Undertaking a degree of any level is as much about the knowledge and self-development as it is stretching your limits, going beyond your comfort zone, and questioning. Questioning everything you knew and thought about yourself, your knowledge about the world and the way you position yourself, and the way you are positioned in it.
My experience of starting and completing my MA has helped me discard certain negative views I had about myself and my abilities, I am more tolerant of myself and others and also more humble and careful to hedge and limit statements and observations of the world.
Negotiating my many hats and positions as a full-time teacher and later library manager with being a part-time student, meant that time management was easy to resolve. Simply reduce life to a no-brainer pattern of work-study, work-study, work-study. This meant mustering up the courage to ask for help. In our society there seems to be a lot of shame attached to asking for help, as it is seen as a display of weakness. I had to learn to ask for help. It is surprising how giving your family can be and how happy they are to help if you just ask. We are so intent on constructing an indestructible, all-encompassing, all-able identity to ourselves that perhaps we neglect weaving a stronger relationships with those around us that can only materialize when we need their help.
My MA in numbers:
The total hours I travelled to a lecture over the two years of part-time study. It was a time I cherished. It was my Me time, to look out of the train window, eavesdrop on others’ conversations (I am a sociolinguist!) and dream big. It took me 4 hours each week, 2 hours each way, for a 2-hour lecture.
I may have enjoyed the train ride, but this is how many pounds it cost.
The number of courses I took throughout my MA. In my first year I took the Core Issues in English Language and Linguistics in the first semester. The course introduced methodological and theoretical concepts in Modern Linguistics.Topics include introduction to phonetics and phonology (speech sounds), morphology (word structure), syntax(sentence structure), semantics (word and sentence meaning) and pragmatics (the use and interpretation of meaning) as well as basic issues and facts of language change and language variation. Although I came from a background in languages, having done my BA in English linguistics and French, this was a relatively new territory for me. And I was excited. Until our first assignment. Our first assignment was to write a critical review of a research article. We were presented with a choice of a few articles but surveying them briefly, I soon realised they were all equally complex and opaque. A surge of panic washed over me as I skimmed the abstracts. Finally, I settled for a paper on a topic I felt was the least foreign of all: Will. (the verb). Happy with myself I sent the article to the printer, thinking that having dealt with various problems of Will and the future aspect in English in my capacity as a seasoned English teacher, this would be more penetrable.
Sitting and sweating over the massive grammar and linguistics book at the beautiful Senate House Library (did you know Hitler considered it as a possible headquarters for when he invaded England?), it dawned on me how well out of my depth I was. Throughout my BA there weren’t many instances where I felt I was drowning, to follow the water metaphors. There were learning curves, definitely. But this was a curve ball. I couldn’t understand what the paper was ABOUT. I was way way down on Bloom’s taxonomy pyramid, sleeping with the mummies. Or rather, not sleeping at all, washed with waves (more water metaphors, anyone?) of dread. With having a limited amount of time due to a pesky thing called work, and manoeuvring studying, working and maintaining some vestige of life, I had to do the best with the time I had. If I had to give advice to new students, this would be it. Do the best you can with the time you have.
Another blow to the system (my ego) came from receiving the results for the final exam for this course. A skill students often don’t realise they need to develop apart from knowledge and mastery of their discipline is that of how to answer questions, how to read question and understand what is expected in the answer. In other words, how to analyse exam questions. And well, I was one of these students and I was having the lesson of my life in a form of a bad grade. How much did I get? Having set high standards for myself, it will suffice to say I got way less than what I was aiming for. For a few days I felt low and questioning a little my purpose of doing this degree. Humility is important in moments like these, realising how much you don’t know is not easy. I desperately wanted to carry on and do as well as I did for my undergraduate. I decided to speak to my MA convenor, Dr Pia Pichler. I made a short list of the items I wanted to discuss and emailed her to arrange for a time to meet. Although the talk was brief, I felt my concerns were taken on board and a plan for how to do better in the next exam was hashed.
So for the next core-course titled Language in its Sociocultural Context, I felt more prepared. This course allowed me to understand the intersection between language and gender, language and ethnicity or language in situational context. The move away from generalisation and quantitative methods was new to me and at first I wasn’t sure whose side I was on, quants or quals. Apart from being convinced to join the quals camp, a much larger change happened to my personal epistemology. A large portion of the course dealt with how women speak and how women are spoken about, sexist language, women oppression, the representation of sexual harassment, and the construction of identity. It may sound surprising to most, but I never thought of these things. Growing up in a sexist country, in a relatively sexist home where blonde jokes were a common speech act at the dinner table, I saw women’s social status of oppression as status quo. Maybe more serious is the fact that my home was not an oppressive orthodox one, meaning that oppression wasn’t visible like it is in more obvious social settings: I wasn’t obliged to wear long skirts, cover my neckline and elbows, marriage was not something I worked towards as a life-goal. Instead, little deeply-ingrained cultural hints of oppression glimmered, embedded in every-day activities.
