The Department of Modern Languages has a long and distinguished history of supporting postgraduate students who have gone on to have successful careers. We spoke to some of our alumni about their experience at the University of Birmingham and how this has helped them in their careers.
Dr Holly Foss
Dr Holly Foss is a lecturer in Railway Systems Education within the School of Engineering and Director of Education for Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education.
Holly says, "Whilst the subject matter of my PhD research on life-writing by female political prisoners in Franco´s Spain might seem quite removed from my current position, my doctoral studies provided me with a valuable range of skills in higher education encompassing research and project management, teaching and learning, and invaluable critical thinking and analytical skills.
"The experiences gained through my PhD, including running a research group and an annual conference, leading my own research, and teaching across a range of undergraduate and postgraduate modules, have been vital to the establishment of my career within academia.
"After completing my PhD I worked on a number of teaching fellow positions in various departments and institutions through which I further solidified my interest and value in teaching and learning and its leadership within higher education. I then moved to my lectureship in 2018, seizing the opportunity to continue developing my experience in higher education leadership through a focus on programme design, development, and delivery.
"I now lead a number of postgraduate programmes, modules, and committees within the School of Engineering and also have my own PhD students; throughout, I use my humanities background to bring an enhanced critical lens to engineering education. My PhD focus on gender and sexuality studies remains embedded within my work through my roles in EDI committees and as a College Wellbeing Champion."
Dr Antonia Wimbush
Dr Antonia Wimbush graduated from her PhD in Modern Languages in 2018 and is currently a Leverhulme Research Fellow in Caribbean Postcolonial Culture at University of Liverpool.
Antonia says, "I thoroughly enjoyed my doctoral studies at Birmingham and I had so many different opportunities for professional development, both at the university and beyond. I led seminars in the French department on French history and society, and I also worked as a tutor at the Academic Skills Centre in the library, giving students one-to-sessions to help them enhance their study skills and academic writing. I also presented my work at national and international conferences – I was particularly fortunate to visit Adelaide where I presented my work on migration and mobility at the Australian Society for French Studies Annual Conference in 2016.
"A highlight of my PhD experience was the research trip that I took to Martinique with my supervisor, which was a brilliant experience! I used my time there to carry out contextual research about migration from the French Caribbean to mainland France. I also took part in my supervisor’s impact events in schools and museums on Martinican author Joseph Zobel which had been organised to commemorate the centenary of his birth – this was an excellent introduction to public engagement and impact work.
"During my doctoral studies I also made connections with other researchers from beyond Birmingham. I was the postgraduate representative for the Society for Francophone Postcolonial Studies, an international organisation which promotes research on colonial and postcolonial studies in the French-speaking world. I organised a postgraduate study day for the society which was held at Birmingham in June 2016, and this was a great way to meet other researchers and learn about the fascinating research taking place in other institutions.
"I would definitely recommend getting involved in as many activities as you can, while not neglecting your thesis obviously! These projects certainly enriched my time at Birmingham."
Dr Maria Alempi
"Studying in Birmingham was one of the greatest opportunities of my life. I loved everything: from the campus to the organization, to the staff, to my supervisors (Dr Charlotte Ross and Professor Rob Stone) who accompanied me on this extraordinary journey. The research was demanding, of course. I started with the selection of sources and literature, the methodology, I evaluated the various approaches, up to the formulation of my hypotheses and the drafting of my project.
"Thanks to the contacts I made during my PhD, I already have a postdoc research position. In the last year, despite the pandemic and having online supervisions, there was a strong sense of community and I got lots of excellent experience participating in and co-organising research events. I will miss Birmingham!"
Dr Emily Oliver, English and German Studies PhD, 2013
Dr Emily Oliver graduated with a PhD in English and German Studies in 2013. She is now working as a researcher at King’s College London on a project investigating cultural life in the British and American occupied zones of post war Germany.
Emily says, "My PhD focused on productions of Shakespeare in East Germany during reunification. Although I was based at the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-upon-Avon, it was clear from the outset that this would be an interdisciplinary project with a supervisor in each department. My experience was a thoroughly positive one. My supervisor in the German Department, Dr Nicholas Martin, worked very closely with my other supervisor providing helpful guidance and support throughout my four years at Birmingham. My supervisors also kindly agreed to run a mock viva for me, so that I eventually went into the viva feeling confident and well-prepared."
