Postgraduate Blogs

Second Semester on the Film MA

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For the second semester of the course, I took two modules – the compulsory core class and a module at UCL called Genre in Italian Cinema. As part of the Intercollegiate Screen Studies Programme, MA Film students can take a module from a selection offered by various London universities, so it’s a good opportunity to try something a bit different and get a feel for another university (and I must say, UCL has a great canteen…)

The Italian class focused on two areas of Italian cinema: in the first half of the semester we looked at commedia all’italiana, then in the second half the focus shifted to Italian crime film. I learnt a lot about Italian politics and society in the twentieth century, from the post-war years of the ‘Economic Miracle’ to the anni di piombi (Years of Lead) in the seventies, which saw unprecedented levels of terrorism, with nearly a thousand people killed. The decade saw numerous bombings and assassinations, including the kidnapping of ex-prime minister Aldo Moro by the Red Brigades in 1978. We discussed these events in relation to Elio Petri’s Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970), a Kafka-esque black comedy about a murderous inspector, parodying the widespread police corruption and ineptitude.

While the first semester of the core module was concerned with space, the second shifted focus to time. We started the semester with a discussion on the cinematic construction of time and a screening of Chris Marker’s La Jetée (1962), a short film about time-travel which primarily consists of still images. The film draws attention to the inherent stillness of the cinematic image – of course, films usually consist of twenty four still frames a second, giving only the illusion of movement. We spent a week looking at Gilles Deleuze’s ideas of the ‘movement-image’ and the ‘time-image’, notions which attempt to account for a change in the representation of time before and after World War II. Time and temporality were also discussed in less direct ways in relation to reception studies and how Douglas Sirk’s work has been viewed across time, filming death and dying, and phenomenology, amongst other topics.

The third semester runs from now until the end of August and involves writing the dissertation. I’ll keep y’all posted on how that goes!

First Semester on the Film MA

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In my first blog post I thought I’d reflect upon the modules I took during my first semester on the Film Studies MA course. I took two modules: one is the compulsory core module which everyone on the course has to take, the other was a class run by the History department called Hollywood and the Second World War. In both instances, the class sizes are quite small (fewer than 10) and instead of a lecture followed by a seminar, as you might get as an undergraduate, the format tends to be a sort of lecture-seminar hybrid for 2 hours, with ample time for in-depth discussion.

The core module lasts for two semesters, the first semester focusing on space and the second semester on time. The first couple of weeks consisted of a whistle-stop history of film theory as well as all the key concepts necessary for film analysis. After this, each session was taught by a different lecturer and covered a topic (directly or loosely) relating to space, including spatial theory, marginality in cinema, set design and deconstructing the city. The great thing about the module is the variety; we’d be watching Code Unknown (2000) one week and Dredd (2012) the next. In the first essay, we could pick from the different topics covered and apply it to a film of our choice, so if a particular week sparked your interest you could spend more time exploring it in greater depth.

The Hollywood and the Second World War module looked at the impact of the war on the studio system while also covering some key approaches to film history and theory. Though you may expect from its title that we’d be watching lots of war films, the set viewing didn’t include any combat films, and many of the films didn’t even make direct reference to the war. In addition to classics like Casablanca (1942) and The Big Sleep (1945), we also watched a few titles which I was less familiar with, like Since You Went Away (1944) and Gaslight (1943). Each week we’d discuss the set film in the light of a different approach: star studies, genre, auteurism, reception studies, etc. I found the week on reception studies especially interesting as it involved reading responses to a Mass Observation survey from 1942-3 about people’s favourite movies from the past year. The general consensus was that the respondents didn’t like films about the war or anything they perceived as propaganda. Generally, the responses express a low opinion of contemporary filmmaking, with the exception of Fantasia and The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (though one respondent didn’t like it, saying that ‘I don’t like colour and I can remember that the cinema was cold’). A few avoid movie-going altogether because they don’t want to catch flu at the ‘germ-exchange’.

