NRN Blog: One Thesis, One Document?!

One of the most tricky aspects to getting a single draft of a thesis is the physical merging of all of your chapters into one whole. It’s intimidating, but we’ve got you covered: here’s our own Kate Holmes with her tips and tricks. 

Recently I put my thesis into one document for the last time. Like most people I’ve been working with files that contain chapter information rather than one large document because this reduces the risk of document corruption. (My previous career in proposal writing drilled this into me! It also means that I’m used to working with large and unwieldy Word documents.)

I’ve actually combined my thesis twice: the first time was around a year ago when I produced my first (shitty) draft and the second was as my draft was becoming more final. Thankfully, this meant I had already investigated how to combine documents. But, if you haven’t done this already it could make a stressful time even more infuriating if you’re not familiar with the annoyances of Word. This is the stage where all the hard work has been done, so hopefully this post might make choosing the right method to combine documents easier. (Apologies, this post will be quite long!)

It took me quite a while to discover the following three main methods:

  1. Master Documents
  2. Insert File
  3. RD Field: keeping separate documents and combining as pdf

I’ve generally outlined the methods that I think are most likely to work on both Windows and Apple machines. (I have used both.) I’ve not outlined every step in detail, but you should be able to find information on Google by searching terms like ‘Styles’ and ‘Master documents’.

Before you even think about merging the documents, you really should:

Manage Your Individual Documents to Make Merging Easy

There are a few things you can do to make your files easier to combine on a file level:

  • Set up your own templates with line spacing, headings etc set up in a format you like and that complies with your submission requirements from the start. You do this by setting up ‘Styles’.
    1. Think about whether you like a particular font eg I like Garamond because it uses less ink (my printer cartridges last longer!) and is a serif font which makes it easier to read on paper. (How I imagine my examiners are likely to read it!)
    2. Coming from a marketing background I’m obsessed about consistency in document layout so I like headings to have the same spacing underneath – setting this up as a Style in a template will make that consistent across every document. You can also create your own Styles eg so that all your long quotations have the same formatting.
    3. Although, I’ve not done it, it is possible to apply a template retrospectively to a document if you are a bit further along in the process.
  • Use the different Heading style levels (1-3) and use them – that way you can automatically generate your Contents page.
  • Insert a caption on all images and tables so that they automatically populate your Illustrations and separate Tables list.
  • Insert images into the folder using the Insert menu on the main toolbar to ensure you can compress files. If like me you work with a lot of images, then copying and pasting images will result in big individual file sizes that cannot be compressed on a Mac (I’m not sure about Windows here). If you then try and merge documents with large file sizes into a large document you are increasing the chances of all your hard work resulting in a slow, or even, unreadable corrupted document. 
  1. Master Documents

This is a method I first tried and found the least successful. Initially it created a beautiful document with a contents page, but then when I tried to reopen the document it only included links rather than the full text. It also can apparently lead to an increased likelihood of document corruption (see here) in individual documents that goes unseen. (I did notice that it added section breaks to all of the documents I tried to insert when I returned to them – something that is only possible to rectify on a Mac if you click the ‘Show all nonprinting characters’ button.)

The theory is that a master document allows you to work on the individual files and that this will automatically update the master document. Here’s some detailed instructions on Word 2010. The key to it seems to be to select ‘View’ > ‘Outline’ which will then enable you to select ‘View’ > ‘Master Document’.

You can then insert the contents page on the first page prior to the point your first document is inserted. You can also easily create a contents or illustrations table by selecting ‘Insert’ > ‘Index and Tables’ from the main toolbar. The master document will sort your page and figure numbers for you automatically.

I presume the safest thing to do with this method would be to pdf it at the end. I’m unsure how successful it would be to send this as a Word document to someone else eg your supervisor. Would you need to send all associated documents for them to be able to access the linked information?

  1. Insert File

This is pretty straightforward, but will result in one large document that may be more liable to corruption. (Although this may only be if you are working with as many images as I am!) It is the method I used to create my final document because it allowed me to use Reference Management Software to create my Works Cited list.

