the end of the semester, the beginning of essays

Sorry I haven’t posted in a while, everything seemed to happen all at once: my dissertation proposal, the last week of my job, the end of the semester, and of course, my birthday. It’s been a stressful week, but I survived.

I still have lot of work to do, but fortunately, my job at the Student Association has pretty much wrapped up, so my focus will be purely academic. I have a couple of essays due around the end of April. For The Practice of Cultural Studies course, I will write a 4,000-word essay on street art and the body. I will look at how JR, a French street artist, creates billboard-size images of eyes and faces to capture the experience of everyday people. I am still looking for a theoretical framework, but will probably draw from theories on physiognomy, please let me know if you have any reading suggestions.

For The City and Its Others course, I will probably write about representations of urban slums and their influence on urban theory and development. I am still brainstorming for this essay and may change my topic completely. This essay is supposed to be a visual-textual essay composed of 3,000 words and images with detailed captions. I have never written an essay with photographs or on urban studies, so it will be interesting to see how this new format will influence the way I think through and write about my ideas.

This may not seem like a lot of work for a graduate-level course, but in the UK, you are expected to do a great deal of self-study. As a masters student, you are supposed to read and conduct independent research for your dissertation throughout the entire year. I am a huge advocate of independent study and enjoy researching on my own, however, I prefer having more coursework. It not only helps me stay focused and interested, but also, offers more opportunities for feedback and self-improvement.

One of my biggest criticisms of the British graduate education system, especially at the University of Edinburgh, is the lack of feedback. For example, last semester I wrote two 4,000-word essays and received about one paragraph of feedback for each essay that I wrote. While I received feedback informally through meetings and class presentations, the two paragraphs were the only concrete pieces of assessment I received. There is a lot you can pack in one paragraph, but I think it would be more effective and helpful if we had a greater number of assignments in order to receive more feedback on how to improve our writing, research skills, and ideas.

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