Article / interview
A Rocker Professor
A graduate of Polish studies at the Faculty of Humanities of the University of Zielona Góra. Used to be a presenter at Radio Zielona Góra, and now she is a professor at the University of Zielona Góra as well as the head of the Journalism Laboratory and a member of the Polish Linguistic Society.
Here come the many faces of Professor Magdalena Steciąg, Phd DSc.
In 2004 you published a volume of columns entitled "A woman every day". In the years 2006–2009 a there was a radio show broadcasted in the city, for which you wrote the script. Your columns have been awarded in a nationwide competition. Why did you stop publishing them?
For quite a long time I combined two professions that are demanding: journalist and lecturer. I started my adventure with the radio in the students’ “Index”, then I came to the local Radio Zielona Góra. There was a program editor at the time who allowed us to do some crazy things. At first I worked as a presenter, this means that I announced songs, but later I fulfilled myself in other fields. Columns were a big challenge for me. I looked up to Tomasz Olbratowski from RMF FM radio. I admired that he had something to say every day and it was so funny! I wanted to try something similar. It didn't last long, because I was writing these columns for three seasons and it was a bit of drudgery for me. Later we started with the radio show "I am from Zielona Góra" - the first radio series in the city. A crazy venture! Hundreds of episodes were created in 4 years - we broadcasted a new one at 9.55 am every day. It had to be written, recorded and edited, so there was a lot of work. In addition, I was running live programs all the time.
When I finished my studies in 2000, there was the opportunity to work with students. I began teaching classes and soaking up the academic atmosphere more and more. I started to write a doctorate, so scientific work absorbed me, but I have to say that I was on Radio Zielona Góra for over 10 years, so I managed to combine these two passions for quite a long time. Later, I went to Denmark for a six-month scholarship and my contact with the radio just broke off. I decided it was time to focus on one thing. I’ve chosen the university, but I did it with great regret, because I had friends on the radio who inspired me and with whom I could develop my skills, talents and passions. Now I have happily returned to the air, but in fact the work with students and scientific work have become much more important to me.
Together with Professor Roman Sapeńko you run the "Filmopolis" program on Radio Index. So for sure there is something that draws you to the radio. What is that?
"Filmopolis" gives me pure joy of being on the air again. Although it is not only a pleasure, but also hard work; sometimes I leave the studio sweating like I’ve completed a marathon. The program is live, so nothing can be overdubbed. Talking into the microphone like this after years is stressful though.
How would you assess your first radio show?
We were being prepared for the long time before we eventually went on air. We had speech therapy classes and we talked with experienced radio operators who gave us some advices. It helped me a bit. My first entry on air took place late at night in Radio Zachód. It was a music program, I ran it with an equally inexperienced person like me. I rate it as a total failure. I was not at all satisfied with the sound of my voice or the way it reacted to what my partner was saying.
And when it comes to stress, are there any differences between stress situations on the radio and at the university?
Actually, the situation is very similar. We were always taught on the radio to imagine the recipient. Speaking into the microphone, I couldn't see it, but when I was going wrong, when I said some stupid thing, my cheeks started burning immediately - I was ashamed that someone had heard it somewhere. The same happens at the university. In class, there are situations when something falls out of my head, e.g. I can't remember the name of a researcher, and I feel the same. This eyesight of people who listen to me, regardless of whether I see them directly or indirectly, makes me depressed.
Still staying in comparing the radio to the university, how is the radio language different from the one used at the university?
The difference is huge at every level. When it comes to the style of Polish language, we have a lively, colloquial language on the radio because that's what the listeners expect. And at university it’s the lecturer who sets the tone. It imposes a style that differs from everyday speech. And this is not just about the knowledge itself, the subject of the lecture, but also about the way it is passed. Lecturers avoid the expressive ways of transferring the knowledge, they try to do it in a neutral way because these are the requirements of learning. Also the sender and recipient relationships are different. On the radio it works on the principle of partnership, quite close, with a flattened hierarchy, and at the university it is still expected that the lecturer will be the one who transfers knowledge, and the student the one who receives and assimilates this knowledge.
You have good contact with students. What is your recipe for the sympathy that you get from students?
First of all, I'm curious about people, open to contacts with them. If you make a thread of understanding with young person,s it's easier to gain their trust. At journalistic studies we are in a difficult situation, because we not only provide the textbook knowledge, but above all we teach a very demanding profession and it is good when the student knows that the lecturer is also an experienced person in various fields and what he says is not only purely theoretical knowledge, but also the practical one.
