English Master’s: ‘The Start of Something Wonderful’

Alexandria Smith

A professor from England, who also happens to be an English professor, visited campus in October and met with students to talk about the English department’s partnership with the University of Reading, Berkshire, United Kingdom to offer a new  BA to MA program.

The intention of the program is to guarantee “a seamless transition into the Reading program” while providing the opportunity for specializations, according to an earlier article in the Highlander. Dr. Amanda Caleb, assistant English professor and Dr. Andrew Mangham, associate professor of English at the University of Reading, are the facilitators.

Mangham said the connection between the universities was largely established through his friendship with Caleb, who attended university in England. The pair has kept in contact since they received their doctorate degrees twelve years ago.  Mangham said that he and Caleb have similar research interests in 19th century novels, which ultimately led to the development of the international program.

“She came up with this idea, and I was looking for a good English school to liase with. So, we decided to capitalize on the strengths of both departments, really, to try and develop networks between students and the scholars in each department as well. It’s mainly down to Dr. Caleb. She had an excellent idea, a unique idea, and she approached us [at the University of Reading], so it was a no-brainer for us to work with a school like Misericordia, and with Dr. Caleb in particular,” said Mangham.

Mangham acknowledges that while his friendship with Caleb was one of the reasons for the program’s creation, it did not make it any less difficult.

“Nothing like this that you do in a university is easy. It always involves a great amount of administration, mainly because boxes have to be ticked, things have to be checked, and kind of political maneuvers have to be made in the nicest sense of that word. Nonetheless, it can be quite complicated – trying to get two very different systems to speak to each other, the American system and the British system of education. Though what we teach is fundamentally the same, the means of going about it is quite different,” Mangham said.

Caleb, however, said it was the personal connection that helped create the one between students who are oceans apart.

“I think with it [the connection] being built upon a friendship, there’s a much more vested interest. It’s not coming from top down, it’s coming from bottom up in terms of the administrative structure. And it’s something that we’re going to make sure is successful because there’s something personal at stake, as well, not just the success of a particular program, so I think that makes a real difference. There’s also more of a personal touch to it, that I am very confident, not just with Andrew but with all of my Reading colleagues, that when Misericordia students go over, they’re going to be treated that little bit extra. Not to say they wouldn’t treat all of the students fantastically at Reading, but they’re really going to look out for them, and that’s because of our friendship,” said Caleb.

The University of Reading program offers five specializations within the Master of Arts, including English, Modern and Contemporary Writing, Early Modern (Renaissance) Literature and Writing, Victorian Literature and Culture, and Children’s Literature.

Mangham said the application process is fairly straightforward. If undergraduate students show an interest in applying to the Reading program by their junior year, and they have  a strong grade point average and faculty approval, Caleb will be able to guide their education toward the standards of the university across the pond.

“This [application process for graduate school] is easier than it is usually, because Dr. Caleb is here to guide students through it, but applying for an MA is very easy anyway. You just go to the university’s website, you contact the post-graduate secretary, and you kind of ask for their advice and their direction on how to apply.”

Caleb stressed that students will receive careful faculty guidance to ensure that students’ studies are correctly focused in a way that provides a seamless transition between schools.

“A major difference in the disciplines in the two countries is that the undergrads in the U.K. will take more English classes than ours do because they don’t have a liberal arts background. So they’re really going into their master’s degree having taken 16 to 18 English classes. Ours will have taken 13 in total, two of which are at the core level, so one of the things we wanted to make sure was that our students wouldn’t be overwhelmed. So we built in a structure  that requires an additional six credits of upper division courses, both a thesis and senior seminar, so that students have a good theoretical background and can write a long piece of work,” said Caleb.

This translates well to a British master’s program, primarily because the duration and intensity of studies are much different in each country.

“A British MA is one year instead of two. It’s more intensive because of this. We do expect a lot – it’s challenging – but hopefully enjoyable as well because it allows one to get to grips in an area where one’s developed an interest in during undergraduate years. So having gone from undergraduate with an interest in Shakespeare, say, you can then do an MA with Shakespeare modules and then write a dissertation, which is what you call a thesis here. MA level is 20,000 words, so it’s a large chunk. But you get to spend a lot of time with your subject and the level is more sophisticated. It’s more in-depth,” said Mangham.

Mangham believes students are ready to meet the challenge in spite of the academic differences between the two universities. Unlike Misericordia, the University of Reading works in a series of modules.  Mangham said there are four modules overall, two in the autumn term, and two in the spring term, with professor-directed dissertation writing over the summer.

“It’s very research focused,” said Mangham, “based on what you’re interested in. We expect you to go away and develop interests of your own and develop research skills. We’re expecting [as professors] to learn from you on a certain level, as well. So it’s certainly intensive. But my experience of a Master’s degree in the U.K. was that it was a fantastic challenge. It felt like I was being given full reign in the things that I loved, rather than  having to go off and do a subject I didn’t enjoy as much because it was prerequisite of passing the degree.”

Both Mangham and Caleb are anticipating the program to grow for years to come.

“It kind of comes from a great friendship but also a strong collegial link between the two universities and I’m fairly hopeful, and fairly confident, that those two strong kinds of strands will keep [the program] going for a long time. It’s the start of something wonderful,” said Mangham.

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