Kurt Zemlicka is a postdoctoral teaching fellow in the Department of Communication Studies. He received his Bachelor’s degree in English and Philosophy from Wake Forest University where he was a member of the nationally competitive Wake Forest debate team. He completed his Master’s degree and PhD in Rhetoric and Cultural Studies from the Department of Communication Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His work focuses on the rhetorical theories of post-structuralism and psychoanalysis as well as argument theory and deliberation in public controversies over technology.
What has been your favorite course that you’ve designed and taught, and why?
I believe that giving students the tools and ability to take what they learn in the classroom out into their community to advocate for change is one of the most important facets of any class in the humanities. To me, fostering critical thinking, public speaking ability, argumentative strategies, and advocacy skills is critical in motivating students to engage with the course material outside of the classroom walls.
My favorite course I have designed so far is an introductory Argumentation and Debate course for undergraduate communication majors and pre-law students at UNC. Not only did the course focus on teaching the basics of debate, but I emphasized the importance of sophisticated and reasoned deliberative practices for public advocacy. The final projects over the three years I taught the course created actual change in my students’ communities – from creating safe spaces for LGBTQ students at local high schools to implementing debate as a required part of the eighth grade curriculum in two North Carolina counties. At Northeastern I will be teaching a course on Advocacy Writing and I am looking forward to integrating a lot of the experience I had at UNC with the specificities of the concerns and interests expressed by students here in Boston.
“I believe that giving students the tools and ability to take what they learn in the classroom out into their community to advocate for change is one of the most important facets of any class in the humanities.”
What research project(s) are you working on currently, and what do you plan on exploring while at Northeastern?
I am currently working on a project that looks at a government mandate requiring sites that store radioactive waste generated from developing nuclear weapons to post warnings for as long as they are dangerous to humans–which the EPA specifies as 10,000 years. For reference, the people that made the prehistoric cave paintings at Lascaux did so about 13,000 years ago, so 10,000 years is about how long human beings have been making markers and signs to commemorate events and places. How do we even begin to communicate to people 10,000 years in the future? We won’t share a culture, politics, language, or any type of context whatsoever with them; yet we need to be able to warn them “Do not dig here. This is dangerous.”
What advice do you have for Communications Studies students who are looking to pursue a similar career path?
If you are interested in pursuing an academic career in Communication Studies–to both teach college students and to generate knowledge through research–I think the most important thing is to know what you are signing up for. You’ll spend a lot of time reading, a lot of time writing, a lot of time by yourself, and a lot of time responding to criticism. In order to thrive in that type of environment, I believe you really need to love ideas, love the work. There are many, many other facets to being a professional academic that are not related to teaching or research–some fun, some not as fun–but what will keep you in the game is always a love of ideas. I would also suggest that you develop a taste for coffee because I think you cannot complete a dissertation without excessive amounts of caffeine.