Posts Tagged ‘postgraduate’

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!

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.

Graduate Life

It has been a while since I last posted, I think my blogging duties must have gotten a little lost along the way in a sea of law books, dissertations and deadlines. BUT I have finally GRADUATED from Queen Mary with my Law degree and have successfully made it to the other side. The grass isn’t that much greener over here…

I am currently involved in what I like to think of as the Hunger Games for new graduates. We are all warned how tough and competitive the graduate job market is, but I don’t think it is possible to realise just how tough it is until you make it into the arena. I have applied for over 60 jobs at my last count and I have had 9 interview invitations. I have made it to the final 4, the final 3 and the final 2 (!) but I am still waiting to find the right opportunity for me.

I have predominantly been applying for jobs working for a Member of Parliament. My law degree taught me many things, including that I am not passionate about a traditional legal career. I have also applied for the Speaker’s Parliamentary Placement Scheme, and beat out 600 other contenders to make it to the final 2 for my matched Member of Parliament, only to fall at the final hurdle. I also made it to the Assessment Centre for the National Graduate Development Programme before falling here too. It is extremely tough, but I am convinced it will be worth it in the end. Plus, every interview and assessment centre is experience gained and makes the next interview (slightly) less nerve-wracking.

It has only been two months since graduation, so I’m not resigning myself to the graduate scrapheap just yet! Hopefully my next blog will be about my first week in my wonderful new job!

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.

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.

Schwarzensteinkees Colt

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)

Mastering a Masters (or trying to)

RJC_1616-700x412Graduation 2014 at Queen Mary University of London.

My three years at Queen Mary is flying by, and for me and my friends it’s time to start thinking about the Future. Grim. For me, it’s the pursuit of a postgraduate degree, and since I’ve begun researching and applying for masters study I thought I’d offer some advice.

What follows is not the wisdom of someone who has completed postgraduate study, but a selection of tips and bits of information that I’ve found useful, crucially as a final year student still in the process of mastering the search for a masters.

 The personal statement

‘This is far too meek and please-sir-can-I-have-some-more. The idea should be to bust down the doors, jump on the table and shout “I am something very special indeed”.’

These are the words of a very trusted friend of mine, a doctor, who read a shoddy draft of my personal statement over Christmas. For many of us, such a task has not been undertaken since our UCAS application, which I wrote three years ago. As much as it was then, it’s a tricky business trying to score the perfect balance between professional modesty and proving your worth. And there’s little assistance to be sought from reading over your old statement; I cringe to think back to my opening line (how proud I was of it at the time!): ‘In the words of Virginia Woolf…’

Oxford’s advice guide states that ‘A statement which indicates the likely dissertation research area the candidate wishes to pursue is more useful than one which presents personal interests, achievements and aspirations.’ At graduate level it doesn’t matter whether you’ve achieved Duke of Edinburgh Awards or play polo – what matters is that you like studying English and, more importantly, that you’re good at it.

Leave out the hobbies, but don’t leave out the showing off. On the contrary, says my reviewer, ‘Bring out intellectual fireworks and do some serious boasting about all the stuff you’ve done’. Your dissertation should be the non plus ultra of your degree, and it wouldn’t be a bad idea to talk about how great an independent researcher and thinker you are through a discussion of your project.

Finally, do not be embarrassed about getting people – clever people – to read it. Ask lecturers, PhD students, good undergraduates for help, and don’t worry if they say, as mine did, to rewrite it – your application will be better for it.

Be clear on funding

After undergraduate loans and grants the world of postgraduate study can seem a very scary place. As it stands there is no state funding for masters students, and very little funding from the universities, especially for arts and humanities students. There is, of course, the odd bursary here and there, as well as fee discounts for continuing students (at Queen Mary, for instance, we get a grand off if we stay).

Last year, however, I woke up to news on my phone that the chancellor had announced the introduction of postgraduate loans of up to £10,000 set to start in 2016. And in that moment it seemed all of my worries had gone away. Considering that I’d become so disillusioned at the reality of current postgraduate funding (the lack of it), the prospect of ten grand certainly cheered my spirits.

This is a very important development in higher education, but don’t give up hope on 2015. For those of us who are graduating this year, and who pay the nine grand tuition fees, universities are offering some incentives in the form of bursaries to encourage students to come along in September.

Maybe there is some hope.

Cast your net wide

When I began looking at postgraduate courses I had pretty definite ideas about the kind of places I wanted to study, and even firmer ideas about where I didn’t want to go. I knew I was at an up-and-coming institution, with a vibrant forward-thinking English department, and in east London, not a traditional setting for a Russell Group university. I wanted to avoid universities I perceived as being stuffy or boring (the kind that don’t teach loads of critical theory), and where loads of posh people go.

What I was guilty of, however, was being too closed-minded about many of these institutions. Consequently, I forced myself to look up courses in, make enquiries at, and research as many different universities and departments as possible. At this point, I made the courses and the departments my point of interest, not the preconceptions I had about the institutions.

