Publications, progress reviews and teaching: a year in the life of a PhD student

This semester seems to be flying past and it doesn’t entirely seem possible that we should already be a week or so away from our mid-semester break. Our Year 1 students have just received feedback on the essays they wrote as part of our package of Bridging Materials, assessment deadlines are starting to fall for this semester’s modules, the schedule of films for Stirling’s section of the French Film Festival has made its way into the MacRobert programme… Against that busy backdrop, it’s good to get a chance to reflect on what a year in the life of French at Stirling can look like, from the perspective of one of our PhD students, Fraser McQueen who has very kindly made time to send us this blog post:

“I came back to Stirling to start my Ph.D in French Studies in October 2016, having originally graduated with a degree in French and History in 2014 before going to St Andrews to do an MLitt in French Studies and then spending a year teaching English as a lecteur at the Université de Toulon. I came back to Stirling mostly because I thought that it was the best place in Scotland for my project, given the department’s strategic focus on colonial and postcolonial studies, but also because I’d enjoyed my time here before. If it seems like a year is a long time to leave it before writing a blog post, I’m the only one to blame: I’ve been promising to do this for several months now!

I’ve just passed the first year review of my Ph.D, which means that I’m officially allowed to progress into the second year: the review process, during which I had to answer questions from three academics on the work I’ve produced so far, was quite stressful but also very helfpul in showing me the areas in which I still have a lot of work to do.

Overall, I’ve enjoyed the first year of my Ph.D. I research representations of Islamophobia and coexistence in contemporary French literature and film: I believe that this is an extremely important subject, and it’s been great to have the chance to research it in depth.

I’ve also enjoyed the other opportunities that come with doing a Ph.D: I’ve presented at three conferences and had four articles published in The Conversation, a news and opinion website via which academics from Ph.D level upwards are able to share their research with a non-specialist audience. This is something that I’ve particularly enjoyed: I think that it’s important to communicate academic research to people outside of academia, particularly with projects like mine, and The Conversation is a great way to do that. Writing for non-specialists has also really helped me to write more clearly: I used to have a bad habit of writing huge sentences filled with jargon, which their professional editors wouldn’t allow. Although I can’t use the exact same style for my academic writing as I would in The Conversation, the experience of needing to be more concise has definitely helped and I’d strongly recommend that other Ph.D students try writing for them.

I also had my first journal article published in Modern and Contemporary France last week, which I’m really pleased with. Getting it through peer review was a very long process – I originally submitted it last November – but I feel that the article is much better for it. I also had a book review published in Modern and Contemporary France earlier in the year, and am now working on another journal article which I hope to submit elsewhere in the next month or so. I’m enjoying all of this, but trying to balance it all out with actually doing my research and writing my thesis can be tricky at times!

Problems balancing my workload and the occasional stress of writing to one side, though, I’ve really enjoyed the first year of my Ph.D. Over the next year I’m hoping to get draft versions of four of my thesis chapters written: it’ll be a challenge, especially given that I’m now also teaching undergraduates, but it’s one that I’m looking forward to.”

Many thanks to Fraser for taking the time to write this and congratulations on the progress review success, as well as on the publications front!

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Semester in Quebec: Ice fishing, underground tunnels and independence

Last Thursday’s get-together for our Year 3 and 4 students and our HNU Translation and Interpreting class was a chance for them to exchange thoughts and tips on Study Abroad as our finalists (across all degree programmes) settle back in here and our 3rd years get ready for their own departures next semester. With that in mind, it seemed like a good time to get an account of Semester Abroad from one of our students who has returned from furthest afield. Rachel Talbot – who is just starting her final year in French and Journalism – spent her Spring semester at our partner Laval University in Quebec, partly thanks to funding from Santander which is vital to our students who opt for non-EU (so non-Erasmus) locations. As you’ll see in the account that follows, there’s much more to Study Abroad than just an opportunity to see what another University system is like:

‘From 5th January until 1st May 2017 I had the opportunity to study at Laval University in Quebec City. I had never been to the Americas before and flying from Scotland to Iceland onto Toronto and then Quebec was a huge journey in itself. I had heard Quebec City described as s a ‘Piece of Europe in North America’. Unlike the grid like road maps and blocked buildings of most North American cities, Quebec has an ‘Old Town’ and small, winding cobbled streets and architecture which makes it a gem in the North.

