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


emily said...

this post makes me want to transfer to a school in the UK

Anonymous said...

I'm applying to Bangor for MSc's in Foundations of Clinical Psychology and in Foundations of Clinical Neuropsychology for Fall 2011 after having completed my Bachelors in Psych. at St. Mary's College of Maryland.

I'm actually from PA myself (does the Boyertown/Pottstown area sound familiar?), so it was a relief to see not only an American, but a Pennsylvanian, successfully go to grad school in the UK!

When you were applying for your Master's, did you find it difficult to have your undergraduate degree accepted? Is there any advice you have for an American applying to grad school in the UK?

Thanks!! and lovely blog :)

ScullingOnSquam said...

Hi there. Have you applied yet? If you want to drop me an email, maggieLparke@gmail.com, we can chat about the application process more. And no there was no issue having my undergrad degree accepted whatsoever. Anywho...drop me a line, we can discuss!