Spotlight on Students: Hannah Simpson

hannah simpson

I did my undergraduate degree in English Literature and French at St Hilda’s College in Oxford, and then went to the US for two years to do my Masters. I didn’t necessarily expect to end up back at Oxford for my PhD, but I soon realised how much the work I saw being done in the Faculty during my undergraduate years has shaped my own research interests. It ended up making sense to come back to the institution where that research is being supported and developed.

The great advantage that I’ve found to an Oxford DPhil is the sheer range of scholarship going on here. There’s such a wide array of not only expertise but also strong interdisciplinary work in the English Faculty, and organisations like TORCH (The Oxford Research Centre for the Humanities) make it so easy to engage with the other faculties in the university. I work on the theatrical representation of physical pain in post-World War II theatre, with a particular focus on Samuel Beckett and his Francophone contemporaries, and it would be much more difficult to do this kind of project in a less interdisciplinary faculty or university. There are fantastic theatre and modern literature scholars (including my own supervisor, Susan Jones) and medical humanities scholars in the English Faculty, and so much exchange with the Modern Languages Faculty, the History Faculty and the Wellcome Unit here; this has made my project not only possible but profoundly more exciting.

The faculty is also very supportive of our professional development as DPhil candidates. There’s a healthy awareness of how tough the Humanities job market is for early-career scholars at the moment, and we’re given lots of encouragement to work on projects beyond our dissertations to aid our professional development. I’m currently organising a medical humanities conference in the faculty along with another English DPhil candidate Patrick Burley, for example. We’ve received with financial aid from TORCH and AHRC, and the English Faculty is allowing us not only to use their premises but also to run our account through the faculty and bounce our event planning ideas off them. Faculty Finance Officer Katie MacCurrach may be the most patient woman in all of England, and without her advice our conference would be looking much more chaotic than it currently does!

The faculty also offers a teaching mentoring scheme and PLTO training course to allow DPhil candidates to start building up their teaching experience. Working with the undergraduate students here is a real joy – they’re a fantastically dedicated and insightful bunch. Engaging with them and their work really brightens up an otherwise long day of writing! The same is true of the other DPhil candidates in the English Faculty. It’s a great thing to be surrounded by motivated colleagues doing their own interesting research. There’s a real culture of support and collaboration in the department: I’m currently co-editing a journal special issue with another DPhil student and have just organised a Faculty lecture series with another DPhil colleague, for example, and many of us will ‘peer review’ each other’s work before it gets sent for publication, or send a conference call for proposals over to someone who might be interested in it. It’s a fantastic place to start an academic career.

Hannah Simpson,2 nd Year DPhil student