KaM (bristolian_kam) wrote,

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The Drawn Sword

"It is truth universally acknowledged" ~ [or not], sooner or later, if you want it enough, there comes a time to be decisive in any decision making process. It was time to take the initiative with regards to Postgraduate applications, and the momentum / inspiration / kinetics came last Sunday. Through the intermittent research, I'd narrowed down options to Newcastle, Edinburgh and Royal Holloway, giving Durham a pass initially because their expertise in the Early Modern period is in drama and writing of Catholicism. The first two would rely on me living at home (travel forwards and backwards to Edinburgh costing substantially less in the medium term than accommodation there) and Royal Holloway almost entirely on getting funding. I'd totally counted Royal Holloway out because their research begins at a minumum of 2 year MPhil rather than single year M.A. and it said that in most cases they require a Masters to be admitted. However, when I began composing e-mails to different establishments, it got me thinking how few students might take dissertations. Certainly, in our department, only around 10%. Therefore, with valuable independent research skills already amassed, and an extended piece written on the subject area I directly wish to continue on from, suddenly it didn't seem impossible that I might meet exception criteria. It has been an odd cycle really. I've felt very nervous contacting academics, one of whom was of great help for my dissertation, and felt that I should contain the department admin. first to be invited to contact them, lest I bother them when an application for that institution would not be feasible.

During Reading Week, towards the end of January, I'd hoped to start setting these wheels in motion, and wrote to the English Department Postgrad Secretary. I'd assumed, being in the specific position to handle queries like mine, I might hear back. psymun had already tried, kindly, on my behalf to the department's generic e-mail address only for it to be rejected, and I began to get sceptical and a little disillusioned, remembering how they had blanked me for queries regarding undergraduate admission too, and I went up to Edinburgh to look around the place and St. George's Square without invitation. Therefore, a fortnight down the line without hearing any word back, I felt it only fair to approach academics directly, and not lay my trust in office staff. After all, they could only ignore what they find in their inbox. The cycle of respect is in one way admirable and in another, completely awkward. I respect myself more for respecting my university superiors more; and yet perhaps I don't think so much to e-mailing my own tutors here, and yet a Dryden fanatic student somewhere out there may find it as daunting contacting tutors here - all a familiarity gauge, perhaps.

Therefore, I contacted three academics with a similar proposition: Prof. Tom Cain at Newcastle, whose work I've not come across, but he is referenced in several books used for the dissertation, and Prof. D.H. knew of him sufficiently to find his details; Dr. James Loxley at Edinburgh, whose book The Drawn Sword: Royalism and Poetry in the English Civil War was influential for the dissertation in the half about Royalist writing, and perhaps I was hoping on a reply most from this good man. Finally, I e-mailed the Arts Postgrad. Secretary for Royal Holloway to see what my unlikely chances might be of hopping through hoops, for that was the strongest case where bothering the Professor might have seemed meaningless. However, given one inability so far to contact back when specifically outlined for English Postgrad., I didn't fancy chances hearing back from someone in charge of a whole faculty, so did go on to mail Prof. Dzelzainis (what a name!) at Royal Holloway. I had not used any of his material in my dissertation: he is also a Milton expert and often looks at the later end of Marvell's career, where I've been looking at the late-middle, as it were - but I was familiar with his work in this area. Thereafter, the nervous waiting game.

