Why did you choose to study for an MA at Queen Mary?
By the end of the three years as an undergraduate student at QM, I realised that I wanted to specialise in postcolonial literature, and the expertise of the faculty in this area (alongside a commitment to highly theoretical methodologies) seemed a natural progression from the work I had completed.
What have you enjoyed most about the MA programme?
The intellectual content of the modules, and the formidable increase in workload; although the reading can be stressful at times, the course has a real momentum and is doing much to sharpen analytic, writing, and time management skills!
How have you found the intellectual life of the department?
Wonderful. The faculty are as welcoming as ever, and the amazing students from all over the world that I have met have been inspiring to converse with and with which to share differing expertise. The postgraduate seminar organised by the English department takes place every Thursday, and involves a lecture from a visiting academic followed by drinks and nibbles, providing a welcome opportunity to relax with your peers and discuss the progress of the week's work!
What are some of the benefits of studying in London?
The fantastic research resources are an obvious strength: from Senate House, to the British Library, to Queen Mary's own extensive on-campus libraries and e-resource subscriptions, the wealth of knowledge available to students is matchless. QM's proximity to Central London ensures convenient access to museums/bars/theatres etc. and allows students to synthesise their own balance of work and social life.
What are your future plans, and how has studying at Queen Mary prepared you for them?
My aim is to go on to do a PhD, and ultimately to work in academia. I am just in the process of hearing back from universities to which I have applied for a doctorate, and am absolutely thrilled to have been offered a place at Brown University in the US! Queen Mary has been invaluable in fostering the desire to ask challenging intellectual questions, building a solid foundation of research skills/sophisticated engagement with texts, and allowing for a dialogue between faculty and students that allows graduates to really forge their own path in the academy.
Phoenix will be starting a PhD at Yale in Fall of 2013.
When did you graduate from the programme, and what was your MA dissertation on?
I graduated in 2006. My thesis was entitled ‘“Truth is always strange/ Stranger than fiction: if it could be told,/ How much would novels gain by the exchange!”: Six biographical fictions, 1805-1830’. It was about Roman a clef in the Romantic era.
I liked the look of the 18th century MA, nowhere else in London offered one quite like it.
What did you enjoy most about the MA programme?
Visits to various research libraries and institutions were part of the syllabus, and these were informative and fun. The modules included texts I’d always meant to read but never had, as well as texts I’d never have read on my own but was glad to.
What were some of the benefits of studying in London?
Easy access to the British Library is a big plus – London based researchers take it for granted but we’re very lucky.
What have you been doing since completing the MA, and how did studying at Queen Mary prepare you for it?
I had a couple of years out then came back to Queen Mary to do a PhD. I ended up using the Theatre Museum library for my research, which I’d first visited as an MA student. Most of the ideas I wanted to develop when I started the PhD were drawn directly from things I’d written about for my MA dissertation.
What is your doctoral research on?
I am researching, under the supervision of Professor Julia Boffey, the symbolism of water in religious writing authored by women, or devotional treatises written for women in the Middle Ages. Water was an incredibly potent symbol at this time, due to its Biblical significance and its sacramental and liturgical role. Pure, clean water, which was not readily available during the medieval period, was frequently associated with the spiritually pure, whereas filthy water – bogs, mires, and gall – were associated with the sinful. I am exploring the use of water as a literary device in these writings, and the liminal qualities of the element which many devotional texts engage with.
Why did you choose to study at Queen Mary?
Queen Mary has many attractions, particularly for postgraduate research. The English department is one of the strongest in the country therefore the standard of supervision is excellent. There are always events being held, be they specifically medieval or forums for English literature more generally: lectures, workshops and seminars, plenty of opportunities to learn, network and present work in a friendly and more informal environment. I got the impression, when applying, that QMUL embraces the various aspects of the PhD experience in a way which many universities have yet to do, and after almost six months study this impression has been proved right. The university not only helps students produce good-quality research, it offers plenty of teaching experience, opportunities for presentation of research and development of skills – all increasingly important in academic life.
I expected the intellectual life of the English department to be rigorous and challenging - as it has a great reputation – and these expectations have certainly been met! What I didn’t necessarily expect was how friendly the intellectual community would also be. It is heartening to see academics being so supportive of one another, as well as challenging (and thereby helping to develop) each other’s research in seminar settings. Since I started study at QM multiple students and staff members have gone out of their way to show an interest in my research and help me with it, even if it isn’t directly related to their own work. I strongly believe that this sense of community will push academia forward and keep it strong and healthy in the future.
What has been the highlight of your time at Queen Mary so far?
I’m torn in choosing one, so will give two! My supervisions have been a real highlight. I’ve felt both supported and challenged, and discussing and developing my ideas one-to-one has really helped with my research. The other highlight is the sense of community both in the English department and across the university as a whole. Studying for a PhD can be quite a lonely experience, but QM does everything it can to alleviate this. I’ve made some great friends.