  • Save all of your documents separately in one folder.
  • Create a new file and populate it with all of the initial information required by your institution. Go to ‘Insert’ > ‘Break’ > ‘Section Break (Next Page)’ before inserting your first document.
  • ‘Insert’ > ‘File’ and select the first file, making sure to insert another page break.
  • Continue until you have all of your files in your document.
  • Then go through and check all of your page numbers. The page breaks may have restarted each chapter to begin at 1. ‘Insert’ > ‘Page Numbers’ will allow you to edit the numbering.
  • ‘Insert’ > ‘Index and Tables’ to create your contents, illustrations and tables lists.

Here’s a useful blog post on this method.

I would recommend doing this fairly late if, like me, you are using a number of images and Reference Management Software. I found that once everything was combined it slowed down my reference software significantly. I presume this is because every time you edit or insert a reference that it is reading the whole document to ensure the Works Cited list is up-to-date.

3. RD Field: Keeping Separate Documents and Combining as PDF

This is the method I used to create my first draft as it meant I could continue to work with separate documents.

  • First save your individual documents separately from the ones you have been working with previously. Save these all into the same final draft folder.
  • Update all the page numbers manually so that each chapter runs on from the last. (If you are using images, you will also need to alter the numbering on image captions to ensure they run on numerically.)
  • Create a document that holds all of your initial information such as the Title page, Acknowledgements, Contents, Illustrations or any other information required by your institution. Save this into the same final draft folder.
    • Turn on the ability to view all non-printing characters (button) so that you can see when you have linked this document to your individual files. This will allow you to see the fields you insert that allows automatic population of contents etc…
    • Prior to your contents & illustrations select ‘Insert’ > ‘Field’ from the drop down.
    • In the box this brings up select ‘RD’ and place in quotation marks the title of your first document. eg RD “Chapter 1”. (Do the same for all of your documents.) You will not see this on the final document, so there is no need to separate this with a carriage return, especially as each carriage return will drop the text that is printed lower on the page.
    • ‘Insert’ > ‘Index & Tables’ to place contents, tables and illustrations tables in this document.
  • You can now print all these individual documents in Word and they should print consistently with the correct page numbers, figure numbers and contents, tables and illustration lists. However, these are still separate documents.
  • Save all of your documents as pdfs. If you use a Mac, you can use Preview to combine pdf documents. If you use Office you may need to use Adobe (which I’m sure your institution will be able to help you with).
  • You now have a print document.

Printing the main document:

  • Look at how many pages your document is and decide if it will need to be printed in two separately bound documents. This is the frequently the case if your thesis is over 300 pages. (You will need a coversheet on the second print document.)

When using any one of these methods, you will need to also think about how you populate your Bibliography and how you ensure all of your references are correct once all your documents have been combined. The main reason I shifted from using the RD field to the insert file method was precisely because it allowed my reference management software to do a lot of the hard work for me.

What method worked best for you? Do you have any tips? Tell us about them in the comments!

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NRN Blog: Transitioning from MA to PhD

 

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For our next installment in the NRN Blog Series, we’re delighted to feature committee member Ella Hawkins! Ella is a first-year PhD student at the Shakespeare Institute, Stratford-upon-Avon. Her research focuses on the representation of Elizabethan England in 21st century stage design for Shakespeare, and is funded by the Midlands3Cities AHRC Doctoral Training Partnership. 

 

‘How’s the PhD going?’

What counts as things ‘going well’ during the first months of a PhD? Getting out of bed before 10am each day? Finding some sort of routine that facilitates productivity? Reading three books per week? Writing something (anything!)?

I’ve now been a PhD student for exactly one term. I attended my first welcome event ten days after submitting my MA dissertation, and I’ve spent the last couple of months trying to figure out what it means to be a doctoral researcher. My usual response to the question above is ‘Okay! I think…?’. This blog post offers a more detailed insight into my experience of transitioning from MA- to PhD-level study.

Out with the old, in with the new

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Welcoming the new student cohort with tea and cake

Unlike many, I stayed on at the same institution for both my MA and PhD. This has brought some continuity to my transition, and meant that I had a head start in settling in to my work environment. I already knew the staff and (most of) my fellow PhD students, I was familiar with the library and the various resources available to Institute students, and I could head straight to my favourite coffee shop in Stratford-upon-Avon to get stuck into some reading. I even had some crossover in terms of supervision. My MA dissertation supervisor became my second PhD supervisor, so I didn’t have to worry so much about building new academic relationships as I moved on to a new course.