2017 Rachel Talbot Château Montmorency pic
Château Montmorency

I attended the FLE Language School at Laval University which meant I had 16 hours a week. I enjoyed having that much contact time and the course, especially my public speaking class, boosted my confidence greatly speaking French and aided my advancement in the language massively.

At Laval University there is a huge international community (I didn’t meet a single fellow British citizen while I was there!) and it was incredible to meet students from all round the world. Everyone was so open and friendly on their Study Abroad experience that I was lucky enough to have a good group of friends from the very first day!

2017 Rachel Talbot Ice Hotel
Ice Hotel

Not only did the Language school organise my classes but they organised activities at least three times a week, every week. With FLE I was lucky enough to visit the Quebec Parliament, the “Cabane de sucre”, (a traditional French-Canadian restaurant where everything was smothered in Maple Syrup!), the incredible Ice Hotel and many other brilliant landmarks.

 

Living in Quebec is definitely not for the faint-hearted, with the temps reaching -25c! At first we found it bizarre to have to leave for a night out with full snow boots and a ski jacket. However, our university was connected by tunnels so you could go to the gym, class, even the pub without stepping a foot outside. This took some getting used to but added to the experience. Despite the cold, to see everything blanketed in snow was a beautiful sight.

2017 Rachel Talbot Underground Tunnels
Inside the underground tunnels
2017 Rachel Talbot Falls of Montmorency
Montmorency Falls

With the amount of snow there were lots of opportunities to try out new winter activities such as skiing, dog sledding, ice skating and ice fishing. We managed to do all these activities at discounted prices through the university – you could basically try a new sport weekly. We also became massive Ice Hockey fans and had the chance to watch the local team play many times – a massive highlight for us all! I did try my hand at skiing in Vermont and despite thinking I was a natural, I managed to break my collar bone on the second day. Having to be tobogganed down the hill and treated in an American Hospital has become a good story to tell – but definitely sabotaged my budding Ice Hockey Career!

 

I lived in Quebec for 4 months and during that time my friends and I managed to do a lot of travelling. As Quebec is positioned very well in North America we took the chance to visit to New York, Boston and Vermont. This was something I had always dreamed of doing and I couldn’t have achieved if I had chosen to stay in Europe. Buses were cheap and we had a week off for Spring Break so it was fantastic to see some of the States as well as Canada.

2017 Rachel Talbot Spring Break
Spring Break in New York and Boston

We found the Quebec people warm and friendly. The history of Quebec and how it was founded and formed interested me hugely and I decided to do a comparison project for my coursework examining how Scotland and Quebec have both bid for independence in the past. I managed to gain a huge insight into Quebec and its culture through this research. It was definitely an amazing experience which came at the right time during my four years of University as it has only motivated me to master this fascinating language even more. I would never have had such a perfect chance to visit North America either while still studying towards my degree. For this I am so thankful to the University and I look forward to visiting Quebec again soon!’

2017 Rachel Talbot Skating

Many thanks to Rachel for taking the time to send us this great post and we look forward to more tales from Quebec from future Study Abroad students!

2017 Rachel Talbot Quebec Ice Carnival
The Quebec Ice Festival

 

Strasbourg Summer School Tales

Back in June, a small group of our students were lucky enough to be able to attend the annual Summer School organised by our partners at the Ecole de Management in Strasbourg, an opportunity that gave them a chance to spend time in a beautiful city but also to benefit from fantastic classes and visits to European institutions and much else besides. Nick, Paloma and Stefano are now all back in Stirling and they’ve each sent their own take on the experiences in Strasbourg.

2017 Oct Strasbourg Stefano Pic IFor Stefano, ‘one of the most thrilling aspects of our Summer School was the possibility to go on business trips to the European Institutions that are located in Strasbourg. Within our first ten days there, our group was invited to visit the Council of Europe, the continent’s oldest political organisation, founded in 1949. It was exciting to experience such an institutional and international atmosphere! Once we got there through the beautiful surroundings of Strasbourg’s diplomatic area, we managed to explore the building with its famous Hemicycle and we also got the chance to attend a conference on “The role of the Council of Europe in the European Political Architecture”. It is perhaps worth mentioning some key facts about this vital institution in Europe. The Council itself groups together 47 countries, including 21 countries from Central Eastern Europe and it currently has one more application from Monaco. Moreover, the Council has granted “observer status” to 5 external countries (US, Canada, the Holy See, Mexico and Japan). Broadly speaking, the Council is distinct from the European Union, but no member state has ever been part of the Union without joining the Council of Europe in the first place.’