Thinking About A Masters

I’ve never been keen on doing a masters degree and my plans were always to go straight into employment directly after university. For those who don’t know, a masters degree is the next step in education after doing an undergraduate degree and is usually a year long course. However a few months ago whilst walking around uni, I happened to see a poster advertising a masters degree in ‘London Studies’. As I’ve said in previous blog posts, I’m currently doing an undergraduate degree in English, and I’ve studied all the London based modules I could. The subject really interests me as throughout my childhood I always enjoyed reading books set in London the most. This masters degree is joint and run by the school of geography so I would have the opportunity to do modules from both English and Geography.

Poster for the recent masters evening I went to (courtesy of QMUL School of English and Drama)

Poster for the recent masters evening I went to (courtesy of QMUL School of English and Drama)

I was curious and hadn’t done much research into masters degrees because I’d never seen anything I would be interested in doing before. I went to the open evening (poster pictured above) where they talked us through what exactly the degrees would entail, finances and then more about the specifics of the different courses they offer. The best thing about the evening is that I learnt a lot more than I could do online. A really nice lecturer talked me through the course and gave me some really helpful advice, so they gave me a lot to think about and work on.

My next steps are to go and see the advice and counselling to see if they can help talk me through the finances. The government now offer loans for people doing masters, but I would still have to find a little extra money to live on. There are scholarships available to apply for in most cases, but because the one I want to do is run by a different department (school of geography), so I don’t think I qualify. I could also choose to do the degree part time which would stretch it over 2 years, instead of 1. So I have a lot to think about.

Overall, I wish I’d researched all of my options a lot sooner, looking into postgraduate study is worth a look, even if you’re not sure or think you’re totally against it. I’ve got a lot to think about, and not much time to do it in, but I could always come back and do one a few years later! I’m still not entirely sure whether it’s for me, but it’s another option of something to do to broaden my horizons.

From London to Jeju: a trip to South Korea

My name is Annabelle Wilkins and I’m a final-year PhD student here in the School of Geography. In September, I was invited to participate in the first academic conference to be held at North London Collegiate School on the island of Jeju, South Korea. Jeju is located off the southern coast of the mainland, around an hour’s flight from the capital, Seoul. The island is incredibly diverse, with volcanic peaks, idyllic beach resorts, hiking trails and a rapidly developing urban centre, and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the region.

Views of the island from Sunrise Peak, at the top of one of its many volcanoes.

Views of the island from Sunrise Peak, at the top of one of its many volcanoes.

 

NLCS Jeju was established in 2011, and is one of a growing number of international schools on the island. The school offers a British curriculum including the IGCSE, A-Level and the International Baccalaureate. In addition to NLCS, the island has also supported schools affiliated with institutions in Canada and the US, all of which are located in the recently developed Global Education City. The majority of pupils at these schools are Korean students, many of whom are planning to study at some of the world’s leading universities.

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Contrasting architecture in Seoul, where visitors can stay in restored traditional houses looking out over the modern city.

 

I was one of seven visiting academics invited to take part in the conference, participating alongside a mathematician, a classicist, a composer and a poet. The theme of the conference was based around improving subject knowledge. We were encouraged to introduce the teachers to our research interests and to suggest ideas for how they might develop and enhance their lessons and teaching methods. Before the conference itself, I also spent two days working with Year 12 and 13 students who study Geography as part of the IB syllabus. I introduced them to geographies of home and my research on Vietnamese migrants in East London, as well as talking to them about globalisation, migration and identity.

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Presenting my research to Year 12 and 13 geography students in one of the school boarding houses.

 

During the three days of the conference, each academic gave a lecture about their research to an audience of teachers from different subjects. I gave talks to staff from Maths, Chemistry, Languages and PE departments, among others, which made for some fascinating question and discussion sessions as people contributed ideas from their own backgrounds. Once they discovered that the focus of my research is on home and migration, many teachers were keen to share their personal experiences of being an expatriate teacher living in South Korea, and the objects and practices that helped them to create a sense of home.

Statue of the Buddha at Sangbansan temple, Jeju.

Statue of the Buddha at Sangbansan temple, Jeju.

