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Past Questions

  1. With the Shakespeare studies based in Stratford away from the main campus, is there a feeling of the university experience among the students at the Shakespeare Institute? Is there frequent interactions between all levels of studies? Also do you know what the total number of students in person at Stratford is or for the various Shakespeare programs? Thank you for your time!

    Hi, 1) Certainly, and it quite possibly strengthened by the distance from bham. You will find the SI a tightly knit little satellite campus, and one where friendships spring from shared nerdiness. 2) There is no real differentiation between the different levels of study at the Institute (unlike at main campus, where the doctoral students have separate lounges etc). Of course, students recognise the rest of their cohort, but it was never my experience that strict stratification took place. 3) I’m afraid not. If that kind of information doesn’t fall under data protection laws, I’d recommend contacting the Institute secretaries to learn more: https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/schools/edacs/departments/shakespeare/contact/index.aspx.

  2. Hi there - I was wondering how many distance-learning students were on your MA, and how integrated they were in the course? I am considering the MA Shakespeare and Theatre as distance learning option, as I live on the other side of the world!

    Hello, in my time as a student I had very little contact with the DLs, apart from the ones who managed to turn up to the weekly seminars at the Institute, and the ones I taught briefly. I’d imagine the experience as a DL is quite different to that of an on-site student, but at the same time, my sense from teaching them is that the DL cohort forms quite a strong peer group, which, while it might not be as collegial as the ones on campus, would be every bit as helpful in reaching academic excellence. I hope that helped! Best, Sara

  3. Hi Sara,

    I hope you are well.

    I have an intention to pursue an MA in Shakespeare studies at the University of Birmingham. However, my undergraduate studies does not provide training in this area. I would like to ask what is/ what are your recommendation(s) of developing a solid foundation of Shakespeare studies? And what were the challenges that you came across during your MA studies?

    Given the Covid-19 pandemic, I also would like to ask how has Covid-19 affected your learning in the programme - has online teaching affected your studies and so on?

    Thank you in advance! Look forward to hearing from you.

    Hi, what a splendid idea - and as to a grounding in previous studies, I wouldn’t worry too much on that account. I came to Shakespeare Studies via a degree in English from Copenhagen, but since the whole framework differs greatly between countries, the knowledge on which I ended up leaning was almost exclusively from my elected courses (philosophy, semantics, history). On reflection, coming to the Institute relatively fresh (aside from the obligatory BA, of course) is a pretty good way to go about it, although it does leave a lot of legwork to be done in that one year. Maybe a general read around the most influential theorists, theatre artists, or thinkers of the past few decades would be a good idea, depending on which way you want to take your studies. All my major challenges sprung from the differences between Danish and English academia, and reaching the high standard demanded by the Institute. The only advice I can give here is hard work, but at this level, that should be a given.

    Luckily for me, I handed in my final corrections a little more than a year ago, shortly before COVID hit the UK. As such, the pandemic ended up having no influence on my studies, although it has certainly had an adverse impact on my further career. I did teach online for a little bit during my PhD at the Institute, back before the current crisis, so I am confident the necessary mechanisms are all in place, and that teaching continues to match the high standards I remember.

    I do hope that answers your questions, but please don’t hesitate to reach out if you want to know anything else.

    Best, Sara

  4. Hi Sara, I was wondering what the accommodation situation was like for most people on your MA course? Did people tend to share or live by themselves?

    Hello, thank you very much for your question and apologies in the delay getting back to you. My name is Emma from the Postgraduate Recruitment team, and I am replying on behalf of the mentor as they have not yet answered it.

    Most of our postgraduates share, either in university accommodation flats or student houses in the local community, as it is a lot cheaper than living on your own! That's not to say no postgrad student lives on their own, there are some studio flats or one bed apartments either in Selly Oak or the city centre that you can choose to live in. It really depends on your personal preference :)

    Our Birmingham Studentpad is a good place to start for your search: https://www.birminghamstudentpad.co.uk/Accommodation

    Hope this helps, PG Recruitment

    Hello from Sara, sorry about the delay in getting to you. The Institute is a slightly different kettle of fish to main campus, as we don't have on-site accommodation, so you're pretty much left with lodging or sharing. Stratford is quite expensive, and I've had good experiences sharing with other SI students, but it really does depend on the people you team up with. The secretaries at the Institute can help you put out a call for a flatmate or similar (you will have already received quite a lot of emails from them). At this point you should have met some of your new fellow students, and if your accommodation situation isn't as good as you hoped, I'd encourage you to put out some feelers and see whether any of them need a flatmate or are looking to move.

