PhD in English Literature, 29th June 2021
Winner of Samuel Rutherford Prize 2021
What attracted you to St Andrews in the first place?
I first came to St Andrews for my undergraduate degree in 2010, when I was probably suffering under the same delusions as Hector in Alan Bennett’s The History Boys: ‘Cloisters, ancient libraries…I was confusing learning with the smell of cold stone.’ But I loved the School of English, and after a few years in Dublin and Liverpool, I returned to live in Edinburgh (a different kind of cold stone) and complete my PhD under the supervision of Professor Don Paterson.
What are your favourite memories of being a student here?
During my PhD I was really much more a member of staff than a student, and so my favourite memories are of my students — the ones that sat in a corner room in Kennedy Hall or the Quad (or, more recently, on Teams) and had insightful discussions, asked brilliant questions and generously laughed at my jokes.
When you reflect on your time in St Andrews, how do you think it has changed you?
Oh Christ, probably entirely and not at all.
Where have you spent your time since the outbreak of Covid-19? What was the experience of virtual life, teaching and playing for you?
I’ve spent the pandemic mostly in my sunny tenement flat in Leith, Edinburgh, with my partner and my houseplants. Writing a PhD (at least in the Arts & Humanities) is a generally solitary experience anyway, so little of my research life changed. But I really felt for my students; online tutorials can still deliver excellent teaching, but we know it’s a very different experience of university life.
How do you think events of 2020/1 (coronavirus, lockdown life, BLM) have shaped the graduating Class of 2021?
Every year is shaped by its own struggles, political climates, and particularities — which is not to say that the past two years have not been exceptional in various ways, but to perhaps suggest that we need to think on a broader scale. The Black Lives Matter movement is not, and should not, be confined to 2020/2021, and we are yet to really reckon with the ongoing effects of the pandemic, particularly on a global level. Strict periodisation is a scam, tbh.
What was it like finishing your studies towards the end of the pandemic?
I mean… bad? Bad.
What are your hopes and plans for the future (both for yourself personally and the world at large)?
Me and the world are probably going to get a dog, I reckon.
What will you miss most about ‘the bubble’ of St Andrews?
From the days I used to commute in to teach: the early morning train journey across the Forth Rail Bridge; the excuse for getting the Ultimate Bagel at North Point; my colleagues in the English department and the particular slice of the North Sea right outside it.
What are your plans for your own virtual conferral day?
Well gee I might just take 20 mins off work to listen to my name being read out. The thrills!
How do you feel now that we are beginning to see the light at the end of this pandemic?
A killer combo of optimism, cynicism and anxiety.
And finally, do you hope to come back in 2022 to graduate in person?
Yeah, love a bit of pomp and ceremony and an ugly blue gown.