Ellen Addis – PhD English Literature

Midlands4Cities funded English Literature PhD student Ellen Addis is researching the Hay Festival and how literature is experienced collectively in a digital age. We found out more about her experience as a researcher at the University of Birmingham. 

ellen-addisWhy did you choose to study for a PhD in English Literature?

“Purely because I love reading! My PhD is a bit different in that it is a Collaborative Doctoral Award (CDA) with the literary festival Hay Festival funded by Midlands4Cities, meaning that I work and do research with the organisation. I saw my particular PhD advertised on Hay Festival’s Facebook page and knew immediately that it was perfect for me. The project already had a brief overview which appealed to me as it combined all the research interests that I’d explored at MA and undergraduate level: place-based studies, audience and performance studies, reading, book history, and the close reading of books. At the core of my project is the joy of reading and spaces which bring readers together. To be able to write, read, and talk about books all day every day is a dream and I’m so grateful that this project exists, it feels like it was made for me.”

Why did you choose to undertake research at the University of Birmingham?

“I am originally from Stourbridge, so the West Midlands is my home. I have friends who had gone to the University of Birmingham for undergrad and thoroughly enjoyed it. When I spoke to them it was clear that Birmingham carves out time and space for everyone at every level at the university. I have been at universities in the past that this hasn’t been the case, so feeling included in a community was hugely important to me, especially as PhDs can be solitary.”

What are the best things about your course?

“Above everything, the support that I get from my supervisors, Dr Rebecca Roach and Professor Alexandra Harris, is unrivalled. At every point in the process, from my interview to now, they have both treated me kindly and pushed me to expand my thoughts, creativity, and what I think is possible with the project. Without them, it would be a completely different PhD and I would be a completely different researcher. I cannot thank them enough for the support and encouragement that they give me. On top of this, taking part in reading groups like Page Breaks has allowed me to meet other PhD students virtually, and my work at the university outside of my research has introduced me to lots of interesting people with fascinating research.”

What is life like as a researcher at the University of Birmingham?

“Exciting! I currently live in London so I am a little distanced from the buzz of the campus, but when I return, I am able to quickly immerse myself in the research culture through the lovely library. The updates from the university bulletins, the graduate school’s events like Shut Up and Work, and the library skills sessions have been helpful in equipping me with a strong skillset for my PhD. The flexibility of being a researcher at Birmingham suits me too as I am able to organise my time exactly how I like to.”

What support have you received during your PhD?

"I’ve had wonderful support from both my supervisors at Birmingham and my supervisor Adrian Lambert at Hay Festival. I’ve also found my PGR mentor Dr Matthew Ward very supportive and helpful in encouraging me to integrate into the UoB community. Dr Ward and Professor Harris introduced me to other UoB English Literature PhD students, who I have regular catchups where we talk all things PhD and non-PhD related. Having this peer support network has been so important during the pandemic where I haven’t met any other students in person since beginning at Birmingham in October 2020. And hopefully I’ll meet them in-person soon!”

Outside of your research, what experience have you gained and how will it help you in the future?

“This summer I worked with the university graduate school in their comms and engagement team conducting research for their social media. I had done some comms work in the past, but I loved that this role combined my research skills with that experience. This job has given me experience in social media output and also analytics, which I hope will help me in my career post-PhD as I want to work with literary festivals, and I believe that online community engagement is vital in creating a successful literary festival.

"Furthermore, I did a short placement this spring with the UoB research centre the Centre for Contemporary Literature (CCLC) which is run by Dr Amy Burge and Dr Rachel Sykes. As part of this, I helped organise an event with Hay Festival and wrote up articles about CCLC’s own events with Kevin Brazil and Jessica Pressman. As part of this role, I also interviewed Dr Burge and Dr Sykes in a ‘CCLC Profile’ feature, which has given me very useful interview experience that I’m taking into my PhD right now as I begin my research interviews with Hay Festival staff.

"The final experience that I’ve gained outside of my research is with the research network run by Professor Harris and Dr Jessica Fay, Arts of Place. This network is concerned with all things landscape and locality, and as part of my role in the summer placement, I helped organise a special drawing workshop we ran with the land artist Julie Brook. This was an incredibly exciting experience for me as I liaised with Julie and our attendees, organising the event’s logistics including sending out materials, and took part in the unique workshop myself. Flexing my creativity in this role with Arts of Place has been a real treat and I cannot wait to continue working with the network into the new Autumn term. I am grateful for all of these opportunities as they have allowed me to meet lots of amazing people (albeit virtually!) and learn more about the work and research going on at Birmingham and further afield.”

Is there anything about studying for a PhD that you know now, but wish you had known before you started?

“You need to take steps to build your own community around you, or else you might feel quite lonely. Having people that you can talk to who are experiencing the same things is incredibly important and should not be undermined! Sending people emails out of the blue is fine to do, and often people will appreciate the effort that you take to reach out.”

Find out more about our PhD English Literature programme over on our course pages.