MRes and me

Penny Ditchfield tells us about her experiences of studying for an MRes:

An MRes in Modern Languages – pathway in Italian Studies?? Isn’t it all rather serious? Well, yes, I can’t deny that I felt a bit apprehensive in September, clutching my new Campus Card with the word POSTGRADUATE in bold letters, looking at the emails about modules on Research Skills & Methodology, and optional module topics such as Cultures of Fascism, trying not to dwell on the idea of a 20,000-word dissertation – and wondering. These are some of the questions I asked myself – and the answers!

  • Is there too much to do?

Happily, I’ve chosen the part-time option, two years. Time to breathe. I would recommend that to anyone who has an extra year to spare. There is a lot to do, presentations, essays – and that dissertation – but I have above my computer a card with two words of encouragement: NO EXAMS.

  • What about the working in isolation?

You are not of course totally on your own. I know I am responsible for my own research, I am  making decisions about the direction to take, but close at hand is a spectacular support network, staff in the Library, and the Special Collections Service but most importantly, the staff in Modern languages in general and Italian programme staff in particular  –  and especially the interest,  encouragement and guidance of supervisors and Programme director,  with special mention for their patience, when confronted by an over-excited student saying yet again “Look what I’ve just found!”

  • What if I can’t decide on a topic?

I thought I had decided before the course started. I had even started compiling a bibliography. Then the Methodology module involved choosing an item from the Special Collections to analyse. I set aside an hour to read an innocuous blue-covered diary, and dragged myself back two hours later to 2015 and to the assuredness that I had found my topic. An unforgettable moment in an exciting year.

So are there any more questions? Oh yes, plenty – and I’m off to request “my” box of documents in the Special Collections Reading Room and start looking for the answers… but that will be another story.

Beginner’s language at Reading

Beginner’s language degrees are in the news at the moment. Here at Reading we have some news too: we’re very excited to announce that we will be launching beginner’s French for 2017 entry, to join our beginner’s Italian and Spanish courses. We have a longstanding specialism in this area, having provided accelerated Italian for many years.

A beginner’s language degree (or ab initio language degree as universities call it) involvesEnza Siciliano Verruccio learning the language from scratch, but going on to complete the degree at the same level of knowledge and fluency as students who might have a GCSE or A-Level in that language. They are far from being a new phenomenon. It has always been common for language students to pick up another language at degree level. Having more than one language improves your employability in competitive fields such as language teaching, and translating/ interpreting.

If you think you might be interested in learning a language from scratch, you can find out more about how students have found the experience, in these blog posts by our students Sabrina and Jess. Professor Catherine Léglu explains here about the benefits of ab initio language degrees.

My Welcome Week Experience

Becky reflects on her enjoyable Welcome Week and gives you an idea of what to expect in yours.

Welcome Week at the University of Reading was one of the busiest weeks of my university career, packed with meeting new people, attending introductory lectures and taster society sessions, and, along with many students, moving away from my family for the first time.

My Dad dropped me off, his car filled to the brim with my clothes, books and other stuff I’d decided to bring with me. We’d had to attach a roof box just so I could fit in an extra few boxes. After we had carried everything to my new room, he hugged me goodbye and left but, as cheesy as this sounds, I wasn’t on my own. Everyone else was in the same boat: excited, nervous, and (like me) putting up their posters before even unpacking their bedding. Some people I met that first week in lectures commuted from nearby, or lived in student housing, but we all had one thing in common- we were all starting the next Big Step in our lives. It’s the most uniting thing I’ve ever experienced, making Welcome Week really special and good fun. It also really helps if you offer everybody chocolate biscuits!

I soon become close with my flatmates. I had worried that because I had not been clubbing much, this would affect my social life. I couldn’t have been more wrong! My flatmates and I started having many nights dedicated to watching Game of Thrones boxsets, and days scouring Reading’s charity shops for bargain fancy dress outfits. I also got to know students from my course, going to a café after one lecture to discuss the modules before we had even started them, and to this day we still revise together in the summer term. I even became friends with one girl at a university bar because of the amazing coincidence that we were both named Rebecca.

Societies Fayre at Welcome Week

The Societies Fayre and Sports Fayre gave me more great opportunities to meet new people, as well as try new things. With over 150 societies and sports clubs to pick from, it was hard to decide which to join. From the fencing society to the Harry Potter society, from modern languages to rugby to singer-songwriting, between me and my friends we went to a huge number of taster sessions. In addition, another fayre available in that first week was the Careers Fayre, which was exceedingly useful. The companies recruiting students at the stalls prove that there are so many career options and a huge variety of graduate jobs for humanities students, and they start you thinking about the career path you would want to follow after finishing your degree.

