Ann Livingstone writes:
When I completed my undergraduate degree atReadingin 1997, I looked forward to a time when I might carry on with my studies, so two years ago, with my children nearing the end of primary school, I started searching the internet for suitable post-graduate degree courses. I wanted to study part-time to give myself the chance to get back into the discipline of studying without being overwhelmed by the work, and I needed it to fit in around my family commitments. For me, part of the enjoyment of studying for a degree is the face-to-face contact with other students and the teaching staff, so I didn’t really consider distance learning as an option. I am fortunate in living close to theUniversityofReading, but I know people on English MA courses who travel in from as far away asOxfordandLondon.
Reading’s MAs in English Literature cover a broad range of topics, and as I hadn’t a specific area of study in mind, this approach suited me particularly well. The first term’s ‘Modern English Studies’ module gave me a useful overview of various areas of study, and helped me to discover where my main interests lie. The module enigmatically entitled ‘Materiality and Textuality’ provided an introduction to working with literary archives and the opportunity to work with material held at the University’s Special Collections. I really didn’t know what to expect when I started this module, but the project I submitted for appraisal was one of the most enjoyable I have done so far. I have found there to be a good choice of optional modules, and in my experience the department has been very flexible in accommodating as many students’ wishes as is they can. Towards the end of the spring term in my first year I was assigned a member of the department to supervise the production of my dissertation. At the beginning of the summer term there are two group seminars that offer general guidance for writing our dissertations – discussions about the scope and choice of topics, and advice on pacing the work were particularly helpful to me. In addition to this general guidance, my supervisor has suggested reading, helped me focus my ideas and given feedback on the work I have done so far. As I write this in the Spring term of my second and final year, I am just finishing my second optional module and will be returning to the work I began on my dissertation this time last year.
Having had such a long break since I finished my first degree, I was pleasantly surprised to find how easy it now is to access research material online. In between visits to the library I can download journal articles and use online reference material from home. A very helpful session with the librarian who looks after the English department is included in the first term, focussing on how to make the most of the library’s resources. I have also made use of the IT training that the university offers students; particularly useful for me was a course aimed specifically at students writing dissertations using Microsoft Word.
In the years between finishing my first degree and starting my MA I was, in the main, a full time mother, a role that although rewarding, had not necessarily endowed me with a great deal of confidence. Making the decision to enrol on the degree was both exciting and daunting. I won’t pretend that I haven’t found writing the essays to be hard work, but it brings with it an engagement with literature and literary theory that reading alone doesn’t, and for me that can be incredibly rewarding. I have found the department to be very approachable and supportive with issues relating to specific modules and to the degree more generally.
My return to studying has also led me back into work. I am now providing part-time admin support on a project being led by academics atReadingto investigate matters arising from the diasporic nature of many literary archives. The project, which will run over three years, is bringing together archivists, biographers, academics and other professionals from around the world at five internationally held workshops. The position is giving me the opportunity to use my previous work experience in a role that also reflects my interest in literature. And of course my plan is that my new job will fund even more study…