Welcome to the School of English and Languages at the University of Surrey. The School brings together the academic disciplines of English literature, creative writing, modern languages, linguistics, intercultural communication and translation studies.
1st in the 2016 National Student Survey for English
1st in the 2016 National Student Survey for Iberian Studies
6th in The Guardian League Table 2017 - Modern Languages & Linguistics
Top 20 in The Guardian League Table 2017 - English Literature & Creative Writing
100% Employment rate for School graduates
Dr. Donna McCormack (Lecturer in English Literature) speaks about the recent conference she co-organised as the coordinator of the Nordic Network for Gender, Body, Health. This event was funded by the Nordic Culture Fund and the Bergen University Fund, and was organised in collaboration with the Centre for Women’s and Gender Research at the University of Bergen, Norway.
(Margrit Shildrick’s Keynote Presentation, which focused on prosthetics and art work by Lisa Bufano)
As coordinator of the Nordic Network, I recently co-organised a conference on Disability, Arts and Health. Funded by both the Nordic Culture Fund and Bergen University Fund, this conference brought together artists, academics and practitioners across multiple disciplines. The first keynote speaker, Margrit Shildrick, explored how we might understand the body through Gilles Deleuzes’ concept of the assemblage, with a particular focus on prosthetics. The final keynote, Robert McRuer, examined how disability accessibility is exported from Westminster to Mexico City, while this same government implements the bedroom tax, which disproportionately affects people living with disabilities and those more vulnerable to the affects of so-called austerity-focused state intervention. Photographs and art productions were central to their talks, as each gave attention to the aesthetics of embodiment and its intersection with broader political contexts. The other keynote, given by Alexa Wright, focused on her artistic work, specifically her photographs co-created with people living with psychosis. A key part of the conference was an exhibition of the collages that people who were in the midst of a psychotic episode produced with Wright at workshops that she gave at a clinic in London. The collages captured a diverse imagination of how two or more worlds exist simultaneously, how haunting images are integral to this experience of illness, and an impression of what it may feel like to undergo what may be a little understood phenomenon.
This two-day event included multiple presentations on topics as diverse as personal experiences of ability and disability; visual representations and how to challenge normative understandings of embodiment; architectural norms; and creating accessible environments in the classroom and beyond. The artistic element was further developed not only by an exciting array of papers that explored representations of disability and morphological diversity, but also by an artistic installation by Marie Max Andersen, a dialogue about splastic dance between the artist Charlotte Grüm and the dancer Tora Balslev, and a performative piece by Jenni Juulia Wallinheimo-Heimonen which included a video installation and a dialogue that explored the possibility of a library for all the unused medical equipment given to people with disabilities. Wallinheimo-Heimonen insisted on the aesthetic appeal of prosthetics, thinking beauty with technology, as well as revealing the need for activism in all its imaginative forms.
For the Nordic Network for Gender, Body, Health, this conference launched the start of our new project on The Embodied Self, Health and Emerging Technologies, which is funded by NOS-HS (the Swedish Research Council). We will host three workshops on Disability and Prosthetics; Digital Health and e-Medicine; and Transplantation. Each one will be hosted in a Nordic country by a local university, with the first happening in Stockholm in May 2017.
Charlotte Grüm and Tora Balslev in dialogue about splastic dance.
Jenni Juulia Wallinheimo-Heimonen speaking here on vibrating prosthetics
Whilst studying my Masters, a well-known screenwriter gave a talk where she described her main task as juggling all the different jobs she had as a result of turning professional; writing was relatively low on the list. A few years later and coming to the end of my PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Surrey, I now understand exactly what she meant.
As a Postgraduate Research student my research takes up the greater part of my time, especially in the last few months where I have been writing up my final thesis for submission. A Creative Writing PhD consists of both a critical thesis and an interconnected piece of writing, which in my case is a novel. Practise-led projects like this are a lot of fun, but it does mean my word count just gets a lot longer.
Breaking up the research has been my teaching on a number of modules in Creative Writing, Film and Screenwriting. It’s great running seminars and workshops, reading and watching all the creative work coming from the undergraduate programmes. The timetabling also gives a semblance of structure to my week, which prevents me from neglecting my own studies.
Once both the above are out of the way, I can get down to the serious business of my own writing. Initially, this is a dysfunctional relationship between the ideas floating around my head and my computer keyboard. Words come and go and pages get written and deleted, until finally it all comes together and I’ll sit down and write a play in the space of a few weeks. I find that when I get in the ‘zone’, I’m always working on the same project, regardless of what I’m doing or where I am, desperate to get back to my computer. It’s almost as if I’m on auto-pilot for the everyday things and all of my conscious energy is re-directed to the creative part of my brain.
