Hi, I’m Jess and I’m currently undertaking the MA by Research, a one-year course which involves writing a 50,000 word thesis. I’m going to conduct a series of interviews for the MLAC Postgraduate Blog so that potential research students can find out more about life in Durham. I realised that I couldn’t and didn’t want to interview myself for this blog so instead I spoke to Jess Zarraga and Matt Hilborn, both of whom are undertaking their MA by Research in Spanish Studies.
Tell me a little bit about yourselves and your research.
Jess: I studied Spanish and Italian here in Durham as an undergraduate. My project is about Queen Isabella and self-fashioning of identity; I’m looking at how much this can be controlled through literature and focusing on a wide range of texts including historical, religious, and didactic writing.
Matt: Before I came to Durham I read English and Spanish at Oxford and then spent a year studying in Spain. My Master’s focuses on humour under Franco and how it is used in narrative and film to subvert existing ideology and to overcome censorship.
What made you decide to do your MA in Durham?
Jess: I was already familiar with Durham and the department and my supervisors were the best fit for my project; I wanted to be in a department where there was lots of research relevant to my own.
Matt: Yes, my supervisors’ research was a deciding factor for me too. They were also brilliant at replying to emails whilst I was applying and I was awarded a Faculty MA Bursary; both of these things were encouraging and helped me to make my decision.
Other than writing your thesis, what do you hope to achieve whilst in Durham?
Jess: I’m from Newcastle so am interested in getting more involved in the local community as opposed to sticking to student life. I’d also like to do more within the faculty and learn how it all works.
Matt: I’m also interested in finding out more about the faculty because it’ll be useful in helping me pursue an academic career. I’m a keen singer and hockey player so I want to make sure I keep those hobbies up over the course of the year.
Where do you hope your MA will lead?
Jess: To a PhD, after which I want to pursue an academic career and hopefully, one day, have my own students to supervise.
Matt: So would I, but I’m also interested in journalism. In fact, I write for Palatinate about books, theatre, film, and television so could also see myself pursuing something along those lines in the future.
Would you recommend doing an MA at Durham?
Jess: Absolutely! Firstly, the department and the people in it are excellent and it’s hard to meet a student who doesn’t want to get involved in extracurriculars and university life. Durham’s also a picturesque city with easy access to other cities and there’s so much to do in the local area.
Matt: Definitely! Durham is a collegiate university, therefore everyone is part of a smaller community with lots of opportunities to get involved as well as having the department and the university. The faculty is great, as is the city; we have a really nice work-life balance here. Also, it’s much less pressurised than undergraduate life was; you’re doing your own thing so tend not to compare yourself to other students so much.
Do you have any advice for potential MA by Research students?
Jess: Pick a topic that genuinely interests you and not something that you think will get you a job. Research the colleges thoroughly in order to pick the one that’s right for you.
Matt: If you decide to rent privately, the Students’ Union offers great advice about accommodation. Get in touch with potential supervisors before applying. This shows that you’re interested and also that they would be interested in working with you. Don’t feel inferior: your idea is good and should be pursued.
Interviewed by Jess Allen.