I didn't have to wait long. On the Sunday evening, within a few hours of beginning, I received a reply e-mail from Tom Cain from Newcastle, quite brisk, but that felt rather trademark for an North-Easterner: That sounds interesting. One caveat is that I am due to retire in 2009, so if you started in 2006, you would only get me for 3 years. I know that's the theoretical span of a Phd, but not many complete in that time. On the plus side, I am just beginning a new edition of Robert Herrick, which will certainly still be going on after 2009, so I will hope to be around and active in the university (and in the 1640s) after I retire. You might like to take a look at the edition I did recently of Mildmay Fane's poetry (MUP, 2001. He's a pretty awful poet, but was right in the centre (in various senses) of Civil War political and social activity, and is just the sort of writer you could add to your current work to make it into a postgraduate project. There has been quite a lot written on the topic recently, so you would need to be doing something slightly different from Loxley, Smith et al. The one awkwardness, I think, is taking a slight step away from my current line. There's an interesting twist in the span of expertise here: Professor Cain is an expert on some of the more obscure Cavalier Poets, such as Herrick, and perhaps that is what I need to expand the breadth of the project to a decent postgraduate possiblity. On the other hand, Dr. Loxley (since I've seen articles of his and his lecture schedule) dabbles in both the Royalist and Republican literature (perfect, since there were two sides to the dissertation and I'm not so willing to forsake that), and Prof. Dzelzainis is more of a Republican expert. I waited with eagerness, nerves and trepidation for any replies the following day would bring.

I woke mid-morning Monday, to an email from the Arts Postgrad. Secretary from Royal Holloway. Amazing, a whole faculty to deal with, replies so promptly; Edinburgh's departmental secreatary can't get back to me at all. Well, clerical quibbles aside, it wasn't hugely encouraging. What I proposed was possible, but a place was unlikely without a First, and I was advised to contact the potential supervisor (already had done, pending response), and it was reckoned that funding was also very unlikely as I'd be in the Doctoral range rather than Masters. By this point, I hanf rested hope on a reply from Martin Dzelzainis to make something possible, but it didn't arrive, and my sense of embarrassment at what must have seemed a ludicrous proposal prevented me from following this up at all. What made a wonderful difference, then, was a very friendly, welcoming reply from Dr. Loxley: Dear Keith, Many thanks for your email. I would be delighted to supervise an MSc by research on the topic you suggest, and so would very much welcome an application should you wish to submit one. If you were to be registered for this degree you would undertake the full year's study, with research training suitable for your project provided, and then be free to graduate at the end; should you wish, though, and if everything was going well and such a change was affordable, you could also transfer to PhD and count your year's research as the first year of a three year PhD programme. The resources here are very good, including networked databases such as Early English Books Online, Literature Online, Project Muse (electronic journals), Artstor (visual images) and a very good library of old-fashioned books. Some of these resources are easily available off-campus to matriculated students (broadband connection pretty much essential, though). There are great print and manuscript resources in the National Library of Scotland which are underutilised by researchers, too. So you'd be well provided for. Is there anything else you need to know at this stage? If so, you're welcome to drop me a line. With all best wishes, James Loxley.

I have been impressioning a position of requiring funding, or at least hinting at advice to the best route to take. With a little extra research, as I'd half hinted to Dr. Loxley as a question, could I manage a research degree living at home and travelling up to Edinburgh when required? Nothing like doing things the easy way - absolutely, I could manage this! With the contacts from my old school, I should imagine I might get some allowance from Sunderland and Newcastle libraries should I need it. I think the application to Edinburgh is sold! In fact, after that e-mail, I'm inclined not to apply anywhere else. The problem now is the speed of this application. I remember reading small-print which states that if making an AHRC claim, something has to be registered by March 1st - not long. I've just got some awkward sunken feeling that I've left a big vacuus space regarding my dissertation tutor. It's only just come to light that he might not even have read the thing yet, and he won't provide a reference without having done so. Also, when do I get it back? Confess to being scared to create any kind of research proposal in case the dissertation states some area of argument as being weak or unfeasible. It's going to mean keeping senses awake and astute, and hope and prayer to make sure this great chance doesn't evaporate. Plans have chopped and changed since the start of the academic year: P.G.C.E. to taught Masters in Creative Writing to research Masters ~ and the prospect of Postgrad. work under an academic of Dr. Loxley's calibre on Marvell and Civil War Poetry and all at Edinburgh sounds terrific. I'll be delighted to pull this off, although the ironic truth is now that while it's debatable whether I can afford it financially, I can't afford to miss the opportunity in every other way - I'd be stuck at a dead end. As David Hopkins said regarding the final stages of the dissertation, "Keep thy sword erect". I'll draw it, certainly, and hope to conquer the personal battle.
Tags: postgraduate

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