In fact, most oppression I experienced came from women themselves. Being brought up by my grandmother, it was us, females of the house that did all the cooking, cleaning, shopping, sewing, needlepoint. It was from my orthodox neighbour who I learnt that it is best for females to wear long sleeved tops because the bending of the elbow produces a shape that may turn on a man (the use of this gender here is intentional, highlighting the dominant binary outlook in society) so I shouldn’t tempt anyone with my juicy elbow. However, things were not so crystal clear but rather a source of mixed signals. Most presents I got for various teenage birthdays, for example included items such as lipsticks and eye shadow, little smelly bath bombs, jewellery, cutesy stationary, and clothes. All these things created a confusing jigsaw that indicated a woman’s role is sexual and of servitude.
Throughout the course I was exposed to the broader picture of my own experiences. Finding my voice as a woman was a new and liberating gift, through the writings of strong female leaders and feminist male authors, I feel more empowered to study and work among my peers. Whenever I heard the phrase ‘hold your head up high’ I understood it has something to do with being proud of who you are. But for that you need to know and be aware you are oppressed.
Are some of the best teachers I have ever had, and through their instruction I came to see more clearly. Although I firmly believe we create our own luck, you need people along the way to give you a break and provide you with the opportunity to shine. None of this would have been possible without the support of Dr. Pia Pichler, who always had a kind expression to offer even at the most absurd comments on the readings. Her feedback on exercises always positive and constructive, helped me to produce better writing, and clearer coherence. Dr. Geri Popova, whose ‘let me just be the devil’s advocate here’ comments made me reminiscent of home and its direct culture. Maria MacDonald, our administrator was the most efficient and supportive figure, producing urgent letters and documents that helped me numerous times.
Stands for the number of the most exciting research projects I got to do during the MA. One of them actually got me my place at my fully-funded PhD I am currently working towards at the University of Sheffield. You never know what will come out of what is seemingly another assignment. Even at undergraduate level, I always found the most exciting part to be undertaking my own research, even at such a small scale. Gathering data, thinking about how to design it so that the results would be valid and replicable (does not always apply to all of my research) while being interesting and relevant. By relevant, for me that meant a to real life, to society, to making human and animal lives better. Ultimately, for my PhD project it is assuring the survival of the planet. (I know I said I learnt to be humble, but it’s true! I am not working alone, many other researchers in this area of extinction accounting are working towards the same goal).
Is the number of pages of my final dissertation. The process of choosing the topic for the dissertation was as interesting as writing the project itself. Having the luxury of studying part-time, I had the whole summer between the two years to think about my topic. This meant I got to explore all kinds of interesting issues, ranging for the discourse of war, how women talk about getting pregnant, the army and young people’s identity, until I finally settled on my chosen topic: the identity construction of Jewish-Russian immigrants in Israel in interaction. That summer was also about this time that my identity as Sociolinguini began to take shape and I started this blog. While I was reading all these interesting papers about various social problems, I was also developing opinions about what I was reading, but there was no outlet. Writing this blog helped to make connections between concepts, develop my writing and make me a more confident author with, it is hoped, a unique voice.
One is the number of societies I co-created with my good friend Ellie. Surprisingly for such a socially-centered university, an animal right’s society did not exist. Until we came along.
One also stands for one of the most inspirational academics of our time, Dr. Arran Stibbe , a reader in ecolinguistics at Gloucestershire University whose writing on, not only the representation of animals, but also their sheer erasure from texts is fascinating. During the first year of my MA, after reading some of his papers, I knew this is what I wanted to do. I contacted him: was there anything I could do to be a part of this? Any internships? Summer School? Not really, he replied but would I like to come to the symposium in May? I told work I was sick and jumped on a 3-hour train. Arran and the symposium organisers were so welcoming, I felt this is where I belonged. I am so grateful to Arran for including me in opportunities to help create the free online ecolinguistics course .and be a part of the International Ecolinguistics Association. In fact, it was Arran who alerted me to the exciting PhD project I am now working towards.
So thank you Goldsmiths for awarding me the partial scholarship that was so instrumental to my success. Thank you Pia for giving me an interview and the opportunity to start the most transformative journey of my life.