Despite all this, I didn’t realise how different my surroundings would feel at the turn of a new academic year. All my MA friends disappeared, and were replaced by a new cohort. My familiar routine went on without me being a part of it. Students trooped in to their seminars – modules I’d known and loved – while I was left to figure out how to work alone. The new students seemed like a great bunch, but I’d lost the support network that helped get me through my Masters. I didn’t feel like I belonged in the way that I had just a few weeks previously.

Imposter syndrome

Feeling insecure, unworthy, and out of place is an issue that can affect PhD students at any stage of their research. For me, continuing directly from MA to PhD led to some serious imposter syndrome – particularly during the first few weeks of my new course.

Having submitted my MA dissertation just days before beginning my PhD, I didn’t receive my final results until I was almost a month into my doctoral studies. What if my work wasn’t good enough for me to be moving on to doctoral research? Would my supervisor be disappointed by what I’d produced? I had used my MA dissertation as an opportunity to begin exploring some of the ideas that would be key to my PhD research; if it didn’t go down well (I told myself), there would likely be serious repercussions for the success of my current project. Although post-deadline despair has been a familiar feeling throughout my academic career, it seemed like the stakes had never been higher.

Finding my feet

Happily, things turned out well on the MA results front. As the initial wave of imposter syndrome retreated, I knuckled down and got to work on my first bit of proper PhD research. Figuring out exactly what’s expected of me as a doctoral student was the next twist on the transition rollercoaster.

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Mind-mapping one’s way to productivity…

I always knew where I was at during my MA. A module lasted 10 weeks, and was worth just over 10% of my overall degree. I had to turn up to seminars, do the prescribed reading, and complete the assignments. At the end of each term I could cross a couple of modules off my mental to-do list and know that I was one step closer to donning a graduation robe. Then dissertation season came along; I had a monthly meeting with my supervisor, and at the end of the summer I needed to hand in a 15,000-word document. It wasn’t an easy year by any means, but I always had a good indication of my progress and performance.

A PhD is more… freeform. I have monthly supervisions (as I did while completing my MA dissertation), and there are a couple of interim deadlines that I need to stick to, but other than that my schedule is largely up to me. What do I feel like researching this month? Where would be a logical place to start? PhDs are big. They’re huge. Finding a way to divide things into more manageable chunks is something I’m still learning about, as well as the volume of material I’m expected to produce between supervisions.

Looking forwards

Although I find it hard to answer the inevitable ‘How’s the PhD going?’ enquiries, I’m feeling excited about the prospect of working in this way for the next three (or, realistically, four) years. Thinking about my topic gives me warm fuzzy feelings. It’s my little slice of the theatre pie, and I crafted it myself to include all the things I love most about Shakespearean performance. I’m developing a way of working that works for me; it feels good to organise my own schedule and find ways to be productive each day. Getting to know a new cohort of students is fantastic, and it’s even better to be supported by such an esteemed supervisory team and funding body.

I know that I’ll likely fall in and out of love with my project as I hit obstacles and opportunities along the way. But I want to remember the positive feelings I’m feeling right now. I’m doing what I love, and exciting times are ahead.

 

Twitter: @EllaMcHawk

WordPress Blog: https://ellahawkins.wordpress.com/

Midlands3Cities Research Profile: http://bit.ly/2fLaODv

NRN Blog: Surviving Your Viva

 

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Nora Williams

We’re particularly delighted to feature a blog post from our own Chair (or Fearless Leader, take your pick), Nora Williams. Nora recently completed her PhD at the University of Exeter on the intersections between print and performance of Middleton and Rowley’s The Changeling — you can find out more here — and now she extols her wisdom on making the most of your viva experience…

 

5:30am. My fratboy of an upstairs neighbour is blending something, or Hoovering. I can never quite tell. Normally I’m not awake at this time to hear his shenanigans, or I’m able to shut them out fairly quickly. Today, it’s T-4.5 hours until my viva, and I’m wide awake on the other side of two vivid dreams: one in which it went well, and one in which it was a disaster. Guess which one is on replay?

Spoiler alert: it did go well! It was a great conversation, and I learned a lot. I got some great compliments, and some difficult questions, and some tough but fair criticism. I passed with minor corrections, which means I now have three months in which to address my examiners’ comments. Phew!

