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PhD Success: Sophia Xiao

Dr Sophia Xiao recently completed her PhD thesis (‘Rethinking Binarism in Translation Studies. A Case Study of Translating the Chinese Nobel Laureates of Literature’) in Translation Studies in MLAC. We asked her to tell her more about her research, her future plans and her time in Durham.


Congratulations on your PhD! Can you tell us more about your subject? What have you been researching?

I did my PhD in Translation Studies. My project looks at the ways language is used to discuss translation. I am questioning the binaries in our theory of translation; as a matter of fact, we always talk about translations in terms of set opposites (the author and the translator; the source and the target, etc.) In my work, I use case studies of real life literary translators to show that, in the actual practice, in the industry, translation involves a lot of interpersonal processes. For example, a translator can be involved in the creation of a source text. Moreover, to produce the actual translated product, people like editors and publishers can also get involved. The case studies I picked are the translation of the work of two Chinese Nobel laureates into English: Mo Yan and Gao Xingjian


 Why are you interested in this topic? What led you to pursue this area?

My MA thesis focussed on the translation of one of the Nobel laureate but only textual comparison. Nonetheless, I found that the Chinese and English texts were drastically different, which made me question the actual process of the translation, notably who is involved in the decision process, etc.


 Can you tell us a bit more about your background?

I have studied translation as an undergraduate in Honk Kong and then I came to Durham for the MA in Translation Studies. My undergraduate programme in Honk King was very practice based so it was the MA here that got me interested in translation theory. Then MLAC offered to sponsor my studies so I stayed for my PhD.


How did you arrive in Durham? What brought you here?

I always wanted to come to the UK. I was looking at UK programmes in translation studies, there was not that many and Durham was the one with the most beautiful city so I came here.


What did you particularly enjoy during your time in Durham?

The city itself, the college system. The way the university is integrated into the historical city.


What was the hardest thing you had to adapt to here?

Academically, because of the nature of the programme, I had to undertake lot of self-study, even in the MA (especially when compared to my undergraduate studies). The most challenging part was to self-motivate and keep faith in my subject.
More generally, in Honk Kong, everything is very convenient, you have an immediate access to everything. In Durham, the shops shut down early, it’s a much quieter life here!


What are you up to now? What are your future plans?

I’m graduating in January but I still teach the interpreting course in the MA in Translation here in MLACK. In parallel I am looking for academic jobs in both Honk Kong and the UK. I have always been a freelance translator and I recently built my own website ( so I may also be starting a business. I am still looking at ways to promote it!


Finally, which advice would you like to give to current or future PhD students in MLAC?

Be organised! Always make sure that you are engaged with your project on a daily basis. Keep writing, write from the beginning, even if you feel you have not read everything you need. Your thesis will take another course while you write so you might not need everything you read. I would say that most of my research happened after I started writing!


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