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
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.
Dr. Donna McCormack (Lecturer in English Literature) speaks about organising an interdisciplinary workshop and doctoral course on the medical humanities and its global, postcolonial and gender contexts. This event was supported by seed funding from the University of Bergen, Norway, and was organised in collaboration universities across the UK, South Africa, Norway and Sweden. It was hosted by the Centre for Women’s and Gender Research at the University of Bergen.
I recently organised an event that focused on the postcolonial and gender aspects of the medical humanities and that had the specific aim of bringing together partners from the Global South and the Global North. The goal was to discuss the medical humanities in its global context, addressing issues such as justice in health, the role of historical and contemporary inequalities in health and illness, the dominant role of narrative in health care, and the role of the arts in care. The event was divided into two parts: a closed workshop, consisting only of invited speakers, with a very specific aim of sharing research interests and spending considerable time thinking through and planning future projects and events; the second part was a doctoral course where specialists in the field led sessions and engaged with the diverse research of doctoral participants.
This four-day event included partners from South Africa (University of Witswaterand and University of Cape Town), the UK (University of Surrey, University of Glasgow and University of Leeds), Norway (University of Bergen) and Sweden (University of Linköping). The doctoral participants came from a diverse range of institutions, including South Africa, the UK, Brazil, Norway, Sweden, Poland, Georgia, Iceland and Spain.
The topics all focused on embodiment, taking multiple disciplinary and interdisciplinary perspectives. There was a significant focus on organ transplants with the nephrologist June Fabian, from the University of Witswaterand, engaging us in the ethical decisions transplant teams must make, while reminding us of the class and race assumptions in decision making; Margrit Shildrick, professor of gender and knowledge production at Linköping University, took us into the philosophical arena of micro-chimerism asking if we are all already more than self and other and therefore challenging biomedical practitioners to rethink the machine model of organ transplantation; and I spoke on fictional representations of transplantation, addressing the consequences of not knowing the origin of the donated organ and exploring what it means to have no or little history in postcolonial contexts of transplantation. Multiple participants addressed the role of music in health care and as a methodology of study with Steve Reid, the head of general practice at the University of Cape Town, taking us through a personal history of rural health care in the north east of South Africa, grappling with the race politics of medicine and the centrality of music to resistance; and Jill Halstead, ethno-musicologist at Grieg Academy at the University of Bergen, asking how we may use our bodies to produce, communicate and understand knowledge and how feminism can remain at the fore of this pursuit. Indeed, many challenged us to think through our methodologies with attention to embodiment and the politics and ethics of queer and feminism, including Ingrid Young, a sociologist from the University of Glasgow, who addressed treatment as prevention and imperative to manage bodies, risk and responsibility.
Even as I try to capture what was discussed, it is impossible to account for the diversity of the themes and conversations, or for the emerging intersections of research interests and methodologies. Indeed this summary does not capture the plethora of doctoral presentations from across medicine, social sciences and the arts and humanities, which focused on an extremely wide range of methodologies and subjects. Some themes included: abortion in Ethiopia; psychoanalysis and the medical humanities; gendered representations of women in anatomical books; disability and trauma in postcolonial fiction; the importance of non-coherence in representations of mental health; the role of the doctor and patient relationship in general medicine; intersex in South Africa; addiction in Iceland; and more. All these doctoral projects were addressing how it is possible to work across medicine and the humanities, while still being firmly situated in one of these disciplines; and asking what is that is gained when engaging in such dialogues. Indeed, what many showed is that this conversation is essential in trying to grapple with the experience of health and illness in the contemporary context.
Often we are told that speaking across the disciplines is difficult and hard work, and that in particular talking across the humanities and medicine is practically impossible because of distinct methodologies, questions and immediate aims. However, not only could we speak to each other when our themes were similar (e.g. HIV or transplantation), but also we realised very early on that we were interested in similar questions, such as:
Researchers across the humanities, arts, medicine and social sciences; medical practitioners; artists; and many whose work crosses the boundaries of the so-called researcher/artist/practitioner divide came together to explore the potential for a project that addresses the global, postcolonial and gender contexts of the medical humanities. The generosity of time and a willingness to listen and engage even when we could not always understand each other or our work helped make this an exciting event. What I witnessed was a group of people committed to and enacting interdisciplinarity through and across national boundaries, trying to think through justice across disciplinary differences, and looking towards the potentiality of how we might take forward the difficult but exciting intersections of the medical humanities and its global, gender and postcolonial contexts.
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.