In this blog post, I’m offering my five top tips to survive and thrive in viva week.

  1. Think Big Picture

In re-reading my thesis for the first time, I got stuck in all of the detail. I misspelled W.B. Worthen’s name! They’re going to murder me! (They didn’t.) That reference is to the wrong page number! What’ll I do? (Fix it in corrections.) In my mock viva, however, my supervisors focused much more on the “meta” questions, as one of them put it. What are your research questions? What is your contribution to knowledge? Who are the key theorists you’re in dialogue with? What’s the most important thing you’ve done here? It’s hard to convince yourself of this when all you can see is the typo in your table of contents (true story), but the examiners care much more about the big stuff than they do about the little mistakes.

That doesn’t mean they won’t ask you about the details or that you shouldn’t present your thesis in the best possible condition. Rather, it’s a reminder that what’s really important in the room, on the day, is the quality of your research and your arguments—not the typos.

  1. Nothing Means Anything

The best advice I got from my mock viva came from my second supervisor and became my mantra in the week leading up to the viva: “nothing means anything”. If they keep you waiting forty minutes between viva and corrections/result, it doesn’t mean anything. They could be writing up the report. Or talking about old times. Or having a toilet break. Equally, if they call you back in really quickly, it doesn’t mean anything. Maybe they have kids to pick up from school, or trains to catch. If they ask you the same question six times, they could be probing for more detail, or they could be unhappy with your answer, or they could be looking for the publishing pitch—you just don’t know. My examiners asked for my supervisor to be present in the second half, when they were going through the corrections, so I thought for sure I had failed. I hadn’t; there was no correlation at all between my supervisor’s presence and the outcome of the viva. They just wanted to make sure I got all the info I needed—and sure enough, her notes are much more detailed than mine!

The mantra doesn’t stop you reading into every single detail of the day, but for me it became a kind of security blanket to default to. Say it with me now: nothing. means. anything.

  1. Be Kind to Yourself

I was really lucky in that my department offers a one-off seminar about viva prep for final-year PhD students (if your department has one, you should go!). One of the things that they really emphasised in that seminar was to look after yourself in the run up to the viva. So with 24 hours left to go, I gave myself strict instructions to work a full day and nothing more. I did roughly 9-5 prep, with a lunch break, and then cut myself off. I went home, cooked a comfort-food dinner, and FaceTimed with some of my best friends and my mom. I watched Gossip Girl on Netflix and tidied my bedroom. I made sure that all the clothes I wanted to wear and all the things I wanted to bring were ready to go. I tried to have a normal bedtime. I drank a lot of herbal tea with things like camomile and lavender and lime flower in it.

Preparing for a viva isn’t like cramming for an exam. You already know your material inside out and backwards. For this brief moment in time, you are the world-leading expert on your subject. Trust the work you’ve been doing for the past three or more years and let your brain have a break before the big day. Prep like you mean it, and then give yourself a rest.

  1. Lean on Your Support System

Ultimately, you’re the one who has to walk into that room and answer the questions, but that doesn’t mean you won’t need a little help getting to the door. If at all possible, I really recommend bringing along someone you trust to a) give you a hug before you walk into the room, b) look after anything you don’t want to bring with you, and c) be a friendly face in the space between the viva proper and the discussion about corrections that follows. I brought my flatmate, who was an absolute star and a support network unto herself. It was so reassuring to have someone to talk to during the waiting period, and to have someone to celebrate with immediately upon leaving the room with good news. Had things gone the other way, I would have really appreciated having her there as a shoulder to cry on, too.

Oh yeah, and have at least one someone ready to go the pub with you whatever the outcome!

  1. Try to Enjoy It!

This is one of those things that lots of people said to me ahead of my viva, and also one of those things I didn’t think was possible until I was doing it. The day will go by in a blur and you’ll have so many thoughts and feelings and ups and downs as events unfold. Try to take a step back every now and then and appreciate what a fantastic opportunity the viva is: people at the top of their game and at the top of your field have spent a great deal of time looking at and thinking about your work. And now they want to talk to you about it!

