UA Alumni: Melissa Alexander
Melissa was the Overall Winner in the Literature 1710-Present category in 2015.
She is now a final year Doctoral Researcher at the University of Oxford, based at Pembroke College and working with Dr Laura Marcus to complete a thesis on the use of household objects in Virginia Woolf’s oeuvre.
Where do your interests lie?
My doctoral research hopes to demonstrate how objects become implicated in the purported divide between Edwardian and modernist fiction, how they produce skepticism regarding social conventions and "reality" as such, and mediate problems of time and intersubjectivity.
My academic interests span nineteenth to twentieth-century literature, with a special focus on eighteenth and twentieth philosophy, object aesthetics and material culture. Professionally, I’m interested in new pedagogical developments and am excited about cross-disciplinary teaching and learning. I love animals, crafts and cinema.
What are you doing now and what has happened since the award?
I went on to complete a Master's degree at the University of Strathclyde and, with the support of the Carnegie Cameron Trust and a University stipend, I achieved first-class honours and graduated at the top of my MLitt cohort.
Next, I received an AHRC Doctoral Training Studentship to fund a DPhil in English Literature at the University of Oxford. Besides working on my own research projects, I've had the great pleasure of presenting my work at Oxford's Graduate Seminars and serving as a peer-reviewer for AHRC-TORCH Graduate Fund Applications.
I've also worked with the Oxford-based IntoUniversity Mentoring Scheme, Target Oxbridge and Pembroke college as a tutor, mentor and essay prize marker, all with the goal of helping under-represented demographics find a rewarding place in higher education.
Since the award, I’ve also travelled a bit here in Europe and got to visit Malaysia and Australia, which was amazing for close encounters with pygmy owls, lunch-stealing lizards and enormous bats.
What do you like the most about what you do?
The best thing about what I do can also be the most frustrating thing – the writing process! When it works, when you’ve written something that has come to grips with the complex thoughts that literature provokes and does, in some small way, justice to the author or text you are considering, you get a wonderful feeling of satisfaction.
The terms of my doctoral study allow me to have time to really read and explore the subject in-depth, and there’s a real pleasure in producing a piece of work that is truly your own.
Has receiving an award for your hard work helped?
Being the recipient of the prestigious UA Award doubtless helped me to secure funding for my postgraduate degrees but in a more important sense, I think it gave me the confidence to pursue an academic career and make the most of my abilities.
These kind of competitions are great opportunities for academic, intellectual and personal growth and thinking back, it was so encouraging to know that your work goes far and finds critical appreciation - something that isn't always readily apparent to somebody in the middle of undergraduate study.
I want to thank the UA for doing a fantastic job, seeking out talented research, encouraging collaboration and cross-disciplinary dialogue, and boosting future experts in every field.
What are your plans for the future?
I intend to work up my thesis to a book and pursue an academic career in modern and contemporary literature. I would also love to continue working with undergraduate admissions and outreach to improve access to higher education.
How was your experience as an undergraduate student?
I came to undergraduate studies a little later than most, as I had worked for four or five years after I graduated high school. Also, I’d been homeschooled and (this might be true of others who have had a less than conventional educational journey) I did struggle a bit with imposter syndrome – I felt like I had a lot to prove.
But it was wonderful to find that undergraduate study expanded my horizons, challenged me intellectually and gave me something I could excel at. I found that my time at university was deeply fulfilling because I had the leisure to find what I actually liked and what my capacities actually were.
What advice would you give to students?
Some of the best advice I received as an undergraduate was to relish the time you’re given and find your own voice in the world – that can’t be taken for granted!
I’d found that, in working a regular nine-to-five job, one just gets caught up in the routine and there isn’t as much of an opportunity to develop intellectually or pursue your own passions. My first years in university helped me discover my enthusiasms.
Then, when you find what’s right for you, try hard and take risks!
Why should students submit their work to the UA?
Submitting your papers to competitions like the Undergraduate Awards multiplies the rewards of your efforts! You’ve put in the work already so get the extra accreditation!
Whether you go on to further study or move directly on to your career path, you’ll be able to say that you earned a distinction in your field and were able to bring your research to diverse, international audiences. More than that, you’ll become part of a great network of talented, dedicated researchers.