    Good luck! Sara

  5. Why did you choose the University of Birmingham?

    My former teachers at the University of Copenhagen advised me in no uncertain terms that if I wished to become a Shakespeare scholar, there was only one viable option: the Shakespeare Institute. I had never heard of it before, and was not aware of the University of Birmingham’s prestige. I still do not think I have fully realized the enormity of the difference between my first and second university lives – there is a sense of belonging and camaraderie here that has to be experienced. It is completely unlike the Danish attitude, and, for me, it is Birmingham’s strongest point.

  6. What has been the highlight of your time at Birmingham?

    The best single moment of my time at Birmingham was without a doubt when I was accepted as a PhD student – this had been my dream for several years, and I had begun to think it an impossible one. The kind of validation, energy and endless possibilities fired by having a life-long ambition made possible are indescribable. A close second has to be the graduation ceremony. I have never before witnessed such celebration of potential and excellence, and, in terms of marking a definite moment in any academic career, it is both invaluable and deeply moving.

  7. Have you joined any clubs or societies, gone on any research trips or done any volunteering?

    During my time here at the Institute, I have joined the Shakespeare Institute Players, our amateur dramatics group, both on stage and behind the scenes as publicity officer. I have participated in workshops both in Leicester and Copenhagen, worked on the Scholar’s Pitch project alongside senior Shakespeare academics and RSC actors and directors, and participated in the playreading marathons to raise funds for the Lizz Ketterer Trust. Furthermore, I have been involved in Britgrad (the British Graduate Shakespeare Conference) as registrar and IT aide.

  8. What, for you, are the best things about the course?

    As a research student, I am given both enough freedom to pursue my studies independently and sufficient support to give me a sense of progress. I can only imagine that this is an extremely difficult balance for my tutor to achieve, one that must be tailored to the individual student. This balance is the best part of being a PhD student. A close second must be the close-knit student community at the Institute; we celebrate each other’s achievements, we support each other through the darker bits of life, and we look out for each other.

  9. Do you have anything lined up for once you have completed your degree?

    I want to carry on my studies as a postdoc either in France or Germany, where the philosophical traditions will nicely complement and further develop my research, or in America, where the different scholarly tradition would offer a completely new perspective on the entire project. I furthermore hope to find meaningful and challenging employment related to that same research either in parallel to the postdoc or following it.

  10. What was your motivation for undertaking postgraduate study?

    I took my first postgraduate degree in Denmark, where BA degrees are commonly devalued; no considerations apart from a desire to continually strive towards higher goals motivated me. It was therefore always my dream to reach as high as possible within my chosen field. When I applied for a place as an MA student at the Shakespeare Institute, I already held an equivalent degree from the University of Copenhagen (cand.mag.), but was unsure of whether my knowledge was sufficiently specialised to manage doctoral studies, and so I decided to start with an MA.

  11. I am considering studying the MA Shakespeare Studies on a part-time, distance learning basis. Would you see this as possible, alongside working in a full time job, and do you think this would benefit my career in the creative learning field?

    Unfortunately, I cannot claim to speak from personal experience re. part-time, distance-learning or full-time work during studies - but I have seen others do it, and do it well.

    Having done Shakespeare Studies myself I think very highly of that particular course, but given that you want to build up your creative learning career, you may want to have a look at the Shakespeare and creativity MA (http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/postgraduate/courses/taught/english/shakespeare-and-creativity.aspx) or the Shakespeare and education MA (http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/postgraduate/courses/taught/english/shakespeare-education.aspx). It really depends on what you want to focus on; Shakespeare Studies offers a very good all-round platform, and that is brilliant if you want to pursue research studies.

    Regardless of your final choice, I would recommend that you spend as much time as possible at the Shakespeare Institute during your degree; the community out here can be a huge help during stressful times, and the networking possibilities are invaluable.

    I hope that helped a little.

    Best, Sara Marie Westh

  12. What would you urge students to do in order to fully take advantage of what the Shakespeare Institute has to offer?

    First of all, I would advise prospective students to move to Stratford upon Avon for the duration.

    There is so much cultural life going on in and around the Institute, and it is very difficult to really take part in that if you don't physically place yourself in the middle of it. One of the most important things about the Institute, apart from Shakespeare, is the community it fosters. Whether you see it as networking or making friends, it is the ideal springboard for anyone interested in pursuing a career in the many Shakespeare industries both in and outside academia.

    Stratford is a small town, and it can be a bit of a culture-shock to anyone relocating from a larger town, but having lived here three years myself now, I promise it grows on you.

    If your students are thinking about relocating: accommodation availability is tied to the departure and arrival of students, so to get a good place you should start looking in the early months of summer (no later than June).

    Secondly, I advise a balanced life with time for both studies and social events. It is very easy to bury yourself in your subject at the Institute, and the constant pressure of deadlines and grades reinforces this tendency. However, taking the time to get to know your peers and the other students here, involving yourself in the Institute Players, taking part in the Thursday play readings and the summer marathons, all this will make you part of the Institute community, bring you closer to your teachers, help you create an invaluable network, and give you new perspectives on Shakespeare in our time.

