Lyle Skains, 30 years old, originally from Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA is in Bangor studying for a PhD at the School of Creative Studies and Media.
Why choose Bangor?
I first went to Texas A&M University, where I got a degree in Animal Science, hoping to breed and train horses. I was interested in Genetics for a while, but as writing had always been my main focus, I returned to the University of New Mexico for a BA in Creative Writing. My wanderings then took me to Los Angeles, where I got a Master of Professional Writing from the University of Southern California. In the States, that's the end for creative writers – the top degree you can get. Lucky me, I found Bangor, where I can do practice-led research to get my PhD in the field. I admit I came to Bangor in a roundabout way – my husband took on a job in the School of Psychology. Once I saw the university offered PhD opportunities in Creative Writing, however, I decided a move across the Atlantic was definitely in order!
I'm in the School of Creative Studies and Media. My course is an interdisciplinary programme, where I am free to explore writing, drama, new media, television, radio, film, and any other aspect I care to incorporate in my research, even history or sociology, for example.
In particular, my research is practice-led: I will write a novel-length creative piece (possibly a series of inter-linked short stories), and adapt them to digital stories. Digital fiction is a form of new media, incorporating visual, audio, hypertext, interactive, and possibly game and networked structures. I'll be looking at this new genre and how authors can reach new audiences, and how readers can gain new experiences of story through digital media.
What's the best thing about the course?
The best thing for me is that I'm doing something I love, and would probably be doing anyway, but I'm also getting input from some incredibly bright, creative, and innovative people. In the short time I've been here, my intellectual world has grown tenfold with new ideas and new avenues my creative work can travel. The support from my supervisors and other faculty in the department has allowed me to explore any direction my research takes.
Life in Bangor...
I love the fact that it's small. Texas A&M, at 45,000 students when I was there, and USC, of a similar size, were enormously huge universities, and it was easy to feel lost. At Bangor, I know that if I sit in a uni coffee shop for an hour, I'm going to see at least five people I know from all different departments. I have much more sense of community here than anywhere else I've studied.
Like anywhere, student life is what you put into it. The nice thing about a small university in a small community is there are a lot of clubs and activities to join. I played rugby with the women's uni team, and know other postgrads who participate in university sports. We have theatre groups, creative writing groups, movie nights, and fancy dress nights.
In addition, I have plenty of opportunity to join conference organizing committees, to participate and present at postgrad conferences, to lead discussions in research groups, and to immerse myself in academic and professional activities of all kinds. That sort of experience is good for me now, even better once I have my degree in hand and start on my career.
What support is there for Postgraduate students?
I feel the university makes a lot of effort to reach out to postgrads, through the Academic Development Unit's training programmes, to departmental support of our research. It's a small university, so there may be some advantages we don't have, but having staff and faculty know me by my name instead of my NUS number helps me feel a lot more integrated into university life.
What's the hardest part of being a Postgraduate student?
So far, I've found the hardest thing is to organize myself, and to limit the number of things I participate in. It's easy to let the research fall to the side for more immediate concerns like funding applications, conference meetings, and interesting lectures.
Any advice for prospective students?
Do your research. Know what you're getting into. Know what is expected of you, even if this means asking your supervisor and director of postgrads a million questions. Questions are good. Ignorance is bad. I'd also say you should be prepared to be a self-managed unit. Take advantage of the training programmes that teach you how to manage time, how to plan your research, how to set your schedule. Don't rely on your supervisor or someone else to hold your hand throughout your studies; this isn't undergraduate anymore. You're a big kid now, and you have to put your big kid pants on.
Plans for the future?
I plan to continue as a creative writer, publishing stories and pushing into the new digital field. I'd also like to continue in the academic sphere, as I enjoy the open discussion and research quite a lot. I even enjoy teaching, if you can believe it.