27 September, 2010

Studying in the UK-from my perspective, anyway

Handy article where this pictures is from.
So a  ton of people have been asking me about my program in the UK, and why I chose Wales over the thousands of other Universities in the world. I'm afraid I don't have a 'tied up in a pretty bow' answer, but I can tell you a bit about why it worked for me, and why it made sense over some US programs I was considering.  For those that don't know, I did a semester abroad as an undergrad at Bangor University, loved it, came back to do my MA in Arthurian Literature (studying King Arthur in Wales...yeah, awesome), and am now at the end of a PhD in Film and New Media at the Creative Industries department.

Three main reasons why I came to Wales:
1) Location
2) Academics
3) Cost

I'll tear those down.

1) Location- I think it's fabulous to live abroad for some portion of your life. It gives you a better view of the world, takes you out of your comfort zone and you learn more about yourself, your limitations and your capabilities. Plus you get some great stories out of it!

Now why did I choose this location? I've been obsessed with Wales since I was about 8 and I read The Dark is Rising Sequence by Susan Cooper. I thought Wales was this secret, magic place where legends still live...and it's kind of true. There's no where else in the world where I feel this sense of wonder when I look to the hills. I love the language, the culture, and the fact that it's not overrun with tourists like parts of Scotland can be. Wales is a little more tucked away. Plus, my town is on the ocean, with Snowdonia National Park in the backyard (big, gorgeous mountains).

Bangor, between the sea and the mountains
Bangor is a small city that I can walk from one side to the other in about 45 minutes, but it's uber well connected to big cities and airports. I love that, because I feel like a part of this community. In London I think I'd always feel like a visitor, but here, it feels like home. But I do need to travel to maintain my sanity, I simply was born with itchy feet, so it's great to jump on a train and be in London in three hours, Manchester in two, Liverpool in an hour and a half, and Dublin in two hours (yes, I'm closer to Dublin than London). I love it here. It's gorgeous, it's friendly, and I'm living in the location where my childhood dreams of fantasy and adventure were born.

On set of Olivia's Army getting hands on experience
2) Academics. I knew what area I wanted to study (Film and New Media), and what I wanted to look at within that area (Event Films), but I didn't have a definite title in mind when I started, and didn't know what holes yet existed in the field. I had to go see this work in progress to discover where the holes were and thus find my topic. I can't really do that at any US program. US programs have much more structure- there are classes, TA programs, language requirements etc. whereas with most UK programs it is purely self-led research.  My research was observing, it was holding a camera, it was working in production.... hands on and real-life practical application stuff!

This self-led aspect can also be the kiss of death as you are the one organizing your time, you're often questioning what exactly you're paying for since the onus is on you to find your topic and do your degree, but that's also where the joy of discovery is.  I would never have found this topic unless I did it the way I did it! I had the freedom with this UK degree to travel, spend time on film sets (Twilight, obviously amongst others), talking to authors, observing game designers etc. and it was through this fieldwork that my department supported, that I found the topic that I could explore: the fandoms in event film adaptations.

My supervisor with the art director for Doctor Who
It's not completely on my own though. The biggest piece of advice I can give students thinking about studying in the UK is make sure you get along with your supervisor. They are the navigator of this carriage ride.  They're like the 'options' button on Googlemaps: They won't give you a plan of what you need to do, but they will look at your plan, ask questions to develop it, ask how you want to get there, and help you avoid major delays, roadworks, and speedbumps! Okay, I took that metaphor a bit far, but it works.

The staff here are knowledgeable, experienced, well-known in the academic world, and supportive of new ways to research (it's no longer just sitting in a library... my research is out THERE, in the field, in the production process).

3) Cost. Not gonna lie, it was an attractive selling point. International tuition at Bangor is about $14,000 a year, and it's a 3 year degree for a PhD, and a 1 year degree for an MA. Most US programs run about $40,000 a year, and can take 5 to 6 years for a PhD and 2 for an MA. I also got two scholarships so I'm paying less than half of that fee; I've still taken out loans (federal loans, which apply to school in the UK), so yes, I will be in debt, but it's a fraction of what a lot of my friends are in debt for, and I get to live abroad, doing exactly what I want to do.

So there are my reasons to go to the UK. It's not for everyone: you have to be self motivated, innovative, and be able to take and create initiative, but if you can do that, then this degree is rather rockin'. Make sure you have a good supervisor, make sure you're in a town that's on a train line so you can get to cities and travel when needed/wanted (you're living abroad... you have to make time for travel!), and follow the path of your own interests until you find a hole in the research!

I hope that helps, gang. FYI I'll be touring the east coast in a couple of weeks (mid October to beginning of November), heading to NACAC fairs in Philadelphia and Baltimore, as well as college and high school visits in Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New York. Let me know if you think I should come to your school, or let me know if you're coming to one of the NACAC fairs and want to know more!

