Dr. Joe Anderton is the Course Director of our undergraduate English courses. We caught up with him to find out more about why he thinks it's important to study a degree, why Birmingham is a good place to study and how the School of English prepares graduates to be work ‘ready’...
Why do you believe it’s important to study a degree and why might students want to study an English course at BCU?
Studying for a degree at university really is a life-transforming experience. Obviously, you’re learning about your chosen subject and becoming proficient in a particular discipline. You are practising and embedding transferrable skills over a significant period of time too, so our expectation is that our graduates are work ‘ready’, and equipped to proactively launch your career. We provide work placement opportunities to gain experience with local businesses and organisations, and collaborative practice opportunities to work with other students across the Faculty of Arts, Design and Media.
But studying for a degree is essentially a time for growing - for growing up, for expanding your horizons and prospects, becoming the person you want to be with the life you want to lead. When you study on an English course at BCU, the subject itself and the course philosophy develop you as an individual, as a job candidate and as a global citizen.
Why is Birmingham a good place to study?
Birmingham is often referred to as the ‘second city’ because it is the second largest city economy and urban population in the UK. That brings a lot of benefits as a base for your undergraduate studies. It is a diverse, vibrant city, with lots going on and loads to do. It is rich in life opportunities, from jobs, internships and graduate schemes; to arts, culture and entertainment; to food, shopping and nightlife. For bookworms, linguaphiles and theatre lovers, we have the Birmingham Literature Festival, one of Europe’s biggest public libraries, the Institute of Creative and Critical Writing, the Hippodrome, the Repertory Theatre and the Old Rep Theatre, to name a few highlights. The transport links are good, making it a convenient city for commuting, and the people are really friendly. Lots of graduates settle in and around the city where they studied, so all of the above make Birmingham an attractive long-term option too.
What can students do to help prepare them for their course?
There’s lots you can do to get mentally and intellectually prepared for your course, but the step up to university-level study isn’t one you make alone. We have a transition process called Level Up+ that helps to ensure a smooth journey into Higher Education. It’s an inclusive, supported approach throughout your first year that introduces you steadily to critical thinking, reflective practice, and independent learning, which you’ll need to succeed.
Managing your expectations will also help. Most students decide to study English because they like the books they have already studied and/or they did well in the subject at school. An undergraduate degree means a greater amount and higher level of study, which is engrossing and rewarding, but can also be quite demanding and challenging. Accepting and expecting this is good preparation too.
If you had to name one thing about the courses that makes them distinct, what would it be?
The focus on English studies having real-world relevance. That can mean understanding texts, writing, language and performance in relation to important social, cultural and historical issues, or drawing attention to the transferrable employability and collaboration skills we’re exercising everyday. I say this for two reasons: we have a diverse student community, so it is particularly important for our courses to make connections to social and cultural issues that matter widely, in order to understand the world from a variety of perspectives. The School of English is also a part of the Birmingham Institute of Media and English, and this fosters an approach to literature, creative writing, language and drama that is attuned to cultural theories that make the study of English relevant here and now. I think this genuinely forward-thinking and outward-facing approach sets our courses apart from many others.
What’s your favourite element about working at the School of English?
Besides reading and talking about brilliant books, my favourite element about working at the School of English is the people. It is a relatively small School and everyday I work closely with a team of talented, dedicated and down to earth academics, administrators and students in support roles. In our School we also get to know our students really well, because we’re regularly in contact with them from module to module, semester to semester, often across all three years of their degrees. These strong working relationships really enhance the teaching and research environment. After all, a School is its people; there’s nothing without the staff and student community.
What is the philosophy of the undergraduate English courses?
In a few words, it is to promote independent, creative, and critical thinking, through inclusivity and partnership working. We know that the world needs discerning and resourceful individuals who understand language, communication, interpretation and meaning, and can respond to complexity and ambiguity in different social and cultural contexts. Our courses offer supportive, student-centred learning environments - which take into account the variety of students’ previous educational experience, personal characteristics and home backgrounds - and allow students to practise and develop these skills together with peers and experts to achieve their full potential.
Could you tell us about your experience and how this feeds into your courses?
Before joining BCU in 2017, I worked as a lecturer at several other universities in the Midlands region, including the University of Leicester and the University of Nottingham, which is where I studied for my Masters and Doctoral degrees in English. As an undergraduate student, I really enjoyed twentieth-century literature, and I carried that interest through to my PhD research on the Nobel Prize-winning author Samuel Beckett and my first book Beckett’s Creatures: Art of Failure after the Holocaust. Since 2013, I have mostly been reading and writing about dehumanisation, nonhuman animals, and, most recently, homelessness. The lesson I use most from my experience is to never stand still; to keep evaluating what you’re doing and how you’re doing it, to keep what works, improve what could be better and change to what is needed.