2017 Oct Strasbourg Stefano Pic II
Stefano, Paloma and another Stirling student, Annika, visiting from her internship in Germany

 

Stefano also points out that the EU’s motto (United in diversity) fits very well with their entire programme of classes and visits: ‘ As a group of 30 students from, almost literally, all over the world, we had first-hand experience of how so many different countries can work within European Institutions. For instance, just one week after our visit to the Council of Europe we got the chance to explore the European Parliament, the only directed body of the EU. Most importantly, we were lucky enough to attend real sessions and debates of the Parliament over the following week; throughout these experiences we got a strong sense of how the Parliament elaborates community laws and how strongly its relations are intertwined with those of the European Commission and the Council of Ministers.’

2017 Sept Strasbourg Paloma Pic IFrom Paloma’s perspective, the cultural, geographical and linguistic aspects of the month in France were as important as the access to elements of the structures of the EU. ‘Strasbourg is a mixture of two cultures, French and German, perfectly balanced. Generally, the French were friendly and easy to talk to (as long as you were trying to speak in French…), however body language and gestures were required if our French wasn’t enough. Also, a large proportion of the older generations spoke German (or the alsacien dialect).

It is an adorable city, the perfect size, not too big, not too small. Sightseeing in Strasbourg was hence relatively easy: from the cathedral and la Petite France to the Parc de l’Orangerie (a mini zoo) a few blocks away from the school and the Place Kléber with the main shopping area. The first Sunday of the month gives you free access to some cultural spots, so we took advantage and visited a few museums, the cathedral tower and its astronomical clock.

As Strasbourg is located very centrally, we could easily travel around to Nancy, Colmar, Obernai, and even Zurich and Karlsruhe. However, its central location and its position as the seat of many EU institutions means that living expenses are quite high, so we took the tram line to Kehl in Germany to do our weekly groceries.

2017 Sept Strasbourg Paloma Pic II
Stefano, Paloma and Nick

 

Local cuisine included tarte flambée (dough bread covered with cheese, crème fraiche, onion and bacon), baeckeoffe (casserole with vegetables, pork, beef and lamb cooked slowly in white wine), kouglof (bread-cake that is displayed in the window of every bakery in Strasbourg) and lots of white wine. Local farmers’ markets in the street parallel to our accommodation every Saturday had everything from yogurt, fruit and vegetables, bread, flowers, to second-hand clothes and pots and pans. The boulangerie was a few blocks away from the school; in the morning you could see the French queueing for the bread of the day.

On the 21st of June, we experienced La Fête de la Musique. Once a year, the city transforms into an “open concert” with music for all tastes. A different band plays in every corner downtown Strasbourg. For us (as Paloma is of Mexican origin), some of the highlights of the night were an Ecuadorian duo and a Brazilian party.’

And finally, from Nick’s point of view, it was the mix of classroom-based learning and extra-curricular activities that really stands out: ‘During my month in Strasbourg all students had a significant number of classes alongside the social activities most of us took part in outside of the curriculum. The classes were divided into several different subjects: European Integration, French Language and Business, which included Marketing, HRM and other topics.

Most classes were quite intense and well-structured. They were also very interesting and engaging (for the most part) with the only downside being the teaching rooms which did not have air conditioning or any real ventilation. It can get very hot in France during summer…

Some of the courses included some very cool field trips, such as a visit to the Europa Park, which was supposedly related to the business part of the course. It wasn’t really, as we spent most of the day on awesome rides (or queueing for them), but unsurprisingly nobody complained about that.

I feel it is maybe important to let future participants of summer school know that the amount of class in hours per week is significantly more than most of us will be used to from UK universities. This, however, is no issue at all, as self-study time is kept at a minimum and most classes are very informative and highly enjoyable, with lecturers from all over the world (Ireland, the US, Poland, France, etc.).

I can personally say that I genuinely learned a lot about the EU, European culture and French language during my stay in Strasbourg. I loved the outside activities and the group we were in was amazing and very international. The lecturers were entertaining, clever and left us all with an unexpectedly large amount of knowledge. I would recommend Strasbourg summer school to anyone at any educational level and from any background based on my experience this past summer.’

Many thanks, indeed, to Nick, Paloma and Stefano for sharing their experiences and their photos from the Summer School. Having also had the pleasure of visiting colleagues at EMS in September, it’s particularly nice to be able to confirm that it really is a great place to send time so thanks to the students and to colleagues at EMS for having made us all feel welcome!

