U of A professor thrives on new ideas

PROMOTED: Professor Joanne Wilkes enjoys researching female writers who have faded into obscurity.
PROMOTED: Professor Joanne Wilkes enjoys researching female writers who have faded into obscurity.

English literature expert Joanne Wilkes is pleased to be one of the 17 new professors at the University of Auckland.

Originally from Sydney, the Meadowbank resident received her BA honours in English literature from the University of Sydney before going on to study a PhD at Oxford University.

She spent three years working at Monash University in Melbourne before moving to the English department at the University of Auckland where she has been since 1987.

Becoming professor is a position awarded on the basis of a variety of factors, the head of department says.

Performance in teaching and administration roles are taken into account. It is also important how proactive you are in your research and how well it is received. It carries with it expectations of willingness for leadership in the department and in the wider university.

It is also about picking your moment. Dr Wilkes applied now primarily because of the research she has undertaken. She is a long-time editor and has published several books, her latest being Women Reviewing Women in Nineteenth Century Britain, 2010. It explores how women responded to female writers such as Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte.

Not all of the writers were well-known as Dr Wilkes also gets satisfaction out of researching female writers who have faded into obscurity. Her research focuses on late 18th century to late 19th century English literature.

She enjoys the fact her teaching and research roles complement one another, she says.

"There are always new theories, perceptions and ideas that come out about the writers I work on. That always keeps you alive as an academic.

"I think people can respond to 19th century writers in ways which seem relevant. There is also the fascination with an earlier era.

"You get the sense these people are like us but their social and historical contexts are very different. Jane Austen has quite feisty heroines but you are very aware that their opportunities were constrained."

At the end of this semester she will step down as head of department and take a semester of leave. She plans to travel, partly for pleasure and partly for research purposes.

Finding out in December she had been accepted as a professor was satisfying because it recognises her commitment to the university.

East And Bays Courier