 

In addition to presenting my research, I particularly enjoyed the opportunity to meet the Geography teachers and share some ideas as to how they might be able to enhance their teaching on globalisation and migration. I introduced them to critical geographies of home and other research by academics here at QMUL, and they were keen to incorporate these perspectives into the syllabus. By the end of the three days, we were discussing how to devise projects about students’ bedrooms and their material culture, possible interviews with the school’s cleaners, who used to work on the land around the school building, and inter-generational interviews between students and older people on the island. I had a brilliant experience at NLCS and also had time for trips to some of the island’s amazing beaches, temples and museums.

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A woman diver selling her catch of seafood – women divers are famous within Jeju’s island heritage.

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Hyopjae, one of Jeju’s beautiful beaches.

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Sunset in Moseulpo, a fishing village close to the school on Jeju.

Sharing PhD experiences in Edinburgh

My name is Alexandra Boyle and I’m a PhD student here in the School of Geography.

This summer, I was lucky enough to be able to attend the 5th International and Interdisciplinary Conference on Emotional Geographies at the John McIntyre Conference Centre in Edinburgh. I went to present the initial results of my PhD research ‘Exploring the emotional and spatial dimensions of communication technology use among older adults in contemporary London’.

 

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Collected my conference pack for the 5th International and Interdisciplinary Conference on Emotional Geographies at the John McIntyre Conference Centre in Edinburgh.

Arthur's Seat, Edinburgh and the conference centre

Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh

Set against the stunning backdrop of Arthur’s Seat, the University of Edinburgh turned on a fantastic conference (and the weather!) for 3 days of interactive learning, socialising and networking and delicious food!

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Looking out over the historic city of Edinburgh.

 

I stayed on site at the University of Edinburgh accommodation which made me particularly nostalgic for my days as an undergraduate at Arana College at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand (with Dunedin coincidentally founded by the Scottish in 1848 and the name ‘Dunedin’ the Gaelic translation of Edinburgh. The two cities remain sister cities to this day!).

Although I was inevitably nervous about presenting, the conference was a unique opportunity to present the findings of my research to a community of like-minded scholars. The conference allowed me to test out ideas in a support environment and gain critical feedback that will help me to refine my research. The conference also provided a platform to meet interesting PhD students from Taiwan, Singapore, the UK and the Netherlands and share amongst each other our PhD experiences.

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Dr Joyce Davidson presenting her plenary session

With a diverse calendar of events not only were there daily plenary sessions with preeminent scholars in the field, namely Professor Liz Bondi and Dr Joyce Davidson who were co-authors (along with Mick Smith) of the seminal book ‘Emotional Geographies’ which helped to establish emotional geographies as discipline, but also the opportunity to participate in field trips, a drinks reception and the conference dinner…and I managed to find time to squeeze in a trip to the top of Arthur’s Seat!

Water industry visits QMUL

Award-winning students at the Queen Mary graduation day 2015 with Professor Alison Blunt (centre)

Gabriel Streich (second left) at QMUL Geography graduation 2015

Hi – my name is Gabriel Streich and I’ve just finished my masters in environmental science at QMUL Geography!

It’s been a packed semester but I just wanted to update about an annual lecture we attended here at QMUL by the Worshipful Company of Water Conservators – one of the supporters of our masters programme: Integrated Management of Freshwater Environments.

“The annual Water Conservators Lecture, this year hosted in the impressive surroundings of Queen Mary’s Octagon, was a fascinating opportunity to hear some big names in the water industry giving their take on the issues and innovations that will affect future water use in the City of London.

“Martin Baggs, CEO of Thames Water, gave a very engaging talk on the scale of Thames Water’s supply challenge and some of the measures they are taking to tighten up on efficiency.  Talks from Mark Lane, Chairman of British Water, and a representative of the host organisation, Ricardo-AEA gave insightful lectures on the pressures facing water in the City, and also on the innovations that could address these pressures, from technical solutions, such as real-time sewer controls, through to wholesale changes in economic models, e.g. from linear to circular economies.  As a representative of the water industry as a whole, Sarah Mukerhjee, Director of Environment at Water UK, provided the context within which the other talks fell.

