2018 was a year of beginnings. I began my PhD, I began my second job, and I began attending and presenting at conferences. It has been a difficult and stressful time, but a rewarding one too.
My first journey into postgraduate research began with my PhD application back in January. Rushed as it was (I had to meet a funding deadline. I ultimately didn’t get the funding but I did get down to the final applicants), I feel like I drafted an interesting research proposal, and staff at MMU were certainly interested in accepting me as a self-funded researcher. Usually, this would have entirely ruled me out of my research dreams; money is both essential for researchers and difficult to come by. Luckily, this year the government introduced a doctoral loan, so with some juggling, a decision to study part-time and the financial support of my parents, I accepted my place!
My first ever conference also happened to be the biggest Gothic conference out there, the International Gothic Association conference Gothic Hybridities, which this year was held in my city, Manchester, at MMU. I wasn’t technically a student at the time but I was able to make a head start in getting to know the PGR community. I presented a paper in the Contemporary Hauntings panel entitled ‘”You Made Him Real”: Interactive Gothic Texts for the YouTube Generation’, in which I used the case studies of Markiplier and Jacksepticeye to demonstrate how online content allows for innovative and interactive expressions of horror. Both presenting at the conference and hearing other papers was a valuable experience, and I am so pleased that my first conference experience was in such a supportive and welcoming environment.
My next conference, Reimagining the Gothic: Aesthetics and Archetypes took place in October at the University of Sheffield. This was only a few weeks into my PhD but was a conference primarily aimed at early career researchers. Like with the IGA, I didn’t present anything particularly related to my research project. I view conferences as both a way to further my main research, and an opportunity to discuss other ideas to add some variety to my research background and make me a more well-rounded academic. Plus, some ideas probably won’t stretch to anything more than a 20 minute conference paper, and so here I presented ‘”Look at me, I’m a beautiful creature”: The Eurovision Song Contest as contemporary freak show’. While mostly positive, this was my first instance of experiencing negative feedback on a paper. I soon discovered that it wasn’t my ideas that were being criticised, but my articulation of them, and I am now endeavouring to be more clear and concise in my expression to prevent any confusion. On the plus side, I included jokes in this paper, and people actually laughed!
Probably the most exciting and strange aspect of my year was being invited to present at the 2018 Finnish Gender Studies conference as part of the workshop Queerness and Television in the 21st Century. Taking place at the University of Turku, this was my first international conference, my first time visiting Finland, and my first time travelling internationally solo. Despite a hectic journey (never try to cross Helsinki Airport in 10 minutes!) and an ankle injury, this was a fascinating, wonderful experience. It was my first time presenting on my actual research topic, discussing the use of homosociality and erotic triangles in NBC’s Hannibal. Despite presenting on the Gothic, this was my first non-Gothic, interdisciplinary conference. While most of the workshops on offer were not related to my area of research, getting to hear papers I usually would not explore was an eye-opening experience and encouraged me to explore more widely. Turku is a beautiful, if expensive city, and Finland is one of the friendliest places I have ever visited.
While my PhD has barely even started, I have developed a strong network of friends amongst the Postgraduate Arts and Humanities Centre at MMU, and have even set up a regular social event, a film club in one of the cinema screens owned by the university.
My hopes for 2019 are to get more involved in my research as I submit my first assignments, present at more conferences, to organise a conference of my own (already underway!) and hopefully to get my first journal article published. I am entering into 2019 with a positive mental attitude and excitement for the future.