When the piece is finally done, the hard work starts. The trouble with plays or screenplays, is that they’re really only the blueprints for a production. So the next job in the life of a playwright is to make other people as passionate about your story and characters as you are. This is where the networks and collaborations that are possible at the University of Surrey come into their own.
Over the past few years at Surrey, I’ve been mining the great resources of talent we have in both our students and staff, especially across the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. Working with actors from the Guildford School of Acting (GSA), filmmakers from the Film and Video Production Technology and Digital Media Arts programmes, audio technicians and sound engineers from the Institute of Sound Recording (IoSR), and, of course, other writers from English and Creative Writing, I’ve put together collaborative projects in both radio and film. As well as producing radio plays and films, what’s most important is the connections students can make across disciplines.
It’s one such connection that culminated in one of my radio plays, Toy Soldier, being adapted for the London stage. I had worked with third year GSA students a few years ago on another radio-play about quantum physics, which we recorded in the IoSR. Since graduating a few of the actors have gone on to set up their own theatre company, Who Said Theatre, and have put on four plays in the past eighteen months. So quite naturally the conversation came up about collaborating on a production. With the Chilcot Inquiry recently being released, it seemed like the perfect timing for a play about the fall out from the Iraq war to be staged.
As a writer, I think it’s important to get out and meet people, work on collaborative projects and maintain a network that you can call upon when the opportunities come up.
It might be a romantic vision – the coffee-stained desk and overflowing ashtray, half lit next to the antiquated typing machine of the playwright’s garret – but the reality is quite different. Writing is only the tip of the iceberg.
University of Surrey PhD Creative Writing student
Find out more about how you can Write your Future with Creative Writing programmes at the University of Surrey.
I am absolutely delighted to see how well both English Literature and Spanish at the University of Surrey have performed in the 2016 National Student Survey.
Both English Literature and Spanish have been awarded 100% for overall satisfaction in the most recent survey of final year undergraduate students, achieving number one rankings in their respective subject tables.
These are quite remarkable achievements.
English Literature was launched as a degree programme at the University of Surrey in 2008. In eight years, it has moved from being the new kid on the block to becoming a leader in the field. Rising steadily up the league tables English Literature has gone from being an unknown quantity to the top twenty in a highly competitive field – not to mention our top 10 Creative Writing offering. Spanish, as a more established programme at Surrey continues to build on the longstanding reputation of Modern Languages, currently ranked 6th in the Guardian League Table.
So why are these our programmes so successful? There are a number of reasons. First of all, the School of English and Languages here at the University of Surrey is constantly striving to improve its curricula.
After the first cohort of English Literature and English and Creative Writing students at the University graduated five years ago, we took stock of the structure of the degree and of the modules we were offering. We listened to feedback from our students, and also from our external examiners, and we made a number of significant changes. Our Languages programmes, including Spanish, then went through a similar process.
Both of these degrees are quite distinct from their competitors. Our Language programmes focus on applied languages, and almost all of the modules are taught in the target language. Employability is central to these undergraduate degrees, and we are rightly proud of the Professional Training and Placement Year. It is compulsory for our Language students to work or to study abroad for a year, but all of the students on our English programmes also have the opportunity to study abroad or to find placements with a wide variety of our professional training partners in the UK or overseas. This year is fully integrated into the programmes; we visit the students while they are away and continue to support them academically and personally throughout their time in industry.
Most important, however, when it comes to student satisfaction, is the level of commitment of our academic and support staff. Our students know that we want to help them learn, and also that if they need to talk to us, we will be here for them, and if they have concerns we will act on them, and that really is vital. We provide a level of academic and pastoral support that gives our students the assurance that we really care about them, their learning and their personal development.
We have also worked hard to ensure that our students have appropriate resources available, and we are proud of our state-of-the-art Language labs, and of the library facilities, both of which have received significant investment in recent years.
In 2011, I came to the University of Surrey take on the role of Head of the newly founded School of English and Languages, which had been created out of two smaller departments: English and Languages & Translation Studies. The 2016 NSS results show just how far we’ve come in the last 5 years, with our programmes in both halves of the School thriving. We’ve learnt from each other and helped each other, and in the process, it is clear, we’ve helped our students not only to learn but also to have the best of all possible experiences.
We are pleased to announce that SEL has done very well in this year's Complete University Guide's league tables. This table takes account of research quality as well as entry standards, NSS and graduate prospects.We have seen rises across all our subjects, with a new entry for Creative Writing, and we are now in the top 10 for 4 areas!
Professor Diane Watt has been elected to be a Fellow of the Learned Society of Wales during the Society’s Election in 2015/16.
Amy Louise Morgan, a PhD English Literature student at the University of Surrey, has been granted a travel award to attend and participate in the New Chaucer Society Congress in July 2016.