Bonus tip: big picture questions checklist

These come from notes taken during that viva prep seminar I mentioned earlier, and they were a really handy tool for me, particularly on the last prep day, when I needed an anchor to keep me focused:

  • What sparked my personal interest in this research topic?
  • What gap am I addressing in my research? What is my contribution to knowledge?
  • What is the value of my research to the field(s)?
  • What are my central research questions?
  • What is my methodology? How did it develop?
  • What is my central argument?
  • What have I deliberately left out?
  • What are my findings?
  • What are my most important literary sources?
  • What are key terms that I might need to clarify?
  • Which areas of my work are part of ongoing debates?
  • Why did I choose these case studies?
  • What are my conclusions?
  • How do I see this work developing? Where am I going next?

If you can answer these questions, then you’re going to be just fine! Good luck!

What advice would you give to PhD students on the process of completing your thesis? If you’d like to share your advice on the NRN blog, please email Emer and Kate at nrn@str.org.uk to discuss your ideas! 

 

Top Tips on Writing Conference Abstracts

Catherine HindsonCatherine Hindson provides us with some great tips on how to write good conference abstracts. She is Senior Lecturer in Theatre and Performance Studies and Head of the Theatre department at the University of Bristol. She was convenor of the Working Group in Theatre History and Historiography (2012-2015) and is lead organizer for next year’s 2016 TaPRA conference at the University of Bristol.

Catherine’s research interests are in popular performance in the long nineteenth century and the relationship between the theatre industry, heritage and historiography. Her latest book West End Actresses, Charity and the Theatre Industry, 1880-1920 will be published by University of Iowa Press later in 2016. 

Abstract writing demands a very particular set of skills. Some people find writing abstracts simple and straightforward. I am not one of them. In fact I’d go as far as to say that the production of a coherent abstract is one of my least favourite professional tasks. I guess this makes me a good person to be writing this blog post in which I have tried to put together a brief list of the key things I have learnt about abstract writing from writing them myself and from reading many abstracts as a conference organiser and TaPRA working group convenor.

1) A key reason why writing abstracts is difficult is because they require you to think hard about what you are proposing to do and to put down on paper how you are going to do it and why it matters. All in a very small number of words…

2) If you flip this on its head, what this also mean is that writing a good abstract can really help you with planning a paper, chapter or article. See, there is an up side…

3) What it should also suggest is that writing a good abstract is going to take some time. The most important thing I have learned about reading and writing abstracts is DON’T leave it until the last minute. It might be a short piece of writing, but it’s not an easy writing task. Don’t confuse the two things! If there is a call for papers have a draft abstract ready a good week before.

4) Write a new abstract for every call for papers, practice or articles that you respond to. The abstract must always be specific to the call. Never lift one that you have written for another version of your research project and try to use it for another purpose. Avoid generic descriptions of your research, be precise and focused. Conference organisers regularly get abstracts that propose material the size of a thesis for a twenty minute paper. Think about what you can realistically achieve in the set time or word count. You can be sure that your conference organiser or editor will be when she or he makes their selection…

5) Send your draft abstract to someone else to have a look at it before your submit it. It could be your supervisor, a peer or a friend, but it needs to be someone you know will be honest with you.

6) Remember your abstract could well end up in the public domain – on websites or in conference programmes. You’ll probably get a chance to edit it, but rarely to completely rewrite it. Sometimes it just goes up/out as you have submitted it first time round. A good litmus test before you finally hit send is to imagine someone you admire in the field reading it. Still happy with it? Still feel it does the job? Then it is ready to go…

5 Top Tips on Teaching Performance Practice

Photo by Elyse Marks

Photo by Elyse Marks

Poppy Corbett is a playwright and Visiting Lecturer in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway University of London who has kindly agreed to write this post on teaching performance practice. She co-wrote (with educationalist Pie Corbett) The Enormous Book of Talk for Writing Games for KS2 teachers – a book that can be used to help children improve their written work through speech and drama games. In 2014 she won a College Teaching Excellence prize.

I’m a Visiting Lecturer in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway, specialising in playwriting. Term is, scarily, into full swing and so I want to reflect on what it means to teach practice. These are my top five tips for teaching practice, which I’ve kept non-subject specific so you can apply them to your own teaching. All the ideas have arisen just as much from me being a student of great teachers, as they have from my own feeling-my-way-in-the-dark teaching.

