Q&A with Professor Matthew Tinkcom

Posted in Announcements

CCT wants to extend our most sincere thanks and gratitude to Dr. Matthew Tinkcom, who recently announced he will be stepping down from his role as Director of the CCT Program on June 30, and that Professor Jeanine Turner has been unanimously elected by the faculty to serve as our next Director.

Dr. Tinkcom has been the Director of the CCT Program for the past few years and helped CCT navigate the pandemic and virtual learning. To honor all of his hard work, we’ve decided to ask him about his experience as Director, advice for incoming students, his future research plans, and more.

When did you take over the directorship of CCT? 

I began as Director in the spring of 2020.

What have you enjoyed most about being the CCT program director? What have you learned?

I’ve most enjoyed working with the students, and this has been a consistent feature of my time at Georgetown since I started out as an Assistant Professor when the program began in 1996. While I enjoy the research and publishing that I do as a faculty member, it’s the work with students that is always most rewarding for me: Learning what’s on students’ minds, discovering what questions they’re thinking about, working with them to organize their research projects around those questions, and seeing how their work and their thinking evolves over time. This for me is the purpose and meaning of education and of the university.

I’ve learned that institutions, including universities, are much more flexible and adaptive than we might sometimes think. The ability to innovate in the face of change, and indeed to try to ‘stay in front’ of change–i.e. not just to be re-active but to be active–is key to keeping it fresh. But, in a way, I’ve known that for a long time, because my students remind me of it. I’m often asked by friends and family how it is that I don’t get bored teaching and I respond by telling them that it’s never the same students that I’m teaching, and thus it’s always new talent and curiosity that I’m fortunate to work with. It’s the same with organizations: We need to remind ourselves that we’re capable of being inventive and innovative.

Navigating the position of director during the pandemic was a unique experience – what were the biggest challenges you faced and were there any unexpected benefits?

The biggest challenge, as it was for just about everyone in education, was going online entirely in a week’s time in March of 2020. We all stress-tested the infrastructure and our abilities to use it, and there were times when we found ourselves asking whether we were in command of the tools–Zoom, email, texting–we were suddenly dependent upon, and the honest answer is ‘no.’ But, we quickly organized in order to make it work, and even though I hope never to spend entire semesters teaching in online mode, we learned how to use the tools much more effectively, which was an unexpected benefit. The CCT faculty engaged with the move with exceptional commitment and energy, and we were well supported by our colleagues (and neighbors across the hall) in the CNDLS center.

How has the position of director impacted your perspective of the CCT program?

It hasn’t significantly changed my perspective on the program, given that I’ve been here since we matriculated our first class, but it has re-enforced my sense of the unique and crucial role that CCT plays at Georgetown and in higher education. I actually think that the rest of the world is now catching up to what we’ve been working on for three decades, so that’s great to have confirmed.

Can you share a favorite moment or particular experience that stood out to you during your time as director?

Our graduating class of 2021 wasn’t able to have an in-person ceremony, so the program arranged to have faculty and students meet informally at the Lincoln Memorial steps in order to celebrate, outdoors and socially distanced. The weather was terrible–it rained and was windy–and it wasn’t even clear that we’d be able to congregate, but in the end, we got together and toasted our grads, standing under our umbrellas. That kind of good cheer, determination, and esprit-de-corps is exemplary of the commitment and affection that characterizes CCT and Georgetown.

As you go on research leave this fall, could you share some insights into what you will be working on?

I’m working on a new book, Screening Bodies: Global Science Fiction Cinema and the Technologies of Gender which examines science fiction cinema produced in the past two decades through the critical lens of sex/gender theory and the study of science and technology. The book has developed in response to the design of my course on science fiction cinema, where I discovered the lack of recent scholarly study on this topic. Situated at the intersection of media studies, gender studies and science and technology studies, the book critiques science-fiction films to discover the relations among identity, reproduction, human/non-human ecologies, human/machinic interactions, work, leisure, family, and social life. Further, I’m interested how recent science fiction films reveal the importance of the genre for film-makers to imagine different meanings for human embodiment in the socio-technological environment, most notably how gender and sexuality are pertinent to considering the relations of humans to new innovations of communications, urban space, transportation, food sourcing, etc. as they relate to the social life of families, corporations, schools and universities, activist communities, religious life, and others.

Having taught in the program as a faculty member and now having the role of director under your belt, what advice do you have for students coming into the program?

I offer the same advice I’ve been giving since the beginning: CCT is an unparalleled place in which to develop intellectually, professionally, and personally, but it’s only as good as you make it. Each student can design their unique research agenda and use it to move to their next experience, but there’s no one-size-fits-all version of that design. It can be challenging initially but in the long run this prepares our students to later take on new problems and new projects. The faculty are extraordinary resources for this work, and I encourage students always to work with the wonderful professors in CCT.

What message do you have for the next CCT director as they take over? 

There’s a lot to learn, and no one can take it all in immediately, but we have the most talented, hard-working and thoughtful group of staff whose efforts, mostly done quietly and behind the scenes, are the most effective I’ve seen in the university. Ai-Hui Tan, Nate Garlick, and Rebecca Saldivar are dedicated professionals whose expertise and experience make possible the work that we all do. When in doubt: Ask them first!