Kathryn Ailes, standing on the grass in the sunshine smiling at the camera

Kathryn Ailes

MRes English

What were your reasons for taking on a postgraduate degree, and why did you decide to study at Strathclyde University?

I’m studying at Strathclyde through a UK-US Fulbright Postgraduate grant. The Fulbright program aims to foster mutual cultural understanding between nations by supporting American students studying and teaching abroad. My desire to do this MRes sprung from a deep interest in the way that political trends are expressed through contemporary literary forms and a curiosity over how poetry can be used as a persuasive political tool. I wanted to capture the literary response to the 2014 Scottish independence referendum as it was happening.

In addition to being passionate about this field of study, I also decided to do the MRes because my career plans include writing and teaching, and I knew that this course would develop my skills in those areas. I chose the University of Strathclyde because I wanted to work with my supervisor, Eleanor Bell. Eleanor is an expert in twentieth-century Scottish literature and politics, so her experience and knowledge in this field was a major draw for me.

My research focuses on the cultural response to the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, so it’s been very valuable to have Eleanor’s knowledge base and advice informing my work. I also knew I wanted to study in Glasgow, since the arts scene is booming here right now, and the level of political engagement during the referendum campaigns was so high.

What do you like about your course/ department/ faculty/ Strathclyde? 

Probably the best aspect of my experience at Strathclyde has been the availability and supportiveness of the faculty. My supervisor is always prompt and thorough with providing feedback on my work. I’ve also been able to meet with other professors to pick their brains on my research, and all have been quite friendly and generous with their advice. Although I don’t take coursework as an MRes, I’ve been able to audit classes and participate in reading groups, which is a great way to discuss ideas with other students and gain perspectives which can shift my theories. 

I’ve also appreciated the way HaSS gives so many opportunities for postgrads to share their research publically. So often academia can be a solitary, somewhat isolating profession, but HaSS provides so many forums and competitions for postgrads to discuss their work with each other. They organised the Pecha Kucha presentation competition in the autumn, as well as the Poster and Pitch competitions this spring.

They also organise regular seminar series where students can learn from each other and practise giving formal presentations. This fosters a great sense of community among postgrads from all of the departments of HaSS which I’m very grateful to have. Finally, Strathclyde’s international, inclusive environment is great to be a part of. As an international student, I’ve appreciated getting to know both local students and students from around the world while I’m here. I’ve always felt supported and welcomed into both the HaSS community and Glasgow as a whole. This flexible route was very appealing to me as it meant I could really sit down and reflect on the best choice rather than being forced into a certain field. The best thing about the course, for me, is the opportunity to mix and work with colleagues from different establishments and authorities. 

This professional dialogue is invaluable and is something that I truly believe is a selling point of the course. The department is superb and the team led by Lio have always been informative, friendly and supportive-I really couldn’t ask for more. Strathclyde as a university has been through some changes since the Faculty of Education moved from Jordanhill but the new facilities in the Lord Hope are great and the library is spacious with plenty of IT equipment- students have it easy here!

What specialist knowledge / professional skills have you developed whilst studying the course?

Writing a dissertation—even just a one-year, 30,000 word dissertation for the MRes—is a massive undertaking which requires serious focus, discipline, and persistence. I’ve learned so much about my own work ethic and the habits I need to enforce in myself in order to produce top-quality research and writing. Doing the MRes means gaining excellent organisation and study habits as well as writing skills. My advisor has been wonderful at helping me understand my strengths and weaknesses when it comes to academic work and at supporting me in developing better skills. All of the skills I’ve gained through doing this MRes—a disciplined work ethic, researching and writing skills, communication and public speaking skills, and an expert knowledge in my subject area—are vital skills for any academic profession, or indeed most professions. 

Additionally, through taking part in the HaSS competitions and volunteering to present my research through their seminar series, I’ve gained experience in publicly presenting my research. I participated in the Pecha Kucha competition in the autumn (to present research through 20 slides in 20 seconds each) and the Poster and one-minute Pitch competitions in the spring (I was delighted to win the Pitch competition). Each of these competitions gave me more experience in being able to present my research in different ways, for different audiences. The training sessions attached to them provided excellent preparation, and I value the opportunities to gain more experience with public speaking. 

Although MRes students are not required to participate in the PG Cert program (through which PhD students gain credits leading to a PG Cert by taking classes on varying subjects), I’ve taken advantage of many of those opportunities. I’ve taken classes on how to be an effective teacher, how to design a poster, and how to present academic research effectively, to name a few. It’s fantastic to have these resources at your fingertips!

How is your course specifically helping to enhance you current career / prepare for your future career?

Because of this MRes, I’ve developed so many transferable skills—as earlier stated, a disciplined work ethic, researching and writing skills, communication and public speaking skills, and an expert knowledge in my subject area—which will be essential in any career I pursue. Since I will be doing my PhD immediately following my MRes, those skills will directly help with my doctoral work. The MRes is an excellent stepping stone to the PhD since it means conducting in-depth research and writing a high-quality piece of academic work on a timeline—just a shorter timeline than the PhD. 

What are your ambitions for the future? How do you think your postgraduate degree, and your time at Strathclyde, will help you achieve your goals.

Next year I’m delighted to be remaining at Strathclyde to do my PhD in English Literature. I will be continuing to work with my current supervisor, Eleanor Bell, though on a slightly different project from my MRes project. I’ll be researching the expression of peripheral national identities through contemporary performance poetry in the UK, using oral history and close readings as my methodologies. I’m so exited to embark on this research, especially since I’ll be able to continue drawing upon the vast knowledge base of the Strathclyde faculty for this work and also using the excellent Scottish Oral History Centre at Strathclyde as a resource. 

Following my PhD, I plan to continue writing and teaching about the role of politics in contemporary British poetry (and vice versa) through an academic position or a job in arts policy. I feel that my work thus far at Strathclyde has provided an excellent foundation on which to do this kind of work. The connections I’ve made in the course of doing this MRes—with other researchers, academics, and figures within my field—will also be useful when it comes time to find a new position.

What have been the main challenges studying at postgraduate level?

Postgraduate study requires a lot of the researcher in that it is a solitary pursuit which necessitates disciplined work habits. Sometimes it can be challenging to maintain a rigorous work schedule, but once good habits are in place that work becomes more natural. Also, no matter how fascinating one’s research is, engaging with it every day for a long period of time can become mentally exhausting, so when picking a topic for postgraduate study, it’s important to choose one that you find interesting and important.

It’s important too to promote one’s work through multiple channels; one of the aspects of postgraduate work that I hadn’t been expecting as much was the need to develop publicity skills, whether that means becoming a better public speaker for conferences or learning how to engage with other academics and the public through social media platforms. And through all of this self-care is of course important, so that this research remains an exciting and fun pursuit! I’ve found that Strathclyde has always provided support with each of these challenges, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being here for my postgraduate research.

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