my day asking questions, reading, writing and trying to solve problems. I am only surprised that I’ve been in the UK for over 20 years, having turned up as a graduate student for a two-year course at Oxford in 1998. Before that point, the UK was a place I accessed via literature, television and film.
Although my educational and career journey has taken me from Brooklyn, New York to Athens, Greece, back to Brooklyn and eventually to the UK, I haven’t strayed from institutions of learning: I’ve taught at secondary schools and in higher education settings for 20 years. I feel very lucky that I get to work with students and colleagues who are curious, insightful and collaborative. I am fortunate that I get to advocate for and support people at different stages of their own educational journeys.
What is your research focused on at the moment?
I’m a member of the Faculty of English and I’m most interested in transatlantic literary and cultural relations, race and ethnicity, and New York City in literature. I have published work on British literary impressions of New York City and on the literature of immigration. At present, I’m finishing a piece on Hemingway and the idea of the English gentleman, which is informed by his volatile professional relationship with the novelist Ford Madox Ford. My teaching at Cambridge has definitely shaped my interests as well: lately I’ve been thinking about war, the nation and cultural memory as a result of leading Part II seminars on 19th century American literature.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
In my first year at university, the professor who would later become my advisor demanded that I write the following words on a card and post them above my workspace: clarity, economy, grace, dignity. He called them tenets of good writing, so the card was a checklist of the key stylistic components. If you felt that your essay was clear and to the point yet the ideas were appealingly expressed, you could hand it in to him with your head held high! I still have the card.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
When I’m not ‘Senior Tutoring’ or teaching, I am spending time with my two children (aged 6 and 10). Taking them on Fenland walks, doing arts and crafts, and being beaten at elaborate board games fills the time! I also love films, cooking (Greek food, mostly!) and discovering mockumentaries.