1. Frame the practice very carefully

When I studied for my Masters degree, we spent a glorious week with Toby Jones as a visiting practitioner. Just before we were about to present our final performances (hastily thrown together), Toby gave some perceptive advice about how to be an effective audience. It went something like this (I paraphrase):

We have to be clear what we’re looking at – this is very fragile work – we had no time to make it and are responding to something we’ve received. It is unfinished work but confusingly has the hallmarks of finished work (clapping at the end, an audience watching). But it’s NOT finished, it’s just step one – so we must treat it carefully.

I’ve never forgotten this and believe it’s important to carefully frame the showing of practice. When work is shared, it is vital that the whole seminar group understands what stage the work is at. It is no good students responding to a first draft, or an initial piece of choreography as though it is a few hours before opening night at the Olivier. This helps students to develop their own critical faculties. Context is key.

2. Practice before theory

Introduce practice immediately. If you throw students into practice straight away it becomes a habit and eliminates nervousness. I learnt this important lesson when I was an undergraduate student. On a physical theatre module it felt (to my twenty year old self) like we spent a long time (disgruntledly) rolling about on the floor and throwing sticks at each other. Our lecturer (the fantastic Dick McCaw) then gave us critical reading. I was amazed – I understood difficult reading on the practices of Meyerhold, Zinder and Barba with clarity because I had embodied the very exercises described. If the reading had been introduced before we explored the physical work, I believe it would have been harder to understand the exercises. Because we already had embodied the theory, we understood the reading more perceptively.

3. Compliment more than you criticise

Give more compliments than criticisms. It can be tempting to be hard on students and continually point out what they are doing wrong but like all of us, students thrive from positive feedback. This is not to say you should not be critical, but you mustn’t forget to tell them where they’re going right.

As a theatre director, the best thing I ever did when forming a company was to invent the ‘circle of love’: at the end of a rehearsal the actors sit in a circle massaging each other’s backs. One by one, each actor offers a compliment to the actor they are massaging. This can be anything from ‘I like your new trainers’, to ‘you really impressed me in that final scene’. It is the most successful exercise I have facilitated in order to bond a group. This was inspired a brief time at the Moscow Art Theatre School where the Michael Chekhov teacher insisted on a love of your fellow actors. Although I don’t (obviously) massage my students, I have found they thrive off compliments. Make sure you praise what they are doing well and it is inevitable they will keep doing that.

4. Provide professional opportunities

Give students opportunities to engage with professional practice. This could take several forms, depending on your practice: take them to see a play, encourage them to enter work into professional competitions, or invite a professional into the seminar room. Always encourage students to perform their work in front of an external audience. Students hide for so long in the academy that they forget an audience not constituted of their peers may have a completely different reaction to their work.

When suggesting external opportunities, make sure you organise them in advance or you may end up like I did, seeing a Thornton Wilder play all by myself. My students asked for a theatre trip; I suggested one and a date to attend, but ended up being the only person to show up…! Departments may have resources to pay for these activities – chat to your Head of Department.

It can be time-consuming and costly to try and organise professional opportunities for your students, but I believe it is always worth the effort.

The most successful project of my teaching career was to produce professional play readings of students’ work. I found two excellent directors who offered dramaturgical advice to the students. Following this I produced public readings of their plays at Shoreditch Town Hall, using professional actors. The returned feedback forms at the end of the course mentioned it as a key learning experience: “it gave our group a more accurate idea of what writing a play ensues: this wasn’t being written to be marked, our play was being written to be performed and enjoyed by an audience.”

5. Share your practice with your students.

If you’re a practitioner I encourage you to share your practice with your students. Let them know when you are performing or running a workshop. Make it clear to them what professional practice you do. It places the students’ trust in your professional ability to teach and it allows them to link practice-based work with academic writing: “did you notice that moment in my performance when Oedipus realised the terrible truth he’d shagged Mum and killed his Dad? THAT, my students, is what Aristotle means about ‘anagnorisis’.” Thirdly, it gives you an immediate platform for your professional work. One of the most touching moments in my teaching career was during a nervous time before an industry reading of a play. Nervously scanning the auditorium to work out who all these stern faces were to my surprise I spotted a group of my students in the audience. Suddenly, the industry professionals mattered much less and the interaction of the students with my work mattered a whole deal more.


If you want a chance to learn more about teaching practice, come along to our teaching practice event on Saturday 12 December 2015 at Royal Holloway University. For more information click here.