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Cheryl Birdseye is from Oxford. She joined Oxford Brookes University as a research student in September 2014 and her thesis title is ‘The Rise of Female Testimony on the Early Modern Stage’.
I’ve always lived in Oxfordshire so grew up aware of Oxford Brookes.
I did my undergraduate degree and MA at Oxford Brookes and really enjoyed both experiences. I was very keen to continue working with my MA supervisor, Dr Katharine Craik, as well as the rest of the department, and she encouraged me to apply for the John Henry Brookes Studentship which I was ultimately awarded to fund my PhD. Oxford itself is also a great place to study – in addition to the facilities at Brookes, research students also get to access the Bodleian Library in the city centre, which is invaluable for harder to find resources.
Moving on to a research degree was a big change from the taught undergraduate and postgraduate courses I had been previously enrolled on. I had to be more organised, motivated, and confident in my ability to manage my workloads. It’s a much more independent form of study. Despite this, I found starting the PhD a smooth process. This was helped by the fact that I already knew Brookes well; however, the introductory training sessions were really helpful for filling in gaps I didn’t know about accessing resources and the basic layout of how a PhD programme should look. The icebreaker events were also really welcoming and a great way to meet other researchers in the department – something I think is really important as you can spend so much time working alone that it’s good to at least know a couple of faces and names you can touch base with from time to time who are experiencing similar things.
I’m working on the rise of female testimony on the early modern stage, prompted in particular through the development of the experimental and transitional genre of domestic tragedy. My research looks predominantly at plays written between 1580-1620 that were inspired by historical crimes, looking at how the testimonies of the women involved were then reconceptualised for the stage when compared to accounts from other contemporary documents. Increasingly, I’m focusing on the role of audience response within this area, and exploring how audiences were expected to serve as witnesses and juries to the testimonies played before them. Playwrights were acutely aware of the popular beliefs held by their patrons, and were writing at a time when the playhouses were physically changing, as were attitudes towards them, and the very constructs of theatrical genre as they had previously been understood were being re-assessed. My period of study includes the dawn of indoor playhouses and part of my research is in considering how playwrights approached the performance space they had in order to represent the intimate domestic crises of their characters.
I love spending every day researching and writing about a topic I’m extremely passionate about – it really is a privilege to do so. Working alone can be difficult at times, and it can take a toll on your motivation as there are very few people who really ‘get’ what you’re doing! The support at Brookes is amazing though and contact with other research students and staff is really encouraging.
Lots of training is offered at Brookes, nearly all for free, and you are encouraged to keep track of the sessions you attend to demonstrate your professional development (this sounds more daunting than it is and is also incredibly useful in helping to put together CVs and profiles). I’ve gained some really valuable research skills, in addition to working habits and tips that would be helpful across several fields. Some of the best preparation I have received has been through department opportunities: I’ve worked as a Research Assistant for my supervisor on a project, and also have completed Associate Lecturer training and taught on undergraduate modules. These opportunities have been fantastic and given me a great insight into what an academic career might look like. What I think is particularly good about training provision at Brookes is that there’s never an assumption about what your future plans might be. In training sessions I’ve attended, as well as in general conversations within the department as to what might come next, there are certainly students planning to stay in academia, but also plenty who are thinking of other directions and everyone is supported in what they are hoping to do.
I’m hoping to continue in academia as I still feel that I have plenty to discover through my research interests. I really enjoy teaching, and it’s so rewarding to see students interested in areas that I’m passionate about, and to be able to watch their own research interests develop. I’m due to submit my thesis soon, and so I’m starting to think about next steps now, although I still can’t quite believe how quickly the last three years have gone!