Current student

Subject area

Isobel Sigley is a doctoral researcher currently completing her English PhD in late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century women’s short fiction.

My research investigates the senses of touch in short fiction by women at the turn of the century. This was a time of great social unrest and anxiety as the twentieth century loomed and political movements, particularly pertaining to the advancement of women and gender relations, gained traction. I interrogate how the touch of protagonists within first-wave feminist short stories resembles and embodied the qualities the women’s movement championed: autonomy, subjectivity, and agency.

Life as a Researcher

I applied for my studentship at Loughborough while studying for my master’s in English Literatures at Keele University. I had studied for my undergraduate at Loughborough (2015-18) and my primary supervisor for my PhD, Dr Sarah Parker, was my undergraduate dissertation supervisor first!

Postgraduate studies are a lot more independent than undergraduate. For a PhD, you really have the power to design your project and self-manage your workload. This gives you the freedom to explore what interests you most, but it also requires a lot of discipline. You have to draw parameters around your research and organise your time effectively to maximise productivity.

Lecturers who design and deliver your modules at undergrad level become your advisers – it is a very different relationship that is directed by the researcher and their needs first and foremost.

A typical day

Days look very different depending on what stage you are at – whether you’re in the thinking, planning, reading, or writing stages of chapter drafts, or any of the tricky interstices or overlaps between them. Generally, I aim to be at my desk with my laptop open by 10am every weekday and I work through several tasks I set myself between my supervisory meetings. I try to lean into whatever energy level I have mustered; sometimes that means dedicating time to menial time-consuming tasks such as organising my bibliographical material, which takes more patience than brainpower. Other days, you lose track of time and find yourself struggling to keep up with your own thoughts while writing or planning ideas.

Help and support

As well as having a supervisory team made up of two academics in the School, who monitor and aide my research closely each month, there is the programme representative system and the Doctoral Programme Lead (DPL) to offer support and advice on any issues. The representative system appoints a peer to be “rep” and sit on a committee with many senior members of staff in SSH where they raise concerns pertaining to all manner of doctoral researcher experience. The DPL is also a key port of call for information and support. Both positions likewise steer social events and initiatives to ensure researchers are settled and engaged in the research culture.

For the first six months of your PhD, my advice would be to follow whatever tangents or rabbit holes you find interesting and potentially relevant. Put the feelers out there and then work inwards to find the core of your project. PhD research has tides and there are times to spread out and other times to tighten up.

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