Where does an MA in English take you?

Blog by Ellen McWilliams

study english at UCC

I graduated with an MA from the School of English in 2000 and went on to complete a PhD at the University of Bristol. I am a Lecturer in English Literature at the University of Exeter, having previously held posts at Bristol and Bath Spa University. My teaching and research interests are in Irish, American, and Canadian literature, writing and diasporic identity, and the reception of European literary models in North American writing. I recently received an Arts and Humanities Early Career Fellowship (2011-2012) and am currently a Visiting Fulbright Scholar at the Institute of Irish Studies at Fordham University in New York.

My experience on the MA programme was transformative; it determined the course of my career and, looking back, proved to be of immeasurable personal and professional value. On the MA, we were exposed to a wide range of critical practices, while being encouraged at every turn to be rigorous and imaginative in our own thinking. The lecturers in English, many of whom are still teaching in the School, were all key figures in their fields of research, but also brilliant and deeply committed teachers. Dr Lee Jenkins was my personal tutor on the MA and supervised my dissertation on Canadian literature. My first book was on the fiction of Margaret Atwood and the links between my formative experience at UCC and my current work remain very important. I have just completed a book on Women and Exile in Contemporary Irish Fiction, the genesis of which can be linked, in part, to ideas first encountered in Professor Patricia Coughlan’s lectures on gender and Irish writing. I wasn’t the most confident MA student but, with the advice and encouragement of my personal tutor and other academics in the School, I applied for and secured a University of Constance Postgraduate Scholarship, a National University of Ireland Travelling Prize in English, and a three-year PhD scholarship to the University of Bristol.

My own research and practice as a university lecturer owes a great debt to my years at UCC and to my postgraduate experience. Many of the things I aspire to be as an academic can be traced back to my time as an MA student in the School of English, and the role models I encountered there remain touchstones of academic excellence, integrity, and generosity.


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