Victoria Clarke

Victoria Clarke

MA Victorian Literature

Summary: Part time Masters student Victoria was the first in her family to attend university, and is now studying for a PhD in Victorian literature.

Tell us a bit about yourself?

I completed my joint honours BA in English Literature and English Language and Linguistics at the University of Roehampton, and moved straight up to Leeds the following September to start my Masters. I am the first in my family to attend University, so moving on to postgraduate study was a big surprise for everyone.

What made you want to apply to your MA course and to Leeds?

I initially looked at courses at other London universities but I was very much put off by the expense of the course fees, and some other Russell Group universities were not particularly welcoming. When I visited Leeds on the open day it just felt right, as everyone from the School of English was so friendly and helpful from the very beginning. Leeds also offered an Excellence Scholarship of 5% discount on fees for applicants with a 1st class BA, and the city itself is very affordable for someone combining part time study with part time work.

My Masters course appealed to me due to the range of module content available and the strengths of the Brotherton Special Collections – the module on the Brontës, for example, draws heavily on the local area and objects in the archives, which added a ‘hands-on’ approach not often found in literature classes!

What is it that makes you passionate about your area of study?

The brilliant thing about English Literature is that it’s such a broad area of study: writing my dissertation I consulted criticism not just on the texts I read but on print culture, parliamentary legislation, history, digital humanities, sociology, and even economics. Literature is a gateway to so much information that it’s impossible to be bored. Victorian literature is very wide-ranging due to the increasing literacy rates of the time, so there’s such an exhaustive range of texts to engage with. It’s for that reason that I wanted to study the area more after my undergraduate degree.

What aspects of the course did you enjoy the most?

While I enjoyed the assigned reading, it was coming to the seminars that was the highlight of my week. Class sizes are deliberately small, and once we all got to know each other it felt more like a book club than a class. Everybody contributes something from their own extensive background of reading, which made discussions of the assigned texts all the richer, filling gaps in knowledge and debating critical frameworks.

What would you say about Leeds as a city?

Leeds is a fantastic city. There’s always something going on, whether it’s a food festival, an art installation, live music, a pub quiz, or a new brewery popping up! Having done my undergraduate degree in London I was afraid that I’d get bored in Leeds, but after two years I’ve still not had my fill. The little cafes and charity shops of Headingley are great, and most of the pubs sell locally brewed beers. You can go swing dancing at the Corn Exchange, visit the monthly farmers’ market at Kirkstall Abbey, experience the sights and smells of Victorian Leeds at the Thackray Museum, or take the train out to Ilkley to walk up the moors if you fancy a day out. Housing is decent and reasonably priced, and it’s such a great location – only a couple of hours on the train to London or Edinburgh, or a 45-minute flight to Dublin. I don’t regret moving to Leeds for a second.

What has been the most surprising thing about coming to Leeds?

I was pleasantly surprised by how friendly the University is. The School were great at answering any questions I had, and they make an effort to build a strong postgraduate community with welcome events and regular research seminars. In addition, the Students’ Union offer loads of events to integrate new students, including plenty of field trips, movie nights, craft workshops and more.

What would you say about the learning facilities in your School and at the University in general?

Having come from a very small university before, I was really pleased at the extent of resources available. The three campus libraries are very well stocked, and the library staff are usually happy to order any books you may need. The Brotherton Special Collections are the highlight, with so much material for Victorianists including letters to Bram Stoker, Charlotte Brontë, and Elizabeth Gaskell, and bound editions of Leeds newspapers from the period.

What other activities are available for students to take part in outside of their studies, and which ones have you tried out yourself?

There are loads of student societies to get involved with, including Stitch ’n’ Bitch, Comedy Society, A Cappella Society and Yoga Society, with various levels of commitment for those deadline-heavy periods of study. There’s also the end of year student conference, organised by Masters students to give everyone an opportunity to present their research and celebrate the end of term.

If you want to get more proactive with your studies and find out how the University works, I’d wholeheartedly recommend applying to be a representative for your School or course. I did this and my responsibilities included sitting in on Faculty meetings, reviewing module proposals for the next year, collecting student feedback, voting on motions in Students’ Union debates, and asking questions of our Vice Chancellor. It was a great experience and the Union offer loads of extra training for things like public speaking – by the end of my Masters course I’d even organised an employability event for my cohort, featuring workshops with the Careers Centre staff and various alumni, which was been a massive boost for my CV and PhD applications.

What would you say to anyone thinking of applying to your course?

Go for it! Postgraduate study is a huge jump up from undergraduate, but if you love your subject and want to learn more, it’s worth applying. If you’re concerned about fees or need to work part time the School are very supportive, and it’s great for developing time management skills. I cannot believe how much I’ve grown both intellectually and personally during my postgraduate studies, so I’ve got no regrets.

What do you plan to do now you’ve finished your course, and how do you think the skills and knowledge you’ve developed at Leeds will help with these plans?

I’m now commencing work on a PhD in the School of English with funding from The White Rose College of the Arts and Humanities (WRoCAH), of which the University is a member, and my experience so far has been very positive. My Masters allowed me to explore a variety of topics that led to my idea for my PhD – in fact, many of my research questions and current interests were generated directly from topics discussed in Masters seminars. I found the small class sizes fantastic for sounding out ideas, and talking through questions raised by the texts is not only great for developing oral communication skills but also forces you to become a confident, critical, independent thinker.