Ellen Brewster

Eighteenth-Century Elocution Books and Social Reading Practices
The University of Oxford
Ellen Brewster Profile
Tell us a bit about yourself – what stage of your PhD are you in and what’s your project about?
I’m in the third year of my PhD – it’s a three-year research programme, so I’m coming up towards the end of it. My project looks at eighteenth-century reading manuals, using them to find out how eighteenth-century people theorised reading aloud. It turns out that there were lots of differing opinions about what made a good reading performance!

What does a typical day or week look like for you?
I have very little contact time as a humanities student – I might see my supervisor for an hour-long meeting once a month, but that’s about it. I spend my days at home or in the library, reading books. Occasionally I might have a talk or a seminar to go to, but these are all optional for me, so I only choose to go to things which are either relevant to my project, or stuff which I think I might enjoy. I try to be open-minded about what that might be though. Most of my timetable is self-directed, which means that I have to be disciplined: I have to make sure that I don’t pack too much into my schedule, and leave myself with enough time for research. At the moment, I spend one day a week teaching Romantic and Victorian literature to undergraduate students, which occupies fair chunk of my week during term time.

What’s one thing that you’ve enjoyed the most during your PhD?
I’ve really enjoyed getting the opportunity to pursue my own interests – both inside my project, and outside it. I like that doing a long-term research project has allowed me to stretch my capabilities and develop my skills. I’ve become very good at being flexible with my time, and self-directing my work. Doing a PhD has really given me the opportunity to try out lots of different things – teaching; public speaking; organising conferences, study days, and training workshops for graduate students; and even editing and directing a short play!

What’s been the most challenging part of it?
It can be really hard to keep a balance while doing a PhD: between life and work, but also between different work commitments that you might have. In any given week I might have lessons to plan, teaching to do, talks to write – and this is before I sit down in the library to do my own research! Doing a PhD also means keeping a constant eye on correspondence – you get a lot of emails!

Where do you see yourself 5 years after completing your PhD?
I’d like to work in Learning and Development – that is, in helping people to develop their skills and knowledge in the workplace. Doing a PhD has made me realise that we never really stop learning, even after we leave school and university – and I’d really like to help people in their professional development.

What’s one piece of advice that you’d offer students that are thinking of doing a PhD?
My main piece of advice for students thinking about doing a PhD is to make sure they fully understand the financial implications of taking on further study. Even with courses which are fully funded with scholarships, money can be tight, or cash-flow difficult – but doing your research and being prepared can really ease the transition into a new course, new university, new city or even new country! It is possible, but it takes thought.

What makes your university a good place to study?

Oxford is a brilliant place to study English Literature. We have one of the largest English Departments in the UK, and a vibrant graduate community. The resources available to me here are unparalleled – if I ever need a book, one of the Bodleian Libraries is sure to have it.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I like going to restaurants, galleries and the cinema. Sometimes I want to do something that isn’t reading, you know?

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