Although many people worry that London will be quite an isolating place to carry out research as it is so large, I’ve been pleased to discover that quite the opposite is true. Because it is the capital city and because there are a number of colleges under the umbrella of ‘University of London’ there are always lots of high quality events on offer - you end up spoilt for choice! And you find yourself seeing the same faces at these events, so it’s not long before you have mini-networks all over the city relating to specific interests. London attracts some of the biggest names in academia, and has great resources such as The British Library, Lambeth Palace Library and the Wellcome Trust to name but a few. Academia aside, it’s just a really great place to live: diverse and vibrant, a hub for music, dance, writing, theatre, food…the list goes on!
What are your future plans, and how is studying at Queen Mary preparing you for them?
I hope to become an academic, and one of the attractions of Queen Mary is how well it prepares students for such a career. Academia is an increasingly competitive field, and QM understands the various requirements a student needs if they want to stand a chance! The strength of the English department and the quality of supervision has given me the best possible platform to produce good research. I’ve also found the department to be very supportive with regard to other factors which will hopefully help me get a job once I have completed my research: it provides opportunities to teach, which I look forward to doing next year, puts on lots of events and conferences at which there is a chance to present work and meet useful contacts, and training sessions to support ventures like setting up new reading groups and publishing work in journals.
I am currently studying poetic form in the early Tudor court, with particular focus on manuscript contexts.
I chose Queen Mary both because of the quality of staff in the English department, and the many opportunities beyond individual research, such as teaching.
Having imagined doctoral life to be spent almost entirely in isolation, I have been surprised at the extent to which Queen Mary encourages a sense of community with many seminar programmes, reading groups, and the opportunities to engage with a broad range of researchers both within the department and from other universities.
The obvious benefit of studying in London for an English student is the vast array of resources available. Not just the major libraries, there are hundreds of smaller archives around which can be great for research. But for me the best thing is just being in a huge cultural centre with enough museums and theatres that there's always something interesting and vaguely work-related to do.
When did you graduate from the programme, and what was your doctoral research on?
I was awarded my PhD in January, 2013. It focused on the works of Algernon Charles Swinburne and Walter Pater, and examined the relationship between the emergence of literary aestheticism and competing models of religious doubt and visions of secularisation in late Victorian Britain.
It had a real lustre for me because many scholars in the department had written books that I'd admired as an undergraduate or as an MA student. And everyone I asked spoke very highly of it. A scholar from another prestigious English department told me that she thought Queen Mary had the most exciting English department in the country, and that it would be her first pick if she had to choose again - that stuck with me.
What was the intellectual life of the department like?
It's a vibrant community of scholars who really take an interest in the intellectual formation of graduate students. The department is large and has many different research strengths, so there's always a lot of reading groups, seminars, and conferences to lure you away from the library, encourage you to think about your research in broader terms, and make the experience of the PhD feel less solitary.
What was the highlight of your time at Queen Mary?
Helping to organise the 2009/2010 Thursday graduate seminar series was very rewarding. Graduate students invite scholars, usually from other institutions, to deliver a paper before an audience of other graduate students and members of the department, and take the guest speaker to dinner afterwards. This enabled me to meet important scholars in my own field while also gaining a sense of the exciting work being done in other areas of literary studies.
What were some of the benefits of studying in London?
Aside from the obvious benefits of having access to London's great research libraries and institutions and the wonderful distractions of the city in general, it's easy to participate in the wider scholarly networks associated with the University of London, especially the Institute of English Studies and the Institute of Historical Research. Studying in London also brought my research to life for me in more subtle ways; when you're laboring at what can feel like an esoteric subject, it's heartening to know that you can easily make contact with other people who are passionately invested in it, too.
How did Queen Mary prepare you for academic life after the PhD?
The English department runs workshops and seminars to prepare you for the rigours of life as an early career academic, from job interviews to grant applications. I was able to gain a great deal of teaching experience in the department, and I think that has been crucial in an extremely tough job market. I also had the benefit of an extremely supportive supervisor who has continued to be a mentor in the fullest sense.
When did you graduate from the programme, and what was your doctoral research on?
I graduated in 2012, and my thesis was called ‘Last Men and Women: Surviving Romantic Coteries’ – it focused on representations of solitary survival, in relation to sociability in the Romantic era.
Why did you choose to study for a PhD at Queen Mary?
I knew from doing my MA here that the 18th Century and Romanticism were strengths in the department.
Lots of encouragement to present work, and plenty of opportunities to attend talks and papers by well known academics. There’s the chance to network with lots of scholars in different fields, which is really rewarding.
Sometime during the third year when my argument started to make sense! Also, at the end of my first year of teaching (when I was a second year PhD student), one of my classes decided to serenade me with a collective rendition of the theme tune to ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel Air’. I have no idea why. I guess you could say that was a highlight. It was certainly memorable.
The British Library, Senate House Library, and the Theatre Museum were all invaluable, and it’s easy to attend seminars and events at other London colleges as well as Queen Mary. And exhibitions. And theatre. And museums. And if you have to leave London, it’s easy to do that too.
It was great having the opportunity to gain teaching experience, and being encouraged to present work at conferences and to get articles published was a kind of training for academic life.