Richard O'Brien


Subject Shakespeare Studies
Course PhD Shakespeare Studies
Country United Kingdom
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What, for you, are the best things about the course?

Shakespeare and Creativity — the Masters that led to my PhD — is an innovative programme which recognises the vital importance of creative responses to Shakespeare throughout history as a way of understanding his work and its impact. The course has increasingly strong links with the Royal Shakespeare Company, giving students valuable access to contemporary practitioners at the top of their field. It rewards imagination and teamwork, and is always thinking beyond the academy about how to bring your ideas and research into the wider world. My PhD in Birmingham builds on those foundations, but also allows me to work in a vibrant, thriving, creative city!

Do you have anything lined up for once you have completed your degree?

I’ve been very lucky to have found a job, teaching Creative Writing here at Birmingham. It’s a post for ten months, so I may be on the move again soon, but I know lots of people in the department and it’s a good fit for me. Right now I’m hoping to stay in academia in whatever capacity I can while continuing to work creatively, and I have a couple of writing projects I’m hoping to complete and send out into the world in the coming months.

Can you describe your journey from school to where you are now?

After school I went straight to university, in Oxford, to study English and French. I wasn’t sure I wanted to keep studying, and I lived in France for a year after graduating, working for a radio station. I decided I missed having the intellectual stimulation of academia, and applied for some Masters in contemporary literature – but my interest in older work kept pulling me back. Once I’d found the right (funded!) Masters for me, it seemed like the most logical thing to keep going and exploring my two subjects further. It also gave me space to pursue my creative work without fitting it around a full-time job…

Why did you choose the University of Birmingham?

The most basic answer is that I was offered funding: I couldn’t afford to study without support, and I was lucky to be awarded the AE Hills postgraduate scholarship and subsequently an AHRC research grant. It’s important to be honest about the role finances play in these kinds of decisions: doing a PhD without funding can be very stressful and a strain on your health. But I’m glad I came here: the city has a rich history and a dynamic contemporary culture, and I love walking along the canals and getting a sense of the ways this place has been at the forefront of so much cultural change.

What was your motivation for undertaking postgraduate study?

I wanted to find ways to combine my academic interests with my experience in creative writing, and the MA course I found at the Shakespeare Institute, in Shakespeare and Creativity, was a perfect way to keep doing both. My PhD, for which I’m writing and experimenting with the form of verse drama, was a natural evolution from that course. I was lucky not to have to choose between the two sides of my career, and I think even for people working in more purely creative fields it’s good to have time and space to reflect on why we do the work we do.