With all the activities available in Welcome Week, introductory lectures still managed to be the most exciting part of it. I met the tutors who would be teaching me over the next few years, met students I would be sharing classes with, and got my first feel of what it was going to be like to study at the University of Reading. I remember meeting up with all my flatmates straight after our introductory lectures, sitting on a bench in the middle of campus, and talking enthusiastically about each of our subjects, and our plans for the future. It was a whirlwind of a week, and a great start to university. I hope you enjoy yours just as much.

Where to go for help and advice at University

Final year student Chloe takes us though the many places to go for guidance at Reading and assures us that ‘everyone is in the same boat’. 

Beginning university is a big milestone. A change in studies and often a change in scenery, university is the start of a new adventure and marks, for many, the first experience of moving out of home. In the coming months you will start to contemplate all of these changes: writing lists of what will make the cut in your packing for university; looking at your reading list; figuring out how to do things that you may not have had to do before (like your own washing!). When the time comes, the move to university will surely be a momentous occasion, and awaiting you alongside your studies are friends and experiences that you will treasure long after your university time.

However, understandably, such a change can seem daunting. Everyone will be telling you that ‘everyone’s in the same boat’ – I’m sure you’ve already heard that a few times! – but it actually is true. When you arrive to university, whether that be your move-in day at Halls, or your first lecture, you will see that all of the other students have exactly the same feelings of apprehension, excitement and nerves. The friends you make in your accommodation and/or on your course will most probably be your closest support network for the coming years. Providing a home away from home, the bonds between students are so tight because they become your first port of call when you need a companion for all the new things you are discovering: when you want to go and explore the campus; when you need to watch a favourite film to combat a bit of homesickness. These bonds are important to the transition to university. However, as in any situation, there can be times when things go wrong or something is making your time less enjoyable than it should be. For such times, there are a fantastic range of support services run by the university, to help you in any way that may be required.

Outside the Carrington BuildingUpon arriving at university you will be assigned a personal tutor, a member of staff within your subject of study. Your personal tutor will be a constant throughout your degree, providing help and support for not only academic issues or concerns you may have, but also with personal issues such as housing, relationships, finance etc. Most tutors are more than happy to talk to you either in person or via email at any point during the academic year, and will be able to refer you or provide necessary advice for the specific problem. During my studies at university I have used both my personal tutor and even tutors from modules I have taken. Members of staff, in my experience, are so friendly and helpful, and having such a great network of tutors and staff to talk to means that there is likely to be at least one person that you feel comfortable talking to.

Alongside the personal tutor connection, the University runs a Student Wellbeing Service, housed in the Carrington building on campus. The ‘Counselling and wellbeing’ facility operates many services, including: Counselling sessions with trained professionals (can be a one-off session or a series of sessions), Peer supporters (fellow students offering advice), Life Tools talks (resources and advice about living independently, managing time, study advice etc.), Study Advisor ( to help with academic problems). This is a free service available to all registered students, and fully trained counsellors are always on hand to provide guidance and support to students about a range of personal and academic issues. Similar to this, RUSU (Reading University’s Student’s Union) runs events throughout the year to help students deal with stress. ‘RUSU says Relax’ is a scheme precisely for this, and is currently running a ‘Mobile Zoo’ that is on campus during exam period to help students relieve stress.

So always remember, especially in the run up to starting university, that help and support is always on hand at any point, even if you just need a friendly chat and a cup of tea!

A Warm Welcome from the Professional Track Team!

Professional Track StructureThe Professional Track is a unique professional development scheme that is open to all students who do degrees in English Language, English Literature or Modern Languages. Since the scheme’s launch in September 2015, already we have had well over 150 students involved which is simply fantastic! We’ve offered a wide variety of courses, masterclasses and placements with the aim that these additions will turn your career hopes into real plans.

Since this is a flexible scheme, you can hop on and hop off whenever you like. If you would like to attend one course and leave it at that, that’s great, please be rest assured that we will never chase you down the corridor and ask you to sign up to more! If you do want to complete all of it however, all you need to do throughout your time with us, is complete three training courses, two placements and one university scheme – you can even draw from your past experience and you’ll get a very snazzy certificate at the end!

Professional Track BannerThe amount of placement opportunities is endless; in the past students have gone to Penguin Publications, the BBC, Disney and even wolf sanctuaries! We’ve also offered course so far in skills such as report writing, marketing and first aid and we are always open to suggestions.

If you have any questions or queries about the Professional Track or Placements, please feel free to send us an email (Lucy Stone:; Sarah Mills:

From both of us – best of luck with your upcoming exams and results and we are both really excited to meet you all in September!

Sarah and Lucy

Professional Track Facilitators

How to use a reading list: Advice for applicants

One of the first things that we will send you before your course starts is a reading list, so we thought this might be a good chance to say something about what a reading list is for.

