Postgraduate Taught

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.

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!

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?

Team Alps 2015: Why are we going back?

In November 2014, I wrote about the rain we encountered during the Team Alps 2014 fieldwork trip.  As it turns out, four of us are going back, along with three others, for TEAM ALPS 2015! So, why are we going back?

Well, the good news is that two undergraduates appreciated their research so much still after handing in their third-year dissertations, that their inquiring minds are willing to explore yet more unanswered questions! So, while they have signed up to carry on studying at masters level (here at QMUL Geography – yay!) we get to return and start exploring their MSc theses!

Nature Nap

Lucky enough to have inspired these two undergraduates to come out for a second summer. Are they ready to work hard, or enjoy the art of the nature nap?

 

Unexpected findings last summer led to a side project primarily investigated by my supervisor, Dr Sven Lukas, and this project will be revisited for more information. My personal project will also be revisited following the findings of last year, primarily the need for more robust methods for mapping landforms.

Additionally, three new Team Alps members bring a diverse set of fieldwork skills, backgrounds, and adventurous spirits to help us tackle our research questions and to perhaps develop their own.

This leads to what I like to think of as a mini-workshop for the group this summer. We will be conducting terrestrial laser scanning and ground penetrating radar to better understand the morphologies of landforms in two valleys. These techniques are new to our group, and will therefore allow each of us to broaden both our skill-sets as geomorphologists and the findings of our projects.

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Maybe this young one will be in the valley again this year (although all grown up)! It’s always nice to have someone greet you as you walk into your field area for the day.

Those of us returning are so excited to get back to the magical Berliner Hütte (complete with excess amounts of meat and cheese, bathing in sinks, and [hopefully] less rain) and of course to show off one of our favorite fieldwork base camps to a new crop of researchers!

Dinner’s view of the Hornkees (left) and Waxeggkees (right) glaciers from the back porch of the Berliner Hütte.

Dinner’s view of the Hornkees (left) and Waxeggkees (right) glaciers from the back porch of the Berliner Hütte.

 

Did that last photo look familiar? Maybe you have seen some of the Austria tourism ads throughout the London transport network; the Berliner Hütte is famous! (Here: Green Park tube station)

Did that last photo look familiar? Maybe you have seen some of the Austria tourism ads throughout the London transport network; the Berliner Hütte is famous! (Here: Green Park tube station)

QMUL’s English department: Because literature is more than just books.

When I decided to go back to school for my Masters, England was an obvious choice. What better place to study English Literature than its birthplace, right?  But choosing a school was a bit more complicated.  I spent several weeks researching schools around England, but ultimately chose Queen Mary because they are the only school to offer a pathway specifically tailored to by academic interests.  Although my research on American schools was minuscule, I don’t think many universities in the States offer explicitly defined areas of study for Masters students.  You have your general ‘American Lit’ or ‘English Lit’ programs, but I never cam across any programs that were specifically ‘Romantic Lit’ or ‘Shakespeare’ or anything very detailed.

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Queen’s Building, QMUL

Photo courtesy of: The Student Room

My pathway, Eighteenth Century Literature and Romanticism (ECLAR), has completely broadened my understanding of not just literature but history, philosophy, politics, theology, and early science. The professors teaching the modules for this pathway are top scholars in their field and having the opportunity to learn from them has been invaluable. It was a completely new experience for me to be reading a book or article and find that my professor had been quoted as an expert. I would get quite star-struck the next time I saw the quoted professor. 🙂

Queen Mary’s English department also goes out of their way to bring our studies to life. In almost every module I took, we spent at least one class at a location other than Queen Mary using archives, making connections between literature and other subjects (London has an amazing number of free museums!), learning the procedures for different libraries available to us–the British Library was particularly different from any library I’d ever used before, and visiting relevant historical sites like Newington Green Unitarian Church, London’s oldest nonconformist place of worship (founded in 1708) or the Tate Britain to talk about the Turner exhibit and Romantic themes.

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 Archival experience with the National Portrait Gallery

We even took a day trip to Margate, which is on the East coast of England. That was absolutely one of the most lively and entertaining classes I had the chance to attend. We left just after noon on a Friday, spent the afternoon visiting various landmarks, discussing the literary and historical significance of Margate, mingling with the locals, and ended the day with a beautiful sunset and delicious fish and chips.

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Our brilliant day trip leader, Dr. Matt Ingleby (left), and a rhapsodic Margatian (right).

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 In addition to exponentially broadening my understanding in many different fields, ECLAR and the English department as a whole are dedicated to providing their students with real-life connections to their studies. There are weekly Postgraduate Research seminars which bring in speakers from a number of academic institutions to discuss their current research, and the Centre for Eighteenth Century Studies also hosts regular seminars and an annual conference.

I could not envision a more preparatory English program than the ECLAR pathway at Queen Mary. Obviously if your research interests are different you should seek out a department that can support your pursuits, but when looking into potential universities make sure to think about what they will offer you outside the classroom. Get in touch with people in the department to ask any questions left unanswered by the websites. I’ll be the first to admit that Queen Mary’s website isn’t particularly insightful, but each of the professors I e-mailed responded within a couple days…and that was over their summer holidays!