“This was a free event and it provided a breadth of information that is really relevant to those of us with an interest in water within London and more generally within cities.  The opportunity to network with key figures in the water industry was also a bonus that any student would be glad of.”

  • I also visited the Tagliamento River in north east Italy as part of my degree, so you can see more pics from that on Flickr. Enjoy!

The dreaded ‘Write Up’ stage approaches

Only a few months remain before I leave the lab and enter the dreaded ‘write up’ stage of my PhD, where I hear day and night no longer hold such distinction, and it becomes acceptable to drink before noon. Duvet day, everyday! I fear that novelty may wear off pretty darn quick.

To be honest, my project has been on a steady track to doom since the start, but a couple of months ago began to turn around. I can just see a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, partly because I might not have 80,000 words of pure negativity, and partly because this last year is finally coming to an end.

The final year is a strange one, as I’ve been told by many a friend that made it to the end. I want to be rid of this year just as much as I want to cling onto it with both hands. I want to leave this year behind mostly because of the stress. Oh, the stress! Frantically trying to finish experiments that are really resisting completion, whilst having to accept that not everything will actually be done by the time October comes around, and that any promising aspects of my project might be picked up by another student in the future. I feel very territorial about my work, which is why I don’t want to ever leave – I want to stay and finish every last bit myself. Alas, I have to fly the nest because nothing is ever finished in academia.
I must admit, the light emerging ahead of me evokes a level of excitement inside. The nervous kind of excitement that comes from wanting to move on into the big wide world and it being almost close enough to touch, but also not knowing what on earth that will bring. I could be unemployed for months, or I could be snapped up into the job of my dreams. Who knows? But, I’ve been traveling through this dark tunnel of a PhD for so long now, the brightness and vastness of the world ahead is also frightening one. How will the harsh environment outside of my little academia bubble feel?

My next post may well be written from a duvet den at around 3am, laptop on knee and gin in hand. But thankfully (I think), it’s now back to the lab.

Entrepreneur boot camp and fun at Hampton Court Palace

I spent Saturday with my LUIP Ambassador friends, first at Kingston University and then exploring Hampton Court Palace. Our time at Kingston was wonderfully impelling because we were led through an entrepreneur boot camp by Dr. Martha Mador, the head of Enterprise Education Strategy. Dr. Mador began by explaining the entrepreneur process:

  • A successful opportunity for entrepreneurial pursuit can occur at any point on the continuum of discovery, evaluation, and exploitation;
  • In order to be successful, there must be a healthy balance of creativity (the generation of new ideas) and innovation (the successful exploitation of new ideas–ideas being accepted in a marketplace);
  • Dr. Mador further clarified that innovation is not just a product or invention, and it’s not necessarily a new idea nor a ‘light bulb moment’. It is a combination of finding novel solutions to peoples’ problems.

After her thought-provoking explanation, we spent the next hour or so working through the entrepreneurial process ourselves. We split into groups, were given photo cards, and told to brainstorm a list of problems based on the pictures we had. The pictures were quite nondescript– a woman running through a field, a row of wind turbines, a person helping another climb a rock–but from those pictures we generated 10 general problems that could be fixed.

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We could even write on the tables…I was awed. English majors don’t get to write on much, other than notebooks.

After generating a list of problems, we chose one and brainstormed solutions to the problem. From there, we created a viable solution and developed and pitched our service to the group. My group decided to focus on the lack of work-life balance for many professionals. We developed a company called Stress Less, a consulting agency that businesses could hire to help convert their offices so that they promoted a more healthy work-life balance. Our pitch even had a jingle, set to the tune of ‘Call Me Maybe’. We won the ‘Best Brand Name’ award…go Team Stress Less!

