Postcard from Birmingham, by Liz Gloyn (PhD’11): Moving between the US and the UK

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Dr Liz Gloyn (Rutgers PhD in Classics, 2011) is now in her second year as a Teaching Fellow in Roman Literature at the University of Birmingham‘s Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity. A native of London, Liz received a BA Hons. and MPhil in Classics from Newnham College, Cambridge University. In addition to her PhD, at Rutgers she also was awarded the rare distinction of a MPhil by our Department of Classics. Here is a very welcome missive from Liz, writing from the West Midlands:

“I have to admit that it doesn’t feel like I’ve been back in the UK for slightly over eighteen months. I keep on finding myself thinking and saying things that reveal I spent the previous the six years at Rutgers Classics. The other day, for instance, I caught myself thinking grumpily that it was far too early for shops to have Christmas merchandise out, especially since we’d not had Thanksgiving yet; my friends also tease me mercilessly when they catch me talking about the first floor instead of the ground floor, which I do more often than you would think. But it’s hard to forget that I’ve changed continents when I’m teaching and researching.”

“The students I teach have very different expectations, in part because of the difference in the way the degree programmes here are structured. US students are used to taking a set of core requirements and then majoring and minoring in two subjects; in the UK, a student does a degree purely in one subject, so all the students I teach are pursuing degrees in classics, ancient history, or something which means they have some background information in the subject.”

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“This has a number of knock-on effects: for a start, the students doing the same degree tend to know each other quite well, unlike the American system where it’s possible for students in larger classes not to know anybody else at all. There are no core requirements outside the department, so all my students’ courses overlap somehow. My classes are also rarely the smallest that my students are taking; the big lecture courses are big for everyone, but everyone in the department takes a seminar class of between eight and fifteen students. I enjoy the variation in teaching—it’s lovely to be able to get the intimacy in seminars that I got in language teaching smaller groups at RU as well as grabbing the attention of a large lecture group.”

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“The research culture and expectations here are also very different. While US early career researchers both chase after and fear the demands of the tenure track, in the UK our movements are governed by the Research Excellence Framework (REF), the government-run assessment exercise that determines how much funding universities get for their research from the government. As the earliest of early career researchers, with one article out I’m already submissible for the 2014 exercise, so I’m now thinking ahead to my strategy for the next assessment. It’s very different to the system my friends and colleagues in the US are working with, but I think I’m getting the hang of it.”

“One thing that I’m definitely more aware of after my time at Rutgers and Birmingham is the importance of international connections. I know that my connections in the US have continued to be very important to me in my research and teaching; speaking at the Feminism and Classics VI conference in Canada this summer was a real highlight, and it was great to see old friends and make new ones.”

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Liz sums up: “Universities are increasingly recognising how many benefits there are in creating partnerships between different institutions; that’s why Birmingham has recently established a study abroad program with Rutgers. Students can come to study at Birmingham for a semester or a year abroad, and take advantage of our wide offering of courses and academic expertise. I’ve had two North American students on these schemes in my courses; they’ve both found the experience of studying in the UK challenging, rewarding and a lot of fun.”

“If you’re interested, why not have a look at the Birmingham Study Abroad page? My colleagues and I would be delighted to welcome you.”

Thanks Liz! To hear more from Dr Liz Gloyn, you can read her blog here.

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