"The University of Birmingham also gave me the opportunity of teaching on the undergraduate German module "Texts in Context" for two consecutive years, which enabled me to meet some of the other staff in the department. My colleagues were very friendly, helpful, and supportive, and I was impressed with the department’s organisation and efficiency."
"During my PhD, the University of Birmingham hosted one of the annual DAAD German Studies Summer Schools - a three-day postgraduate conference, which proved both informative and fun. I got to meet other PhDs working in my area, and was also given the opportunity of chairing panels and generally helping out with the smooth running of the conference."
"Working as a researcher at King’s College London is a job I could not have got without the strong interdisciplinary nature of my research fostered during my time at Birmingham!"
Dr Alex Standen, Italian Studies PhD, 2011
"My thesis examined contemporary author Dacia Maraini’s political commitment through her engagement with the issue of gender violence.
"The four years of my PhD were amongst the most stimulating, challenging and enjoyable that I have known. Being part of a large and active postgraduate community was one of the key factors in my experience: family and friends warned me before I began that researching would be a solitary existence, but I found it quite the contrary. Birmingham offers a huge number of opportunities for its doctoral researchers, including teaching, training in research skills, joining reading groups, acting as postgraduate representatives and organising and attending conferences. I was also part of a group of students who helped design the new Research Skills module, where I felt that my opinions were really valued. I am now working as a teaching fellow at the University of Auckland, New Zealand; I am in no doubt that my time as a doctoral researcher at Birmingham both influenced my choice to continue working in academia and prepared me extremely well for all the challenges of my new role."
Noor Balfaqeeh, MA Translation Studies, 2009
Noor Balfaqeeh (MA Translation Studies) graduated in 2009 through open distance learning.
Noor took up the programme to improve her translation skills while working at a university in Saudi Arabia which teaches all its programs using English . In less than a year after earning the master degree, she was appointed the Manager of Communication and Public Relations Department of Effat University, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
In spite of being a working mother with three children, Noor achieved a Masters’ qualification with merit. She enjoyed the privilege of the wide range of online resources that are available on the BHAM E-Library. In addition, the program flexibility and the supervisors' supportive approach helped her continue doing her best. She believes that her studies were a life experience that not only added to her academic growth but to her life long-learning skills.
"The best time I spent was collecting the data for my dissertation," Noor said. "I felt so proud when explaining the idea of my research and how my research may add to the translation movement in the country."
Noor appreciated the bank of assignments which bridges the gap with colleagues and professors on a distance learning course. "Reading how colleagues tackled the same paper assignment in different ways on a virtual discussion board helped to broaden our knowledge," Noor said.
Rachel Luckman, French Studies PhD, 2009
Rachel graduated with a BA (Hons) degree in French Studies at The University of Birmingham in 2001, then went on to study an MPhil in 2003, a PhD in 2009, and is now an Associate Lecturer in French Studies at the University.
“I loved my studies at Birmingham; I felt challenged and rewarded. Being a mature student, I had been worried about fitting in and making friends, but everyone at Birmingham was welcoming and encouraged me greatly. There was never any doubt in my mind that I wanted to go on to Postgraduate Study, and was lucky to get Professor Crossley (now an Emeritus Professor) as my supervisor. With his help, and the guidance of my mentor, Professor Birkett, I not only got a studentship from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, but also got the Constance Naden Prize for my MPhil thesis. But I knew there was ‘more’ I needed to say, so went on to do a PhD on Flaubert and Proust, and in fact, received a national award, from the British Fellowship of Women Graduates, for my research. I began lecturing as a PG, and have continued on a part-time basis.”
Kanshi H Sato, French Studies PhD, 2009
Kanshi graduated with a PhD in French Studies in 2009 and now teaches undergraduate students at several universities in Japan, as a part-time lecturer. She mainly teaches English as a foreign language, as well as cultural/literary theory, postcolonial studies and translation and supervises undergraduate dissertations on utopian literature.
“Learning a foreign language is difficult and time-consuming, but it is also exciting as it broadens your points of view and common knowledge/sense. It can also develop your potential career path in this globalised age - the diverse options offered by the department and the University of Birmingham were the most significant merits on my CV when I applied for my current role.”