What do you teach at Ca’ Foscari? What are your main research interests?
My name is Maria Elisa (more simply Elisa) Fina and I come from the province of Lecce. I studied at the University of Salento and arrived at Ca' Foscari in September 2018. I am a researcher and I teach English Language and Translation on Bachelor's degree programmes and on Master's degree programmes. In my research, I focus on English language for the promotion of cultural heritage, which I study from a contrastive English vs Italian perspective, with a particular interest in multimodal genres, which fascinates me a lot. I am also involved in translation.
Tell us about your academic path.
I obtained my Bachelor's degree in Language Mediation (2008) and then my Master's degree in Literary and Technical-Scientific Translation (2011) at the University of Salento. A few months later, I applied for a PhD in Linguistic, Historical, Literary and Intercultural Studies at the same University. Initially, I was the first in the list of eligible candidates who did not win, and then the list shifted and I was the winner. I obtained my PhD in 2016. I worked at the university for two years as an adjunct lecturer. I was about to leave the university due to lack of prospects, and then in summer 2018 I won a research fellowship at Ca' Foscari.
What are your professional role models / references?
I follow the example of those who seek to "innovate" and renew themselves continuously, both in teaching and research, exploring new ways, methods, and sometimes even questioning old certainties. Society is changing, the way we communicate and interact is changing, students are more and more demanding: we have to keep up.
Have you always known that this was going to be your path?
Definitely not. As a Bachelor's student, I imagined myself in a large corporation managing relations with foreign partners. Many of the lecturers I had - many of them young researchers - also brought the results of their research into their courses. I didn't realise it, but it was then that my interest in research developed. The rest is the result of a lucky combination of boldness and good opportunities.
What is the aspect of your research you are most passionate about?
Working in the field of English for the promotion of cultural heritage, I believe that raising awareness about the beauty and importance of culture also depends on how it is described, told and shaped. I am especially fascinated by the possibility of rewriting something and giving it new shapes and forms to suit the needs of the target audience. It is like having unlimited possibilities: choosing consciously is up to us.
What does teaching and researching mean to you?
Expressing my potential, understanding my limits and possibly overcoming them, at the right time and in the right way. A student who stops to ask me questions at the end of a class is an asset to be preserved, just as a harsh review of your own article, however difficult it may be to swallow, is an incentive to do better and better.
What has given you the greatest satisfaction in your career?
In 2017, the Italian English Studies Association (AIA) awarded me the 2017 PhD Dissertation Prize for the best PhD dissertation in English Studies in Italy. With this prize, I was able to publish a monograph on my PhD research. Winning that prize for me was like seeing every single effort paid off.
Another great satisfaction was passing the preliminary selection for a postdoc at the University of Salzburg in mid-2018. The interview was quite tough but it was good for me, because it prepared me for the selection I would later participate in at Ca' Foscari a few months later.
Last but not least, every time a student shows appreciation and above all gratitude, it is a professional satisfaction too.
The area you have always wanted to be involved in but have not yet had the opportunity to explore?
Accessible multimodal communication in English lingua franca for people with disabilities and the combination of verbal communication and digital technologies such as augmented reality, tactile experiences, etc. These are extremely complex and interdisciplinary areas, and I think it takes years of study just to understand what they are about, to absorb the studies that have been done, to understand how to approach the research. I don't rule out doing that in the future, but right now my fixed-term contract prevents me from going down such complex roads.
What would you say to young people starting their university career?
What I repeat to my students: university is not just a series of exams on the syllabus, chapters to study, a race to get the dissertation done, etc. University is an important growth process, so I try to encourage them to ask questions and look for answers on their own, and above all to discuss things with each other, to look at things from different points of view and develop a critical and self-critical mindset, because this is the only way they will be able to grasp all the opportunities that this experience can offer them.
And to those approaching research today?
Our work is very satisfying but requires a lot of effort, sometimes even sacrifice. The first thing I would say is keep your nerves in check, because the teaching load is often such that it reduces the time you should be devoting to research. It may seem obvious, but my advice is to put in not only a lot of effort but especially passion. For me, research is not just an academic exercise: research is creativity and as such full self-expression. I would also tell them not to sacrifice their private lives, hobbies and personal fulfilment for the sake of research: work is not everything.
Why Ca’ Foscari and Venice?
I joined Ca' Foscari by chance. Now, after almost three years, I can say I was lucky: Ca' Foscari and Venice are open, multicultural, and synergistic. I would recommend an experience at Ca' Foscari to those who really want to get out of their comfort zone. It was a good test for me, not without difficulties, but I learned a lot. As for Venice, in the first few months I couldn't believe I was leaving my office and finding the lagoon in front of me. I'll end with a little story: in 2014 I was in Venice for a short family trip. While I was walking along bridges and streets, I remember saying that I could never work in Venice. Who could ever imagine that, a few years later, I would cross those very bridges and streets on my way to work!