The reading list helps you make the best use of our learning resources in a way that is tailored to your modules.  For your first term, you may get this reading list in paper copy, but for the rest of your degree you will be able to access it electronically on our VLE. We will explain how to access the VLE and use the library’s online systems in Welcome Week.

Check the UoR introduction to your online reading list video

Check the UoR introduction to your online reading list video

Your reading lists will be divided into sections: there will be an ‘essential reading’ or ‘set texts’ section that will list the books that you will be studying on the module (a textbook, an anthology, or a short list of book or film titles). A few of these will be listed as ‘recommended for student purchase’. It is a good idea to buy copies of those, because you will be using them intensively on the module. It’s also a good idea to buy the edition we recommend. (This means buying a copy published in the same year and with the same ‘ISBN’ number: the ISBN is a 10 or 13 digit number that identifies a book.) We try to recommend editions that give you the most up-to-date information. There will always be at least one copy of these books in the library, but it will be in high demand. Watch out for second –hand copies for sale in the bookshop on campus!

The rest of your reading list will be longer than the ‘essential reading’. This is what we often call ‘secondary reading’. Anything listed as ‘secondary reading’ or ‘general reading’ is not a book you need to buy: there will be a copy in the library, either in paper form or electronically. We don’t actually expect you to read all of the texts that we list in this section! Secondary reading is to help you with the topics that you’ve decided to research for essays or other assignments.  This reading supports your ‘essential’ reading with more detailed analysis. The list might include links to web resources as well as the names of books that you can find in the library or journal articles and essays that you can access electronically. So the ‘secondary reading’ list contains lots of very detailed scholarship on a whole range of topics: your job (once you start researching your assignment) is to choose which items on that list are most useful to the topic you are working on.

Your seminar leaders will give you advice on how best to tackle your reading, but don’t be afraid to ask for help if you feel unsure. The reading list is a key component of university study, and there is an art to using it well!

Outstanding Contribution to Teaching Excellence Award won by Italian Studies at Reading

Outstanding Contribution to Teaching Excellence

Over the past few weeks, RUSU has been running the RUSU Excellence Awards. These are teaching awards which aim to recognise members of University of Reading staff who the students believe have gone above and beyond their expectations, tirelessly working to improve the delivery of their teaching and learning experience.


A special nomination for the entire Italian Department was received and the effort and detail that the Italian students went into to nominate their entire cohort of staff could not be overlooked!


A nomination is a great achievement, and is testimony to the hard work you put into improving the experience of students here at the University. Your efforts have not gone unnoticed!

Italian Students Present the Award

Some comments that students have made in their nominations:

‘We’ve enjoyed a huge variety of learning styles and approaches – but ultimately they all share the same values and that’s helped to create a really strong foundation for our degree’

‘They’ve created a space both formally and informally where students feel they can be listened to. They’ve done this informally by having an open-door policy, treating us as individuals and always being approachable

 ‘We all studied abroad in our third year and we’re so thankful, especially to the admin team, for being a support structure when things occasionally went horribly wrong at our visiting institution; undoubtedly their support saw us through the entire experience ‘

                                                               Staff and Students of Italian Studies




The German Drama Group

Three students of German Studies, Katie Fountain, Chris Flach and Steph King departed on a journey of the unknown and joined the German Drama Group in September 2015. During that journey, they haved experienced a new style of drama, including physical theatre, dance and movement, while improving their German language skills.

This is what Katie Fountain, second year student of German and Italian, is saying about her experience: “The play is devised by DAAD-Lektorin Sandra Beer, who has a background in Performance Studies and encouraged us to think of creative and ambiguous ways to portray various themes such as love, social media and isolation. For me, it has been an enlightening experience to experiment with new theatrical methods.”

Chris Flach adds: ”As someone who only had experience with traditional theatre, the German Drama Group provided me with an exciting new challenge. The elements of  physical theatre and dance have been fun to experiment with and have given me a new perspective on theatre as a whole. All this while improving my German speaking skills!”

Theater_GDG copiaSteph King says: “ Before the beginning of this project, I had never taken part in any serious drama work so it has been a new and interesting experience for me. It has been a pleasure working and coming up with creative ideas with the team. I hope everyone else watching will enjoy it as much as we have putting it together!”

After the first few months of workshops, it became clear that ideas were merging into what looked like could evolve into an innovative and entertaining performance. Having experimented with different texts and topics during the workshops, we discovered that the effects of social media and technology on society, particularly in our generation, captured our imagination. Therefore, we wanted to further explore the effects of modern technology on the individual and interactions with others through elements of dance, music, media and language. Loosely based on the story and central themes of Faust by Goethe, two individuals find themselves lonely and dissatisfied with life and searching for love in the 21st century. Pushed together by unknown forces, they soon realise that nothing is what it seems.

If you would like to embark on our adventure and are curious, get connected with us and come to our performance #Disconnected, which will take place on 22 March at 7.45pm in 3Sixty.