Sixth form English students who are interested in studying English Literature at university were given an insight into what this might involve from Dr Nikolai Duffy from ManchesterNikolai Duffy Metropolitan University.  He addressed what to expect from the course and told the audience about his love for the language.  After graduating from Goldsmiths, London, Dr Duffy worked for two years in publishing before returning to Goldsmiths to study for an MA in English Studies, which then led to a PhD on contemporary literature and philosophy. Since receiving his doctorate he has lectured at Goldsmiths, Royal Holloway and, since 2007, at Manchester Metropolitan University.

Dr Duffy started the talk by giving the students a rather inspirational and motivating extract from the French Philosopher, Jacques Derrida.  He said ‘Someone, you or me, comes forward and says: I would like to learn to live’.  Derrida claims that ‘nothing is more necessary than this wisdom.’ Dr Duffy emphasised that the study of books, ideally, should return us to the phrase, to learn how to live,  that we should all try to live through learning and recognise that we are never actually done learning.  We benefit from being inquisitive, he told his young audience, from having the desire to look closer into our culture.  The word ‘essay’ derives from the French verb ‘essayer’ meaning ‘to try’ which helped to strengthen his point that in life, we have never finished learning.  He recalled how he used to be taught by Mr Allison and he has kept the books that he studied, still with the annotations.  He said he did this purely so he could continue learning from them. Each time you read a book for the second or third time you are gaining new knowledge and wisdom, which is why studying books appeals to him so much.

Dr Duffy then brought up the main concern: Why study English? He said that employers, later on in life, look for people who are articulate, logical, independent and thorough. Studying English, he reassured everyone, would provide these traits and would be beneficial in the long run.  He also said that English requires planning, communicating, creativity, decisiveness, initiative, discernment, and leadership as well as being able to think for yourself.  He also explained what sort of literature a student studying English at university can expect to come across.  He specifically mentioned texts from a host of perspectives and contexts, but it will always be about trying to understand how these texts work on their own terms, and understanding how the ways in which they work are closely connected to how they are written. He went on to say that ‘Understanding texts is the beginning of understanding the world around us, not to mention ourselves. Literature is something that locates you in the world.’

The presentation answered many questions about studying English at university and was both illuminating and enlightening and we were very fortunate to have such a passionate and lively talk.

Cate Philip and Lucy Yeeles (L6th)