Some Insights Into Dr. Matthew Parfitt

Dr. Matthew Parfitt is an Associate Professor of Rhetoric in the College of General Studies. As you can imagine, he is my Rhetoric professor but during discussion, I was often amazed by his personal experiences that somehow connected to the text. He had seen some many different things that he was well-versed in every aspect of the world. That’s why I wanted to do him as a profile. I wanted to know what inspired him to go into academics and what really makes up the world of Dr. Parfitt.  

First, I began with some general questions. I wanted to know why he chose Boston. For context, Dr. Parfitt did his Bachelors and Masters at the University of Toronto before coming to Boston to do a Ph.D. in English at Boston College. His rationale for choosing the college was as follows: he was inspired by members of the staff, and also by the fact that he would have his tuition paid for with a stipend. He also mentioned how that kind of opportunity was rare, which led to his initial move to Boston.

Then, I wondered “Why did you stay?” And his answer made complete sense. In the field of English, it is really hard to find a job and he was in a place he loved, he met someone, and he was studying something he truly enjoyed so he saw no purpose in leaving. Essentially, he had everything that would keep him at peace, what more could he need?

To me, it’s incredible how he just uprooted his life and moved to Boston. I mean sure, getting a Ph.D. is very different from a Bachelors, but it’s still hard to move. Even if he had everything he needed in the world, what about the places that feel familiar? So, I wanted to know if he had made any memories here that he couldn’t imagine having made elsewhere. He mentioned, “Crane Beach, up near Ipswich, Massachusetts it’s about an hour from here.”

Being a West Coaster, I had never heard of it, but he told me all about its history and how the land around it was bought by trustees of the reservation and how he really enjoyed it there. He mentioned how he liked living near the ocean and that he couldn’t have that kind of experience elsewhere. Something as simple as a beach helped him feel at peace.

It’s fascinating to see how sometimes we have a lot in common with our professors. After his response, I immediately thought back to how I loved going to the beach whenever I could just because of the serenity I felt there. It’s crazy that he feels the same way about Crane Beach!

Now that I had heard a little about his backstory I was curious, so I asked, “Are there any stories you have which helped shape you into the professor you are today?” His answer was honestly something that I guess I just never realized.

He explained how, “I taught high school briefly, taught a couple courses at BC, and I learned to teach by coming to CGS. The team structure meant working closely with other staff such as Taline Voskeritchian who is now a professor at COM. She was a big influence, we would talk endlessly about teaching, and that friendship and friendships like that helped me develop as a professor.”

Just like us, Dr. Parfitt benefited from his peers and used those friendships to develop in his career. That’s what almost every teacher has told me since I was in high school, “feed off your peers, it’ll help you in the long run.” Well clearly, it helped Professor Parfitt, so maybe it was time I applied that idea.

Now was when I wanted to go into the abstract, I wanted to know who he was as a thinker. His answer related back to his career as a teacher, and I would paraphrase it, but the way he said it really shows how much it meant to him.

K: Did you witness anything that really made you think?

Parfitt: I don’t know if this is the kind of thing you had in mind that made a difference in the way I teach, but I always liked using pretty difficult readings because I think it’s important for students to reach up to the level of thinking. When I was going up for tenure, I taught with the chairs of the departments at the time, we’re talking about maybe 20 years ago, and those teachers are very skilled and very confident but they are all people who students really looked up to. So I was in my fifth year teaching, for me, things weren’t going too well, I thought it was because the readings were too difficult and no discussion in class. I almost ended up developing a confrontational relationship with the students. It wasn’t a very positive atmosphere. I was doing my job but I wasn’t doing well, it wasn’t successful. Partly because I was going up for tenure, I wanted my job to be done well, but it was sort of miserable to go to class. And I kind of came away from that realizing that there were other things that influence that. Creating a positive feeling where students want to be in class and they understand what the point is, that’s something I try to promote NOW in a way that I don’t think I did before that experience.

So, while I find this really hard to believe, there was a time where Dr. Parfitt was not every student’s favorite class. Personally, I think his class is an incredible learning environment where I am free to speak my mind. But I realized that’s because he really thought about what he could do to become a more effective teacher. Putting in that work and dedication shows a huge feeling of care and respect for the profession, which I really admired.

I wanted to know if after that experience “were your questions solved?” And he said “There are always things, I mean it’s never-ending. Teaching writing is very difficult because you can’t just transmit a bunch of information.” Which is the truest thing I had ever heard a writing professor say. He said there are so many levels of writing that you just never can know exactly what to do. So another question that he doesn’t think he could ever solve is whether his teaching style is working. He always questions it and wonders if students learned and enjoyed what they were doing because he cares about the student.

Alright, now we were getting somewhere. I wanted to know if this possibly inspired him to pursue a career in academia. He immediately answered “Definitely not. Getting a Ph.D. in English, you don’t get a Ph.D. in English unless you’re going into the world of academics.” He describes how he loved being in a classroom and how the “life of the mind” inspired him. So then, I was curious after entering the world of academics if he had faced any challenges in both teaching and writing.

While Professor Parfitt does spend a lot of his time as an Associate Professor at the College of General Studies, he also publishes textbooks on writing such as Pursuing Happiness and Writing in Response.

I wondered if he knew the impact he had on his students. So I asked, “How do you think you inspire your students?” His answer was one of the humblest answers I had ever heard. He said, “I don’t. No, really honestly, I think a good part of being a teacher is understanding that it isn’t about me. There is a text, a conversation in the classroom, that should be the focus of the class. I don’t try to be inspiring, that’s not what I’m aiming for. There are other things that are more inspiring than me.” To me, that was a clear indication that he had no idea why I chose him as a subject for my profile. Throughout this semester, I have found that all of what Professor Parfitt has told us about his life, his stories, his background and his insights to be incredibly inspiring. I honestly thought that it helped me get a more worldly perspective because now I was thinking about things in a new perspective.

So I decided to ask him this.

K: I write for HerCampus BU, an Internet magazine on campus that has a primarily female following, and you would be one of the few male professors having done a profile, why do you think I asked you to be my subject?

His answer. Golden.

Parfitt: Cause I was willing?

Then I explained to him exactly what I told you and you could see his face light up. I hope he realized how much he has done for me as a writer and for so many of his students. He has challenged me to be a better writer and wants more for myself academically. He really does do more than he thinks.

I’m grateful that Professor Parfitt got to be my first profile. He is an incredible professor and he is one of my role models here on campus. I strive to have that same determination and rigor in my academic career. Thanks, Professor Parfitt!


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