Old Post: Living in Leeds

Originally posted 2 October 2013.

When I came home from Uni yesterday, I was feeling particularly giddy; things are going quite well, and I am absolutely enjoying it.

You see, this week is the week that I officially started, and it’s my fourth week of living in Leeds, so I’m more or less settling into a routine – and it’s a routine that feels just right.

I really, really like Leeds. Leeds is technically a city and so I shouldn’t like it – I don’t like cities – but it doesn’t feel big to me at all. It feels right. I can take a train from Headingley station (which, incidentally, I noticed was used in the pilot episode of DCI Banks, which I watched on ITV Player yesterday evening) and be in the city centre in 10 minutes. And there I find all the shops I could want or need – vintage and retro shops, fabric shops, shoe shops, bookshops, everything. I love the architecture – very redbrick Industrial Revolution urbanisation thing, there. I can cycle to the centre too and be there in 30 minutes.

Cycling to the Uni takes 12 minutes (15 when it’s raining, as it is today), on a reasonably flat road (only one significant incline and even that one is not very steep) with fairly wide bicycle lanes. The Uni itself – or, well, the bits where I have to go, really – is wonderful. The School of English, on Cavendish Road – I’m typing this from its second floor computer cluster – has beautiful period features. There’s a coffee shop nearby that does decent black coffee. It’s only a bit further to the Parkinson Building (the one with the white tower that you see when you type ‘University of Leeds’ in Google Images), where the Brotherton Library is which has so.many.books and a wonderfully art deco interior. There’s a bicycle repair shop on campus (yes, really) and there’s lectures in a fascinatingly ugly but complex building (the Roger Stevens) which has M.C. Escher-esque staircases.

And I like Headingley. I like the shops that are only half a mile from my house and I like my house and my housemates (except when they wake me up at 5am). I like how the bus from Headingley to the Uni only costs a pound.

So now that I have drawn the background – the landscape, if you will – I shall tell you what a first week of a PhD at the School of English of the University of Leeds is like.

I met my fellow PhD students last Thursday during the Induction. The Induction more or less precisely serves this purpose; meet your – coursemates? colleagues? – and the Department/School. Naturally, there was a bunch of practical information too – Leeds PhDs are provisional for their first year and have to be ‘upgraded’ (well, technically it’s ‘transferred’, but ‘upgraded’ sounds so wonderfully scifi) to PhD, to MPhil if the work is not up to PhD standard, or be asked to try again in three months or simply withdraw. So, technically, we are all Provisional PhD candidates until we are upgraded.

This morning ended with some drinks, and then an informal campus tour which was cut short by everyone deciding to have pints at the SU.

On Monday, the real work started. I audited a seminar and two lectures – yes, that is also possible at Leeds, if you can work it out schedule-wise and with your supervisor and the module coordinator – and attended another School reception. The seminar was my supervisor’s undergraduate Stylistics seminar, which I basically audit because though I already took Stylistics in my undergraduate at UCR, new angles are always useful. I will not attend all, though. One of the lectures was for the Power of Language module, which is fascinatingly fascinating. I suppose I will draw most of my inspiration from this module.

Tuesday was a day for the Uni’s ‘Starting your Research Degree’-workshop, which, like most one-day workshops I have attended so far, involved post-its. I did, however, get some useful information out of it – mainly practical, though it did inspire me to go home and do a mindmap for my research. The mindmap ended up quite elaborate. I also audited a Forensic Linguistics seminar, which again I found fascinating.

Today, then, is finally a day for starting the work. And it’s difficult. I don’t know where to start. I’m supposed to have a formal meeting with my supervisor next week, but I want to have an idea of what I’m doing before I go there. I decided, eventually, to go philosophical; drag my more philosophically-inclined books to Uni, and work from there. My main aim is to find a politico-philosophical justification of my research interest, as my research is highly dependent on political context and I feel I need a solid grounding there.
As I often do, I reached for Lon Fuller’s assertion that communication is the basic necessity for human survival and worked from there. I am currently working on justifying my position that establishing morality and (de)criminalising types of behaviour is dependent not just on legislation but also on public discourse (such as the media), which explains why it is important to understand the mechanisms of public discourse – and looking at media representation of corporate fraud as linked to the global economic crisis is one way of doing so. Of course, this position is far from controversial – of course people’s opinions are changed based on what they hear and read and with and to whom they talk. But precisely because this ‘of course’ feels so much like common sense, I need to find out how and why this is so.

This may not end up in the final thesis. Heck, it is week 1, it will most likely not end up in my thesis. Will I end up including Cesare Beccaria’s idea that judges get to judge because of a direct or indirect agreement of those subject to the law? Probably not. But it’s good to look into it regardless.

I know I’m not studying anything that will tangibly help humanity. I am not curing HIV or Cancer, I am not building jetpacks or lightsabers or hoverboards, I am not figuring out how to travel to whatever planet is most like Gallifrey and I am not developing a truth serum. I am an idealist, and as such I want to understand the language of justice, and justice through language. 

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Author: Ilse A Ras

There are times when I am doing research on crime news and language; sometimes I'm obsessed, sometimes I'm bored, and sometimes my tea is getting cold.

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