As I look at all these English departments, north and south, British and international, old and young, I find each offering something particular and unique that makes me want to study there. Many of them are different, even opposing, in outlook and style. We should be excited by different options, though, and investigate these places as a way of trying to figure out what it is we actually want when we apply to study somewhere.

Do you want to learn there?

If we’re not going to base our choice of programme on what is familiar to us or what we thought about the university, what can we look out for? Ask if you want to learn at this institution, in that department, with these people.

It might work to begin by looking up the academics that work in the department, whether you know them or admire their work, and if they seem to offer the kind of ethos you want to work with. In my applications, I have noticed that some critics I have referenced in essays pop up here and there, and this was a good way for me to judge what kind of work gets produced in these places, and whether I want to be part of that. There are also, of course, those celebrity academics we’d all jump at the chance to work with. A word of warning, though, there is of course no guarantee that you would be taught by any particular academic, and, as I learned, they do tend to move around. Having written why I wanted to study under a lecturer at one university, she subsequently (and very inconveniently) moved to another.

Another way to gauge the character of the department in question, without looking to individuals, is to check out their research environment. All departments will list their current projects, and their research strengths and interests. Does their research look helpful to you and does yours look complementary to theirs? Look out for graduate seminars, whether they host conferences, and if they explicitly favour an interdisciplinary or comparative research culture. Do these fit into that you want to study?

More than ever before postgraduate study is about what you want, so investigate how each English department works as well as what it works on. Have you preferred being taught in lectures or in seminars? Queen Mary, for instance, teaches only in seminars, whereas Birkbeck incorporates both.

Do they want you there?

Are they too busy pouring water to have a proper conversation with you? This is a question I had to ask myself when I attended a postgraduate fair at Senate House last year. A member of a university admissions team really didn’t seem bothered in having to sell their institution and wasn’t very helpful. It is so important to think about whether that university wants you there, whether they value you as a contributor to their intellectual life, or if they regard you merely as someone privileged to be studying with them.

This final point relates to all of the previous. You are paying a lot of money to be at your chosen university, you are beginning to work as a mature and independent learner, and you want to choose somewhere you want be a part of. You have to sell yourself in the application, but a good university will try to sell itself to you, too. Think about whether they seem to value their students – do they offer you as much as you offer them?

Team Alps 2014: Luxurious (?) Alpine fieldwork

Hi all! My name is Cianna, and I am currently in the 2nd year of my PhD in Physical Geography, studying a specific type of glacial deposit in the European Alps. My research background includes hillslope and glacial geomorphology and sedimentology with research locations in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, the Olympic Mountains in Washington, and the Southern Alps in New Zealand.

I clearly picked this vein of scientific research based on the places I know it can take me, and this summer, I had the wonderful opportunity to spend an entire month doing fieldwork in the Austrian Alps in between my first and second years. This was also an opportunity for four undergraduates, who are interested in Quaternary glacial dynamics and modern alpine river systems, in the summer before their third years to accomplish fieldwork for their dissertation projects

There is something to be gained from rugged, camping-based fieldwork, and I have had these experiences. But sometimes, it is nice to come back to a warm dining room at the end of a long day of digging with a four-course meal waiting. It is particularly nice to have this warm dining room (with Backgammon and tea) when an incredibly wet July has barred you from going outside for safety concerns.

Team Alps 2014 descends from the Schwarzensteinkees valley to the lower valleys (Waxeggkees in the background) and our accommodations (Berliner Hütte in the background). This is an example of a BEAUTIFUL alpine day, perfect for fieldwork.

Team Alps 2014 descends from the Schwarzensteinkees valley to the lower valleys (Waxeggkees in the background) and our accommodations (Berliner Hütte in the background). This is an example of a BEAUTIFUL alpine day, perfect for fieldwork.

 

 

The fieldwork group started as six, until my supervisor (Dr. Sven Lukas) left about 10 days in. Then, it was down to me doing my PhD fieldwork and monitoring four undergraduate students as they completed fieldwork for their dissertation projects. The undergraduates worked in pairs, while I was off to my study area (with interruptions from curious horses and attention-starved sheep). We would work from shortly after breakfast to shortly before dinner, when we would all meet up again to discuss the day’s progress, questions, and stories.

Curious Horses

A herd of horses spends summers in the Schwarzensteinkees valley, my primary study site. Some are curious and nosy, others keep to themselves. It is certainly nice to have some friendly faces around on long days!

 

Little Lamb

“Pay attention to meeee! I am so much more adorable than the rocks you are trying to measure!” A flock of sheep also spends the summer in the Schwarzenstienkees valley, and are quite needy for human attention.

The amenities provided by a popular Alpine hiking hut create quite cozy fieldwork. That is, until we were stuck inside for periods of days while stuck in a cloud of relentless downpour. We quickly tired of board games, cabin fever struck, and the drying room was a terrifying place of dampness and stink. As students, we seldom paid for a hot shower and instead learned the fine art of hut trough washes in the cold bathroom under near-icy water from the tap.