What do you value the most as a lecturer at university?
It has changed over time, maybe because I was running various subjects. Satisfaction is different when you run classes on media history or media research methods. What matters is that students acquire knowledge, express interest, broaden their thinking horizons. However, satisfaction is also different when I learn that another student receives an interesting job offer on the radio, on TV, in a local newspaper. I am very proud then and I keep my fingers crossed.
You also did a research internship at the University of Southern Denmark in Odense, how did you get to this internship?
There are sometimes circumstances when you have to dive into deep water without even knowing if you will emerge from it. After completing my doctorate, I started looking for a new research field. I was interested in ecological discourse and how one talks about ecological problems in Poland. I started to search the databases and that's how I learned about different ecolinguistic approaches to this type of analysis. I quickly realized that one of the most important ecolinguistic centers in Europe is the University of Southern Denmark in Odense. I immediately returned to the English course. Everything was happening dynamically. I learned the language, prepared a research project, developed a scholarship application, made contacts with ecolinguists, and finally stood up to the competition. We managed to win a good scholarship, which was financed by the Danish government. I felt particularly honored that not only the Polish ministry wants to focus on my further development.
Which job gave you more opportunities?
For me, the university is undoubtedly a bigger springboard than a radio. I had to take on greater challenges and undergo a more rigorous assessment. Dare to take on difficult ventures and meet high expectations. On the other hand, I have personal benefits from it; for example, I traveled half of Europe thanks to my scientific work. I was on a scholarship in Denmark and the Czech Republic, at conferences in Berlin, Vienna, Antwerp, Lviv, Bucharest, Budapest…
What about the language barrier? How do you deal with it?
Going to Denmark in 2010, I had a fairly intensive English course. But I haven't used it that much before, so the beginnings were very difficult. To this day I don't feel comfortable in this language. However, all foreign conferences I attended were in English. I was a bit embarrassed because even at Slavic conferences devoted to Slavic languages, the sessions were mainly in English. This shows that English is a global language of learning and must be mastered.
What kind of memories, good or worse, did you collect from trips?
My Achilles’ heel is no sense of direction and it's difficult to deny sightseeing pleasure, especially in such beautiful places like Bucharest, for example. I was completely lost in it and I panicked for the first time. I visited the seat of the Romanian Parliament called Ceausescu Palace - huge, impressive buildings, many people were killed in the construction. It all made me feel depressed and I lost my alertness. I got to a district of poverty that stretches around this office, it was getting darker and darker, I knew that I was still a good distance from the house and I was afraid that I would not get there.
And any better memory of a trip?
I have the best ones from the scientific trips that were not so distant in space. I defended my doctoral dissertation in Wrocław. The chairman of the doctoral commission was Professor Jan Miodek - he conducted the meeting with kindness and I am very grateful to him. Later I had a habilitation colloquium in Łódź. For the first time in my life I was in a situation where so much depended on so many. The Council of the Faculty of Philology, before which I appeared, numbered over 100 people. After the test I left the room and when I was judged by secret ballot, I sat down in the corridor, and my husband who bravely supported me asked: "How was it?"
Did you have a moment of hesitation in your life, thinking this is not the direction and you would like to change something in your life?
I had, I still have. It probably results from this curiosity of the world and openness to various activities that I try to cultivate. I dream about writing a regular, unscientific book, fiction; I would like to go a little prose. But I think that this path I have chosen is the best for me at this stage of my life and I cling to it. Or maybe in the future I will try to combine different things, just like I used to?
Finally, maybe you would like to present us in this interview your face that is unknown to students? Hobbies, passions that are not related to work …
I love rock and punk rock, heavier sounds. First of all because I'm deaf and the rock is very loud. Secondly, I grew up on it. My youth coincided with the flourishing period of grunge, which is a unique type of rock, in which there is a lot of "dirt", spontaneity, emotions and pain associated with growing up. Every year I celebrate the death anniversary of Kurt Cobain of Nirvana - yes, I belong to the widow clan of Kurt Cobain. I still listen to Pearl Jam and other bands from the old days. And I got to know some festival life - I was hardened at Woodstock Festival, but I also don't despise the more commercial Open'er, where I had a chance to see stars such as Faith No More, Massive Attack, Jack White, also Dead Weather, Blur, Queens of the Stone Age and many others. And when it comes to my favorite artists in Poland, my friends – more knowledgeable in music – laugh at me, but I love Organek!
Martyna Pawelska, Sandra Skobel
Journalism and social communication students at the University of Zielona Góra