By Anneliese Ng

*The interview was conducted during the 20/21 academic year

Formerly a student of the HKU-KCL joint PhD programme, Jackie is now an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the School of English. Having passed her PhD with flying colours in the summer of 2020, Jackie is now teaching on our MA programme. I talked to Jackie about her new position, her experience with stress, and her ideal life as a teacher-researcher.

It is not surprising that Jackie found the transition from PhD to teaching relatively easy as she had accumulated six years of teaching experience before taking the position at HKU. It was, however, her first time teaching sociolinguistics. This experience was made all the more difficult as the class contained 40 students and had to be taught online. Nevertheless, she found her new role “fun” and enjoyed the teaching.

Like many of her MA students, Jackie herself did not have a background in sociolinguistics when she first arrived at HKU as a PhD student. She recalled being much baffled by one of the first academic articles she read in the department’s reading group: Michael Silverstein on indexicality. There was so much jargon: “Oh my gosh, what is this gobbledegook? I can’t understand a single word!” What really helped, Jackie recalled, was going to the Linguistic Institute, run by the Linguistic Society of America. There she took a course on discourse analysis by Barbara Johnstone, which provided the broader arc and genealogy of discourse analysis, as well as an understanding of the major conversations in the field. In light of her own learning experience, Jackie was determined to provide a good grounding for her MA students before using more difficult materials such as academic articles. “Hopefully the jargon won’t trip them up so much,” Jackie said.

Having gone through different work and life experiences before doing her PhD at HKU, especially the experience of being a mother, Jackie did not find her PhD stressful. As a young mother, Jackie suffered from panic attacks, but she learnt to manage her anxiety by controlling her breathing. She recalled having her first panic attack in a formal ceremony marking her second son’s entry into the first grade in Japan, where she used to live with her family. In Japan, one way mothers demonstrate love for their children is by hand-sewing the many bags and accoutrements that students use (to hold their drinking cups, for their PE clothes etc.). Prior to the ceremony, Jackie stayed up until 3 a.m. for two consecutive nights sewing. Not only did she find herself having difficulty breathing during the ceremony, she thought she was having a heart attack and was rushed to the emergency room. These panic attacks reoccurred in the weeks that followed. It took several weeks and multiple medical appointments to rule out more serious issues. Since then, she has practised yoga and learned how to breathe herself out of moments when she felt a panic attack coming on.

As a teacher-researcher, Jackie said that her approach is one of “modest goals, modest stress”. Instead of aiming for tenure, which would be impossible given her age, she wanted to focus on publishing and discussing things that she found interesting. She wanted to have conversations with people in her research area; investigate subjects that intrigued her; have her work commented on by other people and in turn, consider their views, as well. Recalling her experience of working in banking and consulting, Jackie did not want to return to those “hard hours” (8 in the morning until 9 or 10 at night), especially at this stage of her life. Her ideal life would involve teaching and conducting research at different institutions throughout the year, having a good work-life balance, doing yoga, and going out hiking, among other things. Jackie finds hiking, an interest acquired in Hong Kong, especially refreshing: it’s a time when a lot of good ideas pop into her head, like little lightbulbs flicking on. This is so much more inspiring than staring at the computer screen for long hours trying to force the writing process.

It was very interesting talking to Jackie and listening to her perspective. Our conversation has led me to perceive my own PhD study somewhat differently, with greater awareness that life exists in larger terms. Hopefully by the time I check in with Jackie again, I can tell her how I have grown and how I am embracing life in fuller, more enriching ways.   

Published on: March 1, 2022 < Back >