    I hope this helped, and I apologize for the time it took me to get back to you.

    All the best, Sara Marie Westh

  13. As an international student, how did you manage the tuition fees? If I don't get a scholarship, I won't be able to come.

    Scholarships are the way forward for most of us, though it saddens me that we have to depend on charity to pursue knowledge.

    I would advice you to look into both what your home country, the UK, and possibly the EU can offer by way of financial help; Erasmus and the like might be worth looking into. My home country, Denmark, is very good at student support, but I'm afraid it differs depending on your geographical location.

    It is also possible to find work through the University of Birmingham's WorkLink scheme (https://www.worklink.bham.ac.uk/WorkLink/index.asp). They have an office on main campus, where you can register. If you are going to self-fund by working in the UK, keep in mind that you will need a National Insurance number. You get one of these by making an appointment with your local jobcenter (I had to go to Coventry...), and it is a good idea to have this meeting about a month before your job interview, as it can take them a while to process applications.

    Personally, my tuition fees were paid in equal part by savings and scholarships; I took two years off from academia and worked as a secretary, and the Danish state helped out with the rest.

    I hope this helped.

    All the best, Sara Marie Westh

  14. As an international student, how did you go about securing accommodation in Stratford? Is there a student services office that can help with that process?

    Hi, sharing accommodation is definitely the way to go, since the Startford campus does not have any student housing. Living in Straford is fairly expensive; I'm sharing with two friends and paying £300 a month at the moment.

    Juliet Creese and Rebecca White, the Shakespeare Institute secretaries, usually send out a list of students looking to share before the beginning of the new academic year, and I'd advise you to get in touch with your classmates-to-be with a view to sharing.

    Rightmove (http://www.rightmove.co.uk/) provides a decent overlook of available properties both to rent and to buy. It's a good idea to have this sorted about a month before coming here, keeping in mind that all the new students arrive at the same time, and that the best places go very fast.

    Happy hunting, and let me know if you have any other questions.

    All the very best, Sara

  15. Hello Sara, I am a prospective student looking for the right postgraduate study track. My question is which distance learning MA would be a better fit: Shakespeare Inst. MA/Education or MA/Theatre? Though I am a teaching artist (US), and have taught drama to many school children, I am not employed by a school at present. Would this pose a problem for distance learning for the MA/Education? If so, then I would apply for the MA/Theatre. Thank you!

    Hi there,

    I'm afraid I can only offer my own opinion on this question - I did Shakespeare studies on site as MA. I think it depends on what you feel more in tune with, and what you want to focus more on in the future. I think both courses are absolutely stellar, so it really depends on which one you feel more like. I don't think your current employment situation would pose a problem regardless of which MA you decide on.

    I recommend getting in touch with Juliet Creese, our administrator: j.creese@bham.ac.uk

    All the very best, Sara

  16. Hello! I hope to do the MA in Shakespeare Studies next year. As an international student, my BA didn't require me to write papers (we have a different grading system). So I'm currently working on the 2k word writing samples. Do you have any advice on how I can make sure they are good enough to get me accepted (since these are essentially the first time I am working on papers)? Thank you.

    Hi!

    First of all, sorry it took me so long to get back to you; I've been holidaying.

    My best advice would be to try your very hardest. I know that sounds cliché, but in all honesty I think they are as aware of existing capabilities as of the developments you will be able to achieve with us. If you are worried about writing rather than content, reading some of the more recent articles from Shakespeare Survey, Shakespeare Quarterly, Renaissance Quarterly, or any of the big journals can help you get a feel for the language. If you've at home with a particular style sheet, stick to that one for now: consistency is key.

    Personally, I adapted a chapter from my CPH dissertation, because I, like you, had very little idea of what they were actually looking for.

    I hope this was helpful, and that I'll see you in Stratford.

    All the best, Sara

  17. What is your MA's topic? And how did you mange to choose it among countless topics about Shakespeare?

    Hello!

    I did my MA on grotesque imagery in Shakespeare, which, I should point out, has nothing whatsoever to do with my research now. At the point when I started my dissertation, I had no idea what I wanted to do for my thesis, though I suppose some of the theories I use now reflect the epistemology I developed then.

    A fair amount of talking to my peers and networking with the PhD students helped me narrow the subject. Looking back, I would say that I developed the basic idea during the MA year, in large part through the essays that form part of each module. As you progress through your studies at the SI, you begin to focus on the subjects that you find most interesting - and writing about that which genuinely interests you makes for far better reading than forcing yourself to write about matters you find stale, flat, and unprofitable.