After boot camp we headed over to Hampton Court Palace, the palace of King Henry VIII (the one who created the Church of England, and had 6 wives in his attempts to have a son. He also fathered Queen Elizabeth I, who is by far my favorite English monarch.). The palace was beautiful, but I was much more enamored with the grounds. The gardens were absolutely stunning, especially the ones along the bank of the Thames. And I was impressed by how successfully lost we became while wandering through the maze. Most of all, I couldn’t have chosen a better group of friends with whom to spend the afternoon.

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The English love their roses. Especially those Tudors. 🙂

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Kim and her band of merry ambassadors. Photo Cred: Divi

Being guided through the creative process of identifying and developing a business was unexpectedly motivating. I left boot camp feeling like I could actually create a viable business–on paper, anyway. I started brainstorming ventures I would be interested in and that might actually work. However, after my original elation wore off, I realized I would have some serious work to do on the numbers side of developing a business. Let’s be honest: although I find an odd satisfaction in getting the correct answer on a math problem I am nowhere near confident enough to trust a business’s finances to my numeracy skills. Creates a nice opening for a partner, though. Any takers?

“The moves may change, but the groove remains”: Old Men Grooving and the Joy of Dance

I seem to exist in two utterly different worlds. My name is Bret Jones. I am a PhD student in the Drama Department at Queen Mary. I am also a contestant on Britain’s Got Talent with the dance group Old Men Grooving (OMG), a group of older guys who are reclaiming dance and getting back our groove. This was not a designed career move. We had been put together for an internet commercial for Christmas jumpers for a national retailer. The next thing I knew, the video had gone viral. Something about the incongruity of older guys – ‘dads’ – doing a form of Hip Hop seemed to have resonated. The decision to go on Britain’s Got Talent was unexpected. One of the original guys became injured, and we got a new member who was a friend of one of the existing group. We all had some kind of dance background, in clubs, or competitions, or a bit of performing. Some of the group danced in Hip Hop clubs in the 1980s and 1990s, when many of the moves you see in these young dance crews were invented and developed. What is often missing is what we can bring – the ‘feel’, the ‘groove’. We dance because the music tells us to. The groove is who we are.

Of course, Britain’s Got Talent plunges us into the very depths of popular culture, but what is clear is just how complex and rich this culture – musically, kinaesthetically, and emotionally – actually is. It has been three weeks since our audition was broadcast, and the YouTube video has reached over 15 million hits:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ggswWVZ8zKA

We’ve had to jump on board the Facebook wagon to help spread the word. After all, Britain’s Got Talent does require audience support. The ‘feel good’ factor that seems to be very much a part of the response is actually a connection to something very profound within people. The younger audiences seem to like ‘Dad dancing’ done by guys who actually can dance and know how to express our own groove. The older audiences seem to identify with that love of dance that they once had, but that never really died. It’s still there. We’ve even created a little ‘Dad Dance’ that people can learn and join in with us:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vzHiZM7GCmY&feature=youtu.be

The Anglo-American culture seems to relegate dance to the young, but this is not true in other cultures. We, in OMG, remember what it was like to dance in clubs and what that dancing meant to us as individuals, but also to the larger community. Dancing can help bond us, as well as be a means of personal expression. We have at times been humbled by the responses. We recently had a comment by a woman who lives in chronic pain, but who said that we had helped to lift her spirits. Yes, we are out there to have fun, but to have our dancing touch people in profound ways has been very moving.

My own dance background is in older forms like American rhythm tap and Lindy Hop, Swing, etc. However, this is directly related to later forms of African American dance, such as Hip Hop. Still, it has been a learning curve as a dancer. As hard as that has been, it has also been a joy. That, I think, lies at the heart of it. We are reclaiming dance as part of who we were and as part of who we still are. The moves may change over time, but the groove remains. We feel as young as ever when we dance, and so do the people who watch us. Unlike some of the young dance crews, we don’t dance at the audience. We share our joy with them; and they share their surprise and joy with us. We are both equally validated. This has engaged both body and soul, and although the body may ache at times, the soul is soaring. We need the support of all people, young and old, so that we can continue to reclaim dance for everyone, to make dancing part of our own continuing development as human beings, to embody and to share joy. In the end, it’s about joy.

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