Gillian Walters, Applied English
"I have just been accepted to study a PhD at Nottingham, starting in February 2024. I’ve been completely inspired by my MA course."
What drew you to our Applied English course?
"As a mature student, like many of us on the course, distance learning means I can work when it suits me. My son's seven now, he was five when I started, so I have to work my studies around him and everything else in life. That's why online learning really suits me.
Deciding where to study was the challenge. But Nottingham is so well known as a world-leading university, that was what drew me to look at it. Also, when I looked at the Applied English course, it was just incredible because I'm a literature fan – that's the area I love to study – and there were so many choices. When I saw that I could look at 12 different things, I thought it was amazing. They had me at vampires, to be honest!
I also liked the fact that there was the option to not just do literature, I could veer over into creative writing and literary linguistics."
There was freedom of choice from the offset, so you weren't hemmed in. The course is really designed to suit us.
Had you ever done any distance learning before?
"My first degree was a traditional on-campus undergraduate degree when I was younger. I had no experience of distance learning at all.
I was most scared about how I’d access books. But as soon as I joined the course, they made it really clear where I could access material and the pods include excellent reading lists. I quickly learned to love that I could take things out of the library without having to carry the physical books! The online access via NUsearch was so exciting!"
What have you enjoyed the most so far?
"I’ve loved the fact that I’ve done 12 pods and they’re all different topics. I love how much I’ve learnt. I feel I’ve got a better grounding in English because I can take a risk. For example, I hadn’t written poetry since I was in my teens, but I thought I’d give the ‘Writing Poetry’ pod a go. It’s one sixth of my assessment, so it’s so small you can take the risk and try it, which is lovely.
I like the fact that there are the multi-modal ways of assessment, as well. When I came into the course, I thought it was going to be traditional essays, but I’ve been able to produce discursive essays, a 20-minute PowerPoint presentation and transcript, a short story with critical commentary and I’ve written poetry.
You can create videos, podcasts, blogs, all sorts of things. The Applied English course is brilliant because it gives us that choice and that flexibility keeps you interested.
I think because there’s more choice on the Applied English MA than more traditional MA routes, it really helps you find your areas of focus because you can try so many different areas of study. And the formative feedback along the way, including willingness of pod tutors to look at small pieces of work up to 500 words, is brilliant. My only regret is I can’t go and do another 12 pods!"
What's the staff support been like? Any shout-outs?
"My personal advisor contacted me on day one of the course, saying who they were, saying that I could reach out, how I could get in contact with them. That’s Jess Norledge, she’s amazing. It’s really good that you’ve got that personal connection for your entire time on the course.
As I’ve gone through the course, the pod tutors are really great too. They post messages on Microsoft Teams for us, to give ideas or questions. Jem Bloomfield is incredible. Every week he posts a question, or an image and a question on Teams, just something to ponder, and asks us what we think. That’s on our pod Teams channel, which is our equivalent of a seminar space.
Whilst we are MA students and need to be independent, it really helps when somebody else throws a question out there! You’ve got to be quite confident as a student to go, "I’ve been thinking about this, what do you reckon?" so it's great that pod tutors are active on Teams and help to guide us.
Rebecca Gregory and Jess Norledge also both have really active Teams spaces. You can message them via Teams, via email, and you can organise video calls. I know from friends on the course, that tutors work as much as they can to support learners from different time zones, so if it helps a student they will have a meeting as early or late as they can. They really put us first.
Jo Guy has been amazing as well. She ran a monthly Victorian chat for us to all get together, which was really nice."
Which area of Applied English are you specialising in?
"I think it’s good that you have the option to come out with a broader degree called ‘Applied English’, as it’s quite good for the job market. I think it demonstrates the breadth of the course. For me, I’ll come out with an MA in English Literature, as that’s what I’ve focussed on."
How has the university created a sense of community for you, as a distance learning student?
"There’s something called the Applied English Online Café. This has a general, informal space, then we’ve got an events space as well, to signpost useful things that are coming up. It’s good to chat informally, in a space that’s not connected to the pods you’re studying. It’s just an opportunity for anyone on the course to say hello and to create connections in our global community. Student events are also posted in this space, such as quizzes and student chats.
Once a month two members of the Applied English faculty run two chats, one in the morning and one in the evening, for students to come along and say hello and see how we’re doing. That’s run through the Café.
The tutors aren’t just there marking your work, we can have these chats and you get to see the faculty as humans, so they are an important part of our community too.
It’s really lovely, by making themselves accessible it shows that the staff are approachable, and I think you need that. We see the staff as humans and get to know them well, which helps us to feel more confident to email them and ask questions."
How will your degree help with your future career plans?
"I taught for about 12 years at secondary school level. I always regretted that I hadn’t stayed on to do an MA and that kept niggling at me in the background. I felt I’d done everything I could do, teaching at secondary level. My next step would have been becoming an assistant head, but that would have been more time in the office and more spreadsheets, but that wasn’t what I wanted to be doing.
I thought I need to make a change and my parents are really supportive, so they said, "Sell your house, leave the job, come and live with us and bring the grandson!". So that’s what I did.
For the first two or three months of the course, I was like ‘What have I done?!’. But then I just embraced the flexibility. I still don’t quite know where life’s going to lead me, but I have just been accepted to study a PhD at Nottingham, starting in February 2024. I’m going to focus on Victorian literature, so I’ll be working with the lovely Rebekah Scott and Jo Guy. I’ve been completely inspired by my MA course."
What does success look like to you?
"Success for me is a happy life. To be successful on my MA course will hopefully lead me into a career where I’m doing something I’m genuinely passionate about and enjoy."
My course will give me the keys to open the doors to be happy, to be truly happy, rather than working for the sake of working.
Anything else to add?
"In terms of student feedback, the Applied English team do definitely act upon it, so that’s a really great aspect of the course. I love that. Even the admin team are really supportive. Claire Humphries is the glue that holds everything together! I remember at the start feeling too shy to ask many questions, but Claire is so approachable that I felt really comfortable asking her for support."
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