Takeaway Tidbit: Ultimately the choice of university is yours, so make sure to do your research, but Queen Mary provides an excellent approach to Masters-level study and real-world preparedness.

Paying for a London degree.

Tuition fees can be overwhelming, but for an international student thinking of studying in London there are many options to help ease the burden of paying for a degree. Scholarships, part-time work, and loans are how I am making ends meet while studying in London

Scholarships

  • Most universities offer scholarships, so make sure to get in touch with the financial department to see what’s offered through your school.
  • Don’t forget to check with your specific department. Often, scholarships are offered for a particular field and won’t be advertised on the general scholarship page. If you can’t seem to find any information, e-mail the department.
  • Check for scholarships specifically for international students. There aren’t as many of these, but most schools sponsor a few scholarships specifically for international students, masters students, non-traditional students, etc.
  • There are sometimes options with your home country for international studies….but not many. For example, in the US you have to be a genius or solving world hunger or something equally as impressive, AKA I didn’t even come close. Look into your options, but don’t be too disheartened if nothing seems to be applicable.

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My scholarship has opened some amazing doors for me–here’s me with the president, Professor Simon Gaskell, at the International Scholars Reception.

Don’t rely on part-time work to help you pay tuition fees! If after scholarships you still have tuition left, make sure you take care of that either through personal funds or through a student loan.

Loans

Loans are the reality for a lot of people when pursuing an education in London. Work with your home government to try to get the best loans possible. For US students, that’s Perkins and Direct Subsidized loans before looking into Unsubsidized, PLUS, or private loans. Once you’ve been approved for your loans, work with your London university’s Financial Aid department to complete all the necessary paperwork and tasks to ensure your loan will be transferred to the right university. Queen Mary has an amazing flow chart and Excel document that walked me through the process step-by-step, and the FinAid people were wonderful and very helpful, which made for a hassle-free loan experience.

Once you’ve covered all the tuition, make sure you’ll have enough to live on as well…London is a VERY expensive place to live! I took out a larger loan than I needed to help me cover living expenses while studying, since I didn’t know whether or not I’d be able to find part-time work. Then if you are able to find a job once you’re here, you can use that income to enjoy life in London:

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 Part-Time Work

**If you have a Tier-4 (Student) visa, you are only allowed to work 20 hours per week.**

  • If you’re in the country on a Tier-4 (T4) visa, you have to be aware of restrictions other than just time. For example, I looked into tutoring as an option for part-time work, but since I’m T4 I can’t work freelance. Most tutoring agencies are freelance since tutoring is often 1-1 and at the request of the tutee. Luckily, I found a tutoring agency that had a scheduled timetable (aka not freelance) and have been working for them while studying.
  • Use your university’s job site to look for part-time opportunities on and around campus. Most job searching sites have filters so you can just see the part-time work available. Many of my friends found jobs as baristas at local cafes or as food service staff at restaurants or catering companies.
  • A third option (which you should be very cautious of when using) is Gumtree, the UK version of Craigslist. I found an amazing nanny job through Gumtree but I’ve heard horror stories of terrible families scamming college students for free childcare. If you choose to use Gumtree be very cautious, meet the family or employer before agreeing to anything (as many times as you need to be comfortable!), set and put in writing clear guidelines for what the expectations, duties, and pay will be, etc. I absolutely love my nanny job and there are great families out there, but don’t jump into anything if you don’t feel comfortable.

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 I love my nanny job 🙂

Takeaway Tidbit: Take the time to make sure you’ve looked into all your options for funding your degree in London.

New Year’s Eve in London

For New Year’s this year, my boyfriend and I came back to London from the States before New Years because we wanted to celebrate in London, and I’m so glad we did. Unfortunately, this year was the first year that you had to buy a ticket to see the fireworks. We didn’t get tickets because we thought we could just meander down that way and surely find a decent spot to watch from. WRONG. They weren’t joking when they said they’d have all viewable places blocked off. And heavily secured. We were steered through the Embankment station up to the Strand on a very inflexible route…which made for a crowded walk.

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Once on the Strand the crowd dissipated a bit because, thankfully, they had the street blocked off from traffic. We walked down the Strand towards Somerset house and really lucked out, because the security working Waterloo bridge decided to gift everyone with a free entrance to the bridge.

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See the green security gates on either side? They were everywhere.

Made for a tight walk through security, but once we were on the bridge it was perfect. Room to take some beautiful shots of London at night:

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And had time to spare to get set up for the fireworks. As cheesy as it sounds, I used some of that time to reflect on how lucky I am to be pursuing my dreams in this marvelous, historic city. I had time to get switched over from camera to video, and was able to record the first part of the show. With no further ado, for your viewing pleasure, here is our view of the 2015 New Year’s Eve celebration in London. (Listen for Big Ben…coolest thing ever!!)

New Year’s Eve in London

(goshdang WordPress isn’t letting me embed the video. Boo. Check it out on YouTube!)

Home will always be the Midwestern USA for us, but while we’re living in London we’re absolutely making the most of it.

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Here’s to a fabulous 2015!!

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