Foggy Day

An example of fieldwork in “The Cloud”. Sometimes, visibility was reduced to less than 5 meters! But, that’s still better than a relentless downpour…

 

Stay tuned for more about the scientific excitement (and the despair we overcame!)…

To commute, or not to commute

That is the great question that faces the majority of people who work or study in London. I, unfortunately, could not escape this dilemma.
During the first year of my PhD it was my first time actually being in London, on a daily basis anyway. It therefore didn’t take me too long to conclude that I definitely wanted to live in London, no matter what. Besides, I had commuted to university in Sheffield from Lincoln for my very first semester in my undergrad (don’t ask) and I absolutely hated it!
I had big dreams of the city, where everything was just a short whirr of a tube journey away, and I would spend every weekend gallivanting round the trendy markets and shops of London. I was surprised then, as you can imagine, when I had to get the bus most places (including to and from the lab everyday) because an annual travel card for the tube was out of financial reach, yet the bus only cost £530 (a year!) with my student discount, and I spent almost every weekend visiting or being visited by my boyfriend in Cambridge.
Even though I got the snail-paced bus most places, I did really enjoy the freedom that living in London brings. Being able to hop on a night bus that will take you pretty much all the way home after one too many drinks, is something that you simply can’t do if you don’t live here. You have to factor in last trains, and thoughts such as, ‘is it even worth going out?’
Welcome to Liverpool Street Station

Despite all of this, I’m now living in my second commuter town. I first moved to Welwyn Garden City, where I lived for a year, and it took 1 hour 20 minutes from front door to desk. Now I live in Bishop’s Stortford, and even though I have a longer walk from the station, the faster train makes it 1 hour 15 minutes, if there are no delays!
Sometimes I miss the magic of London, but I think the time was right for me to move. As an undergraduate I hated commuting, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody, but as a postgraduate I think it definitely has its perks. Commuting by train means I have a dedicated time slot to read or write, and I even get a little desk on the back of the seat in front of me! If I didn’t have that hour or so to read (scientific papers, by the way!) I know for sure that I wouldn’t make that time up during the day. Besides, lab work is just too busy sometimes.
My bank balance obviously suffers a bit of a blow once a year when I have to fork out for my annual season ticket, but I’m rewarded with remarkably fresher air than in London, a cheaper cost of living, and an actual house. That’s right, two whole floors that actually belong to me and my boyfriend. We even have a garden! Compare that to the one room I rented in one of the flats in a converted house in north London, for almost £200 more per month, and I’m laughing.
You may have grasped this already, but despite the allure of the big city, I would commute into London any day. This is obviously just my opinion, but as a postgraduate with choc-a-bloc days, I vote commute. (Unless of course you can afford to live within walking distance of uni/lab, but for me that would be sacrificing too much money, space, and dignity. I don’t want my bedroom to be a converted living room, thanks!). Besides, if the city beckons, I can use my annual season ticket to go gallivanting at the weekend!

 

How I came to do a PhD…

Good day!

I thought it would be sensible to start off my contribution to the student blog with how I started my toughest journey yet: my PhD!
Back when I was a wee college student, studying (ha…) for my A levels, a PhD was something that I associated with grey hair and wisdom. I didn’t realise what it was, or how you got it. When I was an undergrad, I knew my lecturers had ‘Dr’ preceding their names (or professor, in a couple of cases), but I never really thought about how they got those mysterious letters. Naive? Maybe… But I also put that down to lack of education in career prospects and progression.
My undergraduate course was a BSc biomedical sciences, which included a placement year at a hospital or in industry (only if you were successful in application and interview!). It was only in my third (placement) year at a small biotech company in Cambridge that I became aware of what a PhD was, how to get one and what it can do for you.
More than half of the 50ish people working at this company had a PhD, and almost everyone in the biology lab, where I was based, had one. It was here that I learned how it is pretty much vital for a career in research, in industry or academia. Why did they never tell me this at university?
When I returned to university for my fourth and final year, I began researching potential PhD supervisors and their work. For some reason, I felt intimidated by PhD application forms and the potential for high-class competition, so instead of applying through ‘findaphd.com‘ I applied directly to each supervisor.
By writing an email directly to my potential supervisor, I made sure my application actually made it to their office, and I wasn’t surrounded by other applicants that may have attended a better university or, I don’t know, done more volunteering or something. Insecure? Probably!
Out of the 7 supervisors I emailed, I got 2 replies asking me to attend an ‘interview’, which was basically an informal chat to make sure I wasn’t completely hopeless at life. Both of them offered to write up a grant proposal for me. Wait… I had just been offered 2 PhD positions, and I was worried about my application?
Just goes to show what being a little proactive can do for you!

I think I have to include a photo here, so here is me graduating (on the left)… ready to head down the long, dark road of the PhD. I should definitely look more scared…

 

graduation
‘Til the next time,
Alice.

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