Why did you choose your course at the University of Birmingham?

I knew before beginning my search for postgraduate degrees that I was keen for the chance to push myself academically through studying in a predominantly self-directed environment. More importantly, I wanted carry out research that asked questions which fell either in between, or totally outside of, standard disciplinary boundaries. The project idea I developed blends sociolinguistics with history, war studies, and a bit of demography, and relies specifically on the interplay of those elements to analyse the causes of Welsh language decay in the Second World War. The MRes in Interdisciplinary Study at Birmingham was the only program I found in months of searching that offered the freedom to pursue properly Interdisciplinary projects, and encouraged students to expand their thinking beyond the standard scope of a single discipline. Developing a proposal with my subject supervisor and meeting some of the Liberal Arts and Natural Sciences team during the application process solidified the uniqueness of the research culture at Birmingham, which I found hugely appealing.

What have been your highlights so far in undertaking your research and why?

This project has allowed me to spend an inordinate amount of time reading and thinking about the ways individual “ordinary” people experienced war and how that does (or often doesn’t) fit with the glossy, nation-level narratives. It’s easy to forget that people going about their lives 80 years ago were just as sarcastic, crass, bored, loving, and human as anyone you would meet today. A lovely example of this is the number of Mass Observation diarists who, by 1943, stoically declared they would rather risk a direct hit in a bombing raid than get out of a warm bed on a winter’s night to take cover in a shelter.

In terms of support, our core module ‘The World of Interdisciplinary Research’ has been an invaluable weekly reminder that having a niche doesn’t excuse you from trialling new angles and research methods. My supervisors have provided excellent support by fuelling my existing ideas, and offering examples from their own work which has helped me think more laterally about my central questions.

What have you learnt from your course?

This course has taught me how to confidently articulate what my research question is, what it actually means, why I think it’s worth caring about, and how it may be of benefit to people in the future. I’ve also learnt, through talks from a wide array of Birmingham’s academic staff, that specialism in researchers is important, but so is diversification, and it is a willingness to branch out that often leads to valuable and innovative collaborations with fascinating results.

What has surprised you most about being a student at the University of Birmingham?

I have been very surprised by the amount of support given to each individual students. Having done most of my undergraduate studies outside of the UK, the concept of personal tutors alongside department and subject supervisors is completely new to me, and at the beginning of the year, helped me feel like I was part of the University community far quicker than I would have done otherwise.