Excellence in Research
Dr. Katherine Kolb
Excellence in Research
Dr. Katherine Kolb
Professor of Foreign Languages & Literatures
The ingredients to her success, says Katherine Kolb, recipient of the 2009 President’s Award for Excellence in Research, are passion and persistence.
Passion compels the 10-year member of the Department of Foreign Language and Literatures faculty to devote every summer to research “despite,” she says, “enticing offers to teach, lead study abroad programs or participate in summer institutes, despite the interruption in pay and the lures of vacation.”
Persistence keeps her nurturing a project “as long as it takes” through multiple drafts, publisher rejections, rigorous editing or personal delays until her efforts yield the rich scholarly results she demands of herself.
Those results include more than 30 articles published in national and international journals (among them PMLA, the imminently prestigious and notoriously picky journal of the Modern Language Association); more than 40 paper presentations, book and article reviews; lectures and panel presentations at regional, national and international symposia; grant writing and collecting honors such as Southeastern’s Distinguished Teaching Professorship in the Humanities.
“Seldom have I known a scholar more dedicated to her work or more goal-oriented than Dr. Kolb,” said her department head, Lucia Harrison. “Her work is creative, engaging, and extremely well-written in both French and English. Her investigations of Berlioz and her musicology studies, as well as her work on Proust, Balzac, and other French literary topics have assured Dr. Kolb international acclaim.”
Kolb says that her non-stop research fuels her teaching, “for me a vocation and joy.” Without research, “Ultimately, there would be nothing to teach,” she points out.
“Even though I love the classroom and the actual teaching and contact with students, research is something I have been driven to do,” she said. “Teaching is evanescent; it’s constantly renewed as you get new students every year. With research, you get the reward of building. Then it’s published and it’s there to prove that you did it. With teaching you’re constantly proving yourself again.”
The building blocks of Kolb’s research are languages, literature and music, which have always been a part of her life. Her parents were both language professors. Her mother’s discipline was German, but her father was the family’s academic star. Philip Kolb was internationally renowned and honored for editing the definitive 21-volume correspondence of Marcel Proust, his life work spanning half a century at the University of Illinois.
French, Kolb said, “was a gift” from her father, who spoke to his children in that language and twice took them to France on year-long sabbaticals.
During the second trip, 12-year-old Kolb encountered “an incredible professor” at her French school. “She was phenomenal, I learned so thoroughly,” she said. “My father was rather a famous scholar, but it wasn’t because of him, it was because of her that I really wanted to be a French professor.”
But before Kolb earned her doctoral degree in French from Yale, she was “gung-ho for German,” her mother’s discipline.
“I was being rebellious,” she said. “That’s also probably where my feminism came from seeing how my mother was so smart, but was overshadowed by my father.”
As an undergraduate at Wellesley College, Kolb majored in music history and German. “We were a musical family,” she said. Her brother Richard is a professional lutenist and was a Fanfare guest artist several years ago.
After graduation, she delved further into German and comparative literature and studied piano during two years in West Berlin on a Fulbright Scholarship, which was renewed for a second year a rarity. “Everything has worked as a building block,” she said. “I do work in music and French and German, and they all find a way to come together.”
Both her French and German expertise certainly played a part in bringing Kolb to Southeastern in 1999 after more than 20 years as a lecturer and visiting professor in the Department of French and Italian at the University of Minnesota.
“I got the job here because, while they wanted someone in French, they also wanted someone who could do German,” Kolb said. “I thought I was pretty much done with German, that it was just something that I had added to my knowledge base, not something that was going to help me in any practical way. Well, what do you know!
“This is my secret for success in research -- you have to be persistent, you have to think long term and you have to do those building blocks, because everything ends up contributing.”