Happy researching all :)

Helpful links:
British Council
Search Engine for UK and Ireland schools
Bangor University

16 September, 2010

Editing an Anthology on Twilight...

So now for something completely different...

I'm in the throes of final revisions of the essays for my forthcoming anthology of Twilight criticism, co-edited with Natalie Wilson (of Ms.Blog), and it's a doozy. I just figured I'd run through it as a few people asked me about the process.  We think it will be called Critical Essays on Stephenie Meyer's Twilight Saga and its Impact on Popular Culture, it will be published by McFarland, and hopefully out this spring or summer.

So to take it back a bit, it started during TwiCon 2009, where I met Natalie (I was not a head organizer for TwiCon, but I did put together the academic panels and papers there, and Natalie gave a paper on the female role in Twilight).  We knew we wanted to do something with the exposure we experienced at the convention to other academics who were looking at the  Twilight Saga, and an anthology of essays seemed to be the best move. There was a lot to say about it over a broad range of topics, people have very strong opinions about it (I'm not sure if you know that or not :-p), and it's rare to find people with whom you can have an academic conversation about the work and not just gasps, swoons, snorts of disapproval, or scoffing at the subject matter. Not many take the analysis of Twilight seriously, so it's brilliant when you meet a huge group of people that not only discuss it, but discuss it knowledgeably, clearly, with appropriate context and reference to other works and its implications on society.

So we put together a call for papers, requesting an abstract-- basically a summary of what they planned to write about, and a biography of themselves (always handy to know backgrounds, histories of your contributors, etc.). We received a ton. And when I say a ton, I mean a ton. It took an age to sort through them, let alone organize, mark, and prioritize favorites. It was tough because we couldn't just pick our top twenty; we had to pick ones that worked well with each other, flowed from one to the next, complemented the work, but also ones that filled in the gaps in the existing research (which wasn't too hard as there's only one other work of Twilight criticism out there, Twilight and Philosohpy, and that leaves a wide range of topics to explore).

We picked about 25? 30? Somewhere around there. We were aiming for a finished group of 16-20 essays, so there were still going to be cuts, and some authors inevitably withdraw due to a multitude of reasons.  Natalie and I split up the essays, each becoming sole editor to half of them.  We worked with our authors to develop and improve their essays, and eventually switched and read each other's essays so we're now familiar with every aspect of the pieces going into our anthology.

Joys of this process:

  • working with someone accountable, with a good head on their shoulders, and with great insight into a different aspect of the Twilight Saga (Natalie focuses on gender, and the female role; I focus on film practice-- so quite different!), so working with Natalie was great.
  • I loved reading all of these new takes on a work I know so well and having it challenge my own perceptions of Meyer's novels (wait until you read the essay on the role of parents and ageism; very cool, and it made me look at Charlie, Renee, Esme and Carlisle in a whole new way). 
  • I love that there will be a finished product at the end; too often with a PhD you have nothing 'completed' at the end of the day. It's a constant, drudging process. With this, I have multiple finished drafts, comments included, new drafts coming in, and eventually there will be a clean product that many participated in and hopefully all are happy with!


  • Deadlines. Organizing 28 people. Keeping track of different versions. Keeping track of email addresses!
  •  Learning how to pick and choose (there were about five essays I would have killed to include because they were about the filmic aspects of the work, but it just didn't fit in this work... thus I'm hoping to put together an anthology focusing on the adaptation of the event film in the near future... but after I finish this bloomin' thesis).
  • Sanity! There are so many bits and pieces that need to get done in order for this to come together on time; so time management, keeping people happy, encouraged, on time, and creating a good piece all while working on my thesis, producing some shorts for Elfin Productions, going to work, and surviving grad school- it was a hurdle indeed!

We still have a lot to go: final versions of the essay, dedication, introduction, formatting... and then we submit to the publishers (McFarland), and I'm not sure how long they have it before it's released, but you can be sure I'll share all of the info as I get it on here!

Things upcoming on my plate: I'm starting my final year of my PhD which means writing up my thesis, I'm working in the international office focusing on international student recruitment from the US, I'm producing a short for Elfin and assisting on other bits and bobs with them, I'm giving a paper at 'Vegetarians, VILFs, and Vamps' conference in November at DeMontfort University, and heading home for a work trip in October, and for a family visit at Christmas. BUSY. But that's the way (uh huh uh huh) I like it. :)

Ta ta for now, and let me know what you think about popular culture as a discussable thing. Have you been laughed at for dissecting and discussing Twilight? Do you think it silly to investigate? Worthwhile? Why or why not?