Language Ambassadors at Cathkin High

2017 Oct Dodds Downey Limoges PicFollowing on from the general update on French news, a great, positive account of a Student Language Ambassadors’ visit to Cathkin High School by two of our final year students – Nicole Downey and Catherine Dodds, both of whom were at the Université de Limoges last semester on Erasmus Study Abroad – a couple of weeks ago. We’re looking forward to continuing to send our students out to act as ambassadors for language learning and I’m hoping to have a blog post about another visit to Wallace High in Stirling before the end of the week. In the meantime, though, over to Nicole and Catherine:

‘We believe that Student Language Ambassadors are a key factor in language learning. It is essential to encourage young people to continue learning languages and to inform them of their future prospects and opportunities. Recently, we visited Cathkin High School in Cambuslang during their modern languages week to give a presentation and discuss our experiences, both at Stirling and abroad.

2017 Oct Dodds Downey Limoges
Limoges

 

We found that the students appreciated the opportunity to speak to other young people, who aren’t a great deal older than them and in particular were inspired by our experiences abroad. Although not all of the students wanted to continue learning languages in higher education, it was still useful for them as they were able to speak to us about the university process and life at university.

It was satisfying for us to see that the pupils were very engaged by the evidence that learning languages does actually provide you with amazing experiences, which would otherwise not be possible without studying languages.

We thoroughly enjoyed our time as Student Ambassadors and would love to have this opportunity again.’

Many thanks to Catherine and Nicole for this blog post, and for having taken the time to go along to talk to the pupils at Cathkin High School. And thanks to pupils and staff there for their warm welcome.

2017 Oct Dodds Downey Eiffel Tower

Lots of French News!

It’s been a very busy few weeks since the new semester started in mid-September and there’s a bit of a backlog of blog pieces to be posted so, hopefully, we’ll make some progress on that over this week. As I get the information together for those various articles, here – in no particular order – is some of the news about French at Stirling from this new academic year…

First and foremost, we’re very pleased and proud to report that French at Stirling was rated 17th in the UK and 3rd in Scotland in the Sunday Times Good University Guide last month. A great achievement!

On the research front, welcome to our new French at Stirling PhD student, Lauren Kenny, who will be working on the translation of subtitles, supervised by Cristina Johnston and our colleague in Translation, Xiaojun Zhang. And congratulations to our continuing PhD student, Fraser McQueen, who has had another article on contemporary France published in The Conversation, as well as an article in Modern and Contemporary France on ‘France’s elites, Islamophobia and communities of friendship in Sabri Louata’s Les Sauvages.

In terms of research events, this year’s Literature and Languages research seminar series started with a great talk on the role of the public intellectual in France by the University of Edinburgh’s Emile Chabal. Plenty of food for thought and good to see staff, postgrads and undergrads in attendance. In December, we’ll be welcoming a group of French-English Translation postgrads and postdocs to Stirling for a week-long workshop on translation for historians and for history journals. We’re running the workshop in conjunction with our colleagues at ATLAS (the Association pour la Promotion de la Traduction Littéraire) with our own Siân Reynolds as one of the tutors for the week. And we’re also looking forward to seeing the full line-up for Bill Marshall’s Cinéma-Monde Conference that is due to take place at the end of May next year.

2017 Erasmus Plus LogoAs for our students, plenty to report there too. Thanks to everyone who came along to our get-together for returning Study Abroad students, Year 3 students about to head off for their Semester Abroad, visiting exchange students and this year’s Translation and Interpreting cohort from our partner at Hebei Normal University in China. Particular thanks to Fiona Buckland and the International Office for their support in organising that event – always great to see our students exchanging their tips about our Study Abroad partners. We also have around a dozen students who have just embarked on their English Language Assistantships across France, a small group of whom are participating in SCILT’s ‘Language Linking, Global Thinking’ scheme, about which more soon… And we’ve sent our first Language Ambassadors of 2017-18 out into a couple of schools to talk to the pupils about the benefits of language learning – again, more on that very soon.

And we have five Erasmus students – Axel, Manon, Léa, Elodie and Léna – who will be leading weekly 30-minute conversation sessions across our degree programmes – a great benefit for our students but also a fantastic addition to the CVs of the Erasmus students who are involved. It’s still early days but all of them seem to be enjoying the experience so far!