    And, of course, a good supervisor is absolutely key. Get to know the lecturers, find out where their fields overlap with your interests, and never be afraid to ask their advice. They have seen decades worth of dissertations, and they will be able to understand your work both on its own merits and as part of the larger world of scholarship. Ideally, your supervisor should be the academic who is most qualified to guide you to discover the full potential of your idea.

    I hope this helped,

    Sara

  18. As a student, how would you describe the thesis process? Are students given the chance to pursue and explore new ideas on their own?

    Hi,

    It was a bit hit and miss for me - the first two scholars I approached about PhD ideas were quite dismissive, but, then again, I did talk to them fairly early in the MA, and I imagine I must have looked like a bumbling fool.

    If you have a good idea of what you'd like to do for your thesis, let it develop and grow for most of the MA. Toward the end of the year, have an informal talk with the senior scholar who matches your research needs best. Preferably, this should also be someone you get along with (it's a very bad idea to enter into a PhD with a supervisor you can't stand, obviously).

    My supervisor worked with me on the MA dissertation too, so I already knew he would guide rather than steer my research, and that I could talk to him.

    Think of it as a relationship of trust; you trust your supervisor to get you through in one piece, and not betray that trust. Your supervisor trusts you to pursue your studies seriously, and to tell them if something is harming your progress.

    I hope this helped answer your question.

    All the very best, Sara

  19. Dear Sara, I am 70 years old and when I retired I went back to University. In 2016 I gained a 2.1 BA in the History of Art from the University of Warwick. I am now very keen to do an MA and as I originally trained at RAda, and have been a passionate Shakespeare lover for the past 50 years (having seen over 100 productions at the RSC) I instinctively feel that this course would be brilliant for me. Obviously at my age I am simply studying for pleasure. I really enjoyed being at Warwick and was fortunate to make many friends, most of whom were young enough to be my grandchildren. I live only 4 miles from Stratford so accommodation will not be an issue, but I would like some advice please. In your opinion would I fit in and will my age be a disadvantage? Also how many lectures are there per week? I am very keen but just need a few pointers. Thank you for your time.

    Hi, I can almost guarantee that your age will matter very little here: our oldest current student just turned 90.

    I understand your concern and have discussed this matter in the past with some of the mature students from my own MA year, and they assure me that though they were a little concerned by the age discrepancy they did not feel left out. There will, of course, be some social groupings in almost any class, but at the Institute we are all brought together by our passion for Shakespeare, and so we always find something to talk about.

    I look forward to having you join us, and I hope we live up to your expectations.

    All the very best, Sara

  20. How did you tackle your MA research at the Shakespeare Institute? Do you have a process that you regularly work through or is each paper a different experience? What habits and resources do you recommend for staying on top of your studies?

    Hi!

    The classes themselves were quite thought-provoking, the schedule rigorous, and I found that the essay topics would either spring out of class discussion, conversations with peers, or be usefully directed by the course convener. I mostly let my own interest dictate my approach, a process I hope makes for more interesting writing and reading alike.

    I recommend keeping up with the set texts, or, failing that, catching up in the reading week. Also, few things are more helpful in working through ideas than talking to your peers, so I would definitely suggest setting up a study group. Finally, the teachers here are great, and always happy to help out if you find yourself struggling.

    As for personal resources, I would always encourage students to bring their own expertise and experiences to bear on their field of study: academic cross-fertilization is a wonderful thing.

    Regarding the final dissertation deadline, work out a plan of the days, and figure out how best to spend your time. Make sure to make it elastic enough to accommodate procrastination, writer's block, illness, but strict enough to keep you on track, and don't be afraid to edit it as you go along.

    I hope this helps.

    All the best, Sara

  21. Hi Sara, What do you think employability is like once you get your PhD in Shakespeare? I'm interested in going for a PhD in Shakespeare but I'm worried if the job market is low. Thanks!

    Hi, generally, not very big at all, unfortunately, if you want to be in traditional academia. However, that's not specific to Shakespeare studies, that's just the situation across the board. I feel I should add that I never let potential employability dictate my decisions regarding education, otherwise you would have to spend half a decade studying something you weren't really interested in, for a job that may or may not be there at the end of your studies.

    A PhD demands a lot from you, and will take up a significant chunk of your life, so to do it on a subject you feel anything less than passionate about would be an exquisite from of self-flagellation. To illustrate, I feel quite strongly about my PhD, and here at the end there are days when I wish I had never started. I cannot imagine how much more intense those feelings of doubt must be for people who choose a subject they feel lukewarm about.

    Ultimately, the situation changes continually, and our best bet is to be as adaptable as possible. Studying something you love will help you more in the long run than forcing yourself through a doctorate that means little to you.

    I hope that helped.

    All the best, Sara