14 March 2011

The School Plan

At the University of Otago, I am in four classes (or "papers" as they're called here) as I work towards my "Postgraduate Diploma in Arts." This diploma is the weird sort of degree I am seeking. See, generally speaking a New Zealand undergraduate only goes to school for three years. This is because high schools here have an optional thirteenth year, an option usually exercised by the college-bound. Students who want to get an M.A, though, also usually take a fourth year of undergraduate studies. This fourth optional year earns them a "Bachelor with Honors" degree rather than a more usual B.A., and is usually a prerequisite for entering the Master's program.

Obviously, I don't have a "B.A. (Hon)" - I just have a poor old B.A. So to get my Master's, I have to get the equivalent of that fourth year, in the form of the Postgraduate Diploma. It proves I have the research chops to tackle a serious thesis.

Now, it might seem initially unfair, since I already have a four-year degree. But because of the extra year of high school done by students here, it's the same number of years schooling in total. Plus, I really do need to demonstrate my ability to tackle a lengthy research project.

My papers this year are these, all full-year courses:
  • Shakespeare and His Contemporaries - A study of the Bard as well as the associated contemporary figures, like Marlowe and Jonson. It's taught by the head of the department, a fearsomely intelligent woman who is well-respected internationally for her work on Shakespeare. It is tremendous fun, particularly since we're delving into some truly arcane sources for some of my favorite plays. I was lucky enough to take an extremely relevant class in my undergrad days, so I am familiar with even some of the more obscure work covered, like The Roaring Girl and The Knight of the Burning Pestle
  • A Topic in Post-Colonial Literatures - An examination of the legacy of British colonialism in New Zealand, Australia, and Canada. Pretty interesting, with the luxury of being fully contemporary - which always seems like criticism on easy mode. I have a good background in this as well, although mostly with African post-colonialism (Dr. Schenck in Literary Criticism). I haven't been able to find the books secondhand, so I have been furtively going into a local bookshop and reading the assigned books in there ($35!).
  • Old English - This is the only class that has me seriously worried, because it's an unknown. I have extensive experience with the Old English texts - particularly Beowulf (I already owned one of the Beowulf editions we're using) - but relatively little experience with the raw language itself. It's a challenge, but exhilarating to try to translate and understand, cramming into memory new declensions and vocabulary. Luckily, while it may look weird, sounding it out helps a lot - for example, "þæt wæs god cyning" is pronounced very close to its translation of "that was a good king."
  • Dissertation - The big one. This independent research project aims to produce a 20,000 word dissertation on a serious topic, learning and proving research and writing skills. An enormous amount can go wrong because we are given an enormous amount of freedom; brief classes provide guidelines and help in research methodology and the like, but mostly we're left to our own devices under a research supervisor. Delightfully, my topic will be Nabakov's Pale Fire, a book about which I have had some serious interest in the past.
One interesting thing is that the dissertation - if good enough - would permit me to move right into a Ph.D, skipping an M.A. entirely. That's a year cut down off my studies entirely! But of course, that means that (a) I'd be getting my Ph.D from Otago, and (b) I'd have to be in New Zealand even longer than I expected.

Otago is a great school, of course. But I'd always had this idea of going from my M.A. to some seriously prestigious school in the States. I hadn't seriously considered the idea of coming away from New Zealand with my doctorate in hand - even if it would only take three/four years! And to be away from home for so long... I don't know. At least I have a year in which to decide.  And for now, I have a plan.

No comments:

Post a Comment