To search or not to search? Students’ perspectives on the Master ACMA

By Élodie Galiana-Camarena, co-editor of EN-globe (2015)

Aix-Marseille University offers a wide range of graduate programmes, among which a 2-year Masters degree in English Studies (ACMA is short for Aire Culturelle du Monde Anglophone). Through four main disciplines – literature, translation, history and linguistics – , this Master explores a great variety of subjects and allows students to pursue their own research. Students are also encouraged to spend time abroad to experience life and research in an English-speaking country. At the end of our first year, we have to write and defend a short dissertation, in English. The second year is more advanced, laying the foundation for a Ph.D.

Thanks to the opportunity for interdisciplinary research, students are able to explore a wide range of topics. We are encouraged to communicate with each other and share the fruit of our work. This academic blog, for instance, attests to the fact that researchers are part of a larger community. Working in close collaboration with the Research Center on the Anglophone World (LERMA), we discover what it means to be a University researcher, notably thanks to the organization of the ‘LERMAsteriales’ (a symposium organized each year by the students themselves), the research seminars that we regularly attend, and this new blog, which was created in 2015.

Universities are supposed to train futures thinkers. From our experience, we can say that Aix-Marseille University has offered us a rich learning experience. This Masters degree is an excellent way to start research. It is gratifying, albeit quite challenging, as it requires a lot of time and work, but it makes you even prouder of what you accomplish.

As students, how do we experience it?

Thanks to the diversity of choice offered by this Masters degree, we undoubtedly gain a lot of open-mindedness, cultural awareness, knowledge and maturity. As we choose our research subject independently, we work on a topic that is truly of interest to us. Our supervisors help us make our debut as researchers, guiding us towards the path of academic erudition. With this comprehensive training, we are at the heart of research and all that it implies.

The logical next step is a Ph.D, but we also discover a myriad of possibilities and opportunities, brought by the variety of things we do. Beyond an academic career, there are many alternatives. Thanks to the different projects we are involved in, which provide us with professional experience, we feel adequately equipped to gain a sure footing on the work market.

By Nora Menicucci, co-editor of EN-globe (2015)

I first enrolled in Aix-Marseille University driven by my interest for the English language.

The many different courses offer in-depth exploration of the English-speaking sphere as a whole, in its varied cultural forms. Students are encouraged very early on to immerse in an English-speaking country – and to become aware of its cultural differences, especially academic differences. We benefit from financial support, as well as an educational and administrative structure. If I have not experienced this full immersion yet, I can nevertheless share my experience of four years within the English Department, which led me to enroll for this Masters degree.

 From student to young researcher

Having experienced teaching in a secondary school, and this being my primary goal when I first came to Aix-Marseille University, little by little, I developed a considerable interest in research, and eventually decided to pursue a research-oriented degree, instead of a teacher-training course.

I have developped an interest in gender studies, queer studies and women’s studies after following a course on the history of women from the late Victorian era to the 21st century. And although I had initial concerns that such a discipline, which might be regarded by some as typically American, would be eclipsed within a French Masters degree, the Master ACMA provided me with a long list of supervisors whom I could approach to supervise my dissertation. Thus, during my first year, I choose to work on the representation of lesbianism in the media. All the necessary tools were available to write my dissertation, notably classes in research methodology.

Gradually, the feeling of being part of something big and, in a way, constantly new, wiped away the concern that ever young researcher eventually has – to be invisible among so many available sources and to be, in the end, forgotten. In fact, we are part of a community of young researchers, who share their knowledge and their work in various disciplines. For instance, somebody who chooses to write a dissertation in literature is also given the opportunity to follow seminars in history, linguistics and translation (for instance ‘Britaix’ seminars focus on early modern Britain[1], while ‘ALLITA’ seminars deal with American literature) as the degree strongly encourages students to discover various disciplines.

What future for young researchers?

Ultimately, if the Masters degree does not guarantee a professional future in higher education, it provides young researchers with all the necessary tools to exploit their own strengths and to explore their field of research in the best possible conditions. For instance, last March, we were given the opportunity to present our research at the fourth annual LERMAsteriales, and, even if the work involved was considerable, we were able to share our research and to learn how to organise our own symposium with a high degree of autonomy.


A Call for Further Discussion on the Fundamentals of a Theory of Biography

By Maryam Thirriard (2015)

The first thing a newcomer to the study of life-writing would be likely to do is to set off in search of some references. This could give a sense of direction in this immense new territory. However, one soon discovers it is difficult to find a reference book or an ‘Oxbridge’ introduction to biography theory, or to life-writing in general. So one can only rejoice at the promise of the theoretical input presented in Theoretical Discussions of Biography written by Hans Renders and Binne de Haan. This collectively-written book provides important insights into the historical approach to biography and highlights the pertinent connections between biography and microhistory. However, it seems that the representation of biography in this book is much narrower than what the full scope of biography has to offer. The theory of biography needs to be broadened. The following considerations may seem general, but they reveal that the essentials still need to be addressed and that we have quite a way to go before we find a satisfactory framework in which to build a theory of biography.

Defining the terms

The aim of Theoretical Discussions of Biography is to provide the theoretical framework necessary for biography to achieve the status it deserves as an object of scientific study – a status to which the very tangible flourishing of departments of biographical studies in universities bears witness. One can only welcome such an undertaking. However, Renders and de Haan warn the reader of the price the discipline will have to pay: ‘biography as a research area belongs to history’ (Renders, 3). I am uncomfortable with this delimitation of biographical study, and feel that the field has shrunk from a myriad of life-writing productions of all shapes and forms to what seems more like a private club.

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