Oh yes and our Study Abroad Advisor for French, Jean-Michel DesJacques, has been invited to attend the ‘Erasmus@30’ celebrations at the Scottish Parliament later this month, along with his Spanish counterpart, Jose Ferreira-Cayuela, and Fiona Buckland from the International Office. Watch this space for photos…

What else? Well, the programme for the French Film Festival at the MacRobert has been firmed up so I’ll be able to post a little more about that very soon and Africa in Motion (founded by one of our former PhD students) has also just launched its 2017 programme which, as ever, looks brilliant!

Lots more to follow over the next few days.

Strasbourg and more

Another week until the start of semester and these final few days before the new academic year are full of news to report. Usually, the bits of this blog that are written by me (Cristina Johnston) are written in Scotland but this post sees me making my way to Strasbourg where I’m headed for meetings with our colleagues at the Ecole de Management. We’ve had an exchange partnership with them for many years now and currently have a great Integrated Masters programme that we run with them in International Management and Intercultural Studies. As is the way with these things, most of the time that just means corresponding via email and it’s our students who benefit from being able to enjoy the delights of our respective institutions and cities. Every now and then, though, colleagues come from Strasbourg to Stirling or from Stirling to Strasbourg and that’s what I’m up to just now. A good day of meetings and discussions about possible future partnerships and teaching and research collaborations lies ahead, and I’m looking forward to getting a chance to see the EMS.

The added bonus – from my perspective, at least – is that I spent my own year abroad when I was an undergraduate as an English Language Assistant living and teaching in Strasbourg so it’s a city I used to know well. As those students who were away as ELAs last year make their way back to campus in Stirling, and some of those who are just starting on new adventures as assistants in places as far-flung as Colombia (watch this space for more…) send emails to say hello, it’s great to get a chance to reminisce on my own experiences as a Language Assistant. I taught at the Lycée Marie Curie in Strasbourg where – at the time, at least – they taught both the French Bac and the European Bac, meaning that one class of pupils in terminale had extra language tuition, History and Geography taught in English and an impressive openness to the possibilities that language learning opened up for them.

For me, it was a great first experience of teaching – I wasn’t much older than the pupils, they were (without exception) really keen to learn, and the school was incredibly supportive (of me and of their pupils). As well as the actual teaching, I was lucky enough to be asked to accompany that terminale class on a 10-day trip to Northern Ireland and was just generally made to feel part of the school community. I kept in touch with some of the pupils for a few years after I came back and, ever since then, have also kept in touch with one of the former English teachers from the school so this EMS trip will also give me a chance to catch up with her, having not actually seen her face-to-face in 20 years! All in all, a good trip lies ahead!

Enough about me, though… What other news? Well, Fiona Barclay and I had a great meeting last week with the ever-enthusiastic Grahame Reid of Stirling’s MacRobert cinema to talk about (fingers crossed) bringing some of this year’s French Film Festival films to Stirling again this year. All being well, November should be French cinema month at Stirling but more will follow on that once we get confirmation. French at Stirling has also been busy preparing workpacks for all the modules we’ll be running in the new semester and generally getting ourselves ready for all our new and returning students. And, at the end of this week, just before the focus shifts back more towards teaching, many of us will also be attending a Research Away Day led by Bill Marshall to discuss research plans and ideas with colleagues from Languages, Translation, Religion, English and Creative Writing. Oh yes, and our former PhD student Martin Verbeke has another article forthcoming: “Represent Your Origins: An Analysis of the Diatopic Determinants of Non-Standard Language Use in French Rap” has been accepted for publication by the International Journal of Francophone Studies!

A flurry of pre-semester activity! And pictures of Strasbourg will doubtless appear on the blog over the next week or so…

Welcome to our Erasmus Students!

Not all the French and Francophone exchange students who come to Stirling from our network of partners take modules run by the French at Stirling team but we’re always really pleased to welcome them to Stirling and will be inviting them along to a range of events over the course of the semester.

This year, at last count, we have 24 exchange students coming from 11 different French Universities, business schools and grandes écoles with whom we have long-standing partnerships: the Universités de Limoges, Aix-Marseille, Clermont Auvergne, Lorraine and Perpignan, the IUT de Sceaux (Paris Sud), Sciences Po, the Ecoles de Management of Strasbourg and Normandie, ESSEC in the outskirts of Paris and the Université Catholique de l’Ouest. We’re looking forward to getting to know these students over the course of their time at Stirling and, this year, we’re particularly pleased to be giving some of them a chance to led informal conversation sessions with our Stirling-based students.

Who knows? We may even be able to convince a few of them to write blog posts about their time in Scotland…