American and Canadian Studies alumni profiles

Paul Woolf, MPhil American and Canadian Studies, 2003 and PhD American and Canadian Studies, 2007

Paul WoolfPaul Woolf is Head of Development at Maverick TV. After working in production as a runner, researcher, assistant producer and producer since joining Maverick as a graduate trainee, Paul decided to do a masters and PhD in American and Canadian Studies at University of Birmingham.

During his studies, Paul also taught courses at University of Birmingham in television production, American literature, and crime fiction.

Paul said ‘I went back to Maverick TV better at my job. Working on a PhD improved my writing, researching and organisational skills.

‘Both my PhD and Masters enabled me to explore subjects that fascinated me in genuine depth and breadth. I definitely gained confidence from knowing I could see a single project through to completion over several years of work. At times it can be quite difficult to gauge how well you’re doing and there can be some self-doubt involved but it’s enormously satisfying!”

Since returning to Maverick he has originated the BBC3 series Bizarre ER, now in its fourth season, and co-developed the award-winning BBC4 documentary Sectioned.

Paul met his now wife during his first week at the University, so is indebted to University of Birmingham not just academically! He has since returned to campus to take part in careers sessions for current students.

He advises: ‘Don’t work too much in isolation. Take every opportunity your department offers and meet up with and talk to other students, whether socially or to discuss your work, and talk to your friends and family about your projects. You never know what opportunities and contacts you can make by talking to people and sharing ideas.’

Hana Lewis, American Film and Literature MPhil

Hana Lewis, American and Canadian Studies alumniHana graduated in 2005 with a BA (Hons) in English and Cultural Studies before going on to complete an MPhil in American Film and Literature* in 2007. She is currently an Exhibition and Education Executive for The Film Agency for Wales.

“My very first training role was actually on the set of the Bourne Ultimatum which was exciting but also eye opening after studying film theory at University. It was a position at Leeds International Film Festival which really sparked my enthusiasm for world cinema and gave me a better sense of direction. When I first applied to Leeds International Film Festival, it was originally as a volunteer but I was offered a position as a venue coordinator. I was told by my employer at the time that my wider knowledge of cinema and my postgraduate qualification both stood out. This was a life changing post. I discovered first-class films, met countless industry contacts and learnt important lessons about the festival circuit.

Following this, I was fortunate enough to take up a short-term post with Flatpack Film Festival, bringing me back to Birmingham. Time spent with the supportive and insightful team at 7 Inch Cinema was invaluable as it prepared me for my current role with the Film Agency for Wales. I currently work with independent venues, film festivals and film education projects for under 19's, with the aim to broaden access to specialised film for audiences and to promote a dynamic film culture in Wales and beyond.

My degree prepared me for practice in many ways. This includes the ability to think critically and strategically which is important in my current role where multiple projects run concurrently and I am required to make objective decisions about creative, critical and cultural filmmaking projects. My degree also developed my creative writing skills which I maintain whether I am completing a funding application or reviewing a film. The ability to communicate well is essential when working in an industry where you are building partnerships. Postgraduate study taught me how to stay focused under pressure and to meet deadlines in an organised way which is an important transferable skill.”

* We now offer an MA in Literature and Film.

Michael Burns, American and Canadian Studies PhD

Michael gained a PhD in American and Canadian Studies at the University of Birmingham and now works at the New York Open Center as an Online Learning Coordinator. He is also a freelance filmmaker and has created five documentaries.

“The University of Birmingham gave me a strong moral compass and the confidence to create projects, in my case films, geared toward social change. Many academic institutions can give you a degree, but what Birmingham gave me was a world-class academic experience that allowed me to research and teach amongst students, faculty, and staff who care about learning. 

My degree prepared me very well for a career in film. Every ounce of creativity I brought to my academic work was multiplied by the encouragement of those in American and Canadian Studies. I made life-long friends who continue to give me feedback on my work as I give them on theirs. The value of these types of relationships cannot be overstated.”

Michael’s most recent project looks at one of the top psychotherapies for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other disorders along the trauma/anxiety spectrum. You can read more about Michael’s project at emdrmovie.com.