Although I live in Leeds and commute to Sheffield, I still feel part of the postgraduate community

PhD student Becky Herd.
Becky Herd
PhD Student
Researching the tragedies and tragicomedies of seventeenth-century French female playwrights
Becky is a PhD student in the School of Languages and Cultures researching the tragedies and tragicomedies of seventeenth-century French female playwrights, with a particular focus on gender and violence.
PhD student Becky Herd.

She holds a BA in French (First Class Honours) from the University of Leeds and an MA in French Studies (Distinction) from the University of Sheffield. Becky’s research is funded by a White Rose College of the Arts and Humanities (WRoCAH) Scholarship.

Why did you choose to study at the University of Sheffield?

The University of Sheffield first appealed to me when applying for M.A courses. My M.A offered a distinctive interdisciplinary approach to teaching with the flexibility to combine both taught and research modules.

The School allows you to build your own postgraduate degree, so alongside modules from my own department, I was able to take classes from the M.A in Translation Studies.

What made the University of Sheffield stand out for you?

The friendly and approachable nature of staff within the School of Languages and Cultures stood out for me. I was able to attend an unofficial open day to visit the School and meet with members of academic and administrative staff, and after completing my M.A here, I knew I would be fully supported throughout the PhD process.

The department offers excellent training and funding opportunities for further study. The library is also exceptional, particularly the interlibrary loan service.

What are you currently researching as part of your PhD? 

My current research centres on the interplay between aesthetic regulation and gender dynamics in the works of seventeenth-century French female playwrights. Whilst works by early modern women writers are now receiving greater critical attention, their application of aesthetic regulation and its potential to conform to or subvert literary and social norms is frequently overlooked.

Taking violence as my focal point - arguably a quasi-characteristic of tragedy and tragicomedy and a polemic issue within dramatic theory - it is my contention that female playwrights exploit theatrical violence for socio-political ends, subtly undermining these dramatic regulations as well as the patriarchal norms that they ultimately seek to enforce.

Through close readings of seven plays, two key research questions will be addressed: To what extent did female playwrights experiment with the aesthetic rules associated with the tragic and tragicomic genres through their application of violence?

To what extent can their approach to staging violence be considered a veiled critique of patriarchal society that challenges early modern gender hierarchy? My current chapter explores the ways in which generic classification may interact with violence and gender.

What do you particularly enjoy about your research area?

Whilst early modern female dramatists have largely been excluded from the literary canon, a recent surge of interest in my area of specialism means that there is always plenty going on in my field.

During my first year of PhD study, I was fortunate enough to visit Paris to attend an exhibition on early modern violent women and to watch a professional theatre troupe perform a female-authored tragicomedy for the first time since the seventeenth-century!

As my research is interdisciplinary - crossing gender, literature, history, and theatre studies - I have enjoyed being able to engage with a wide range of topics.

How did the School of Languages and Cultures help support you through the whole process from application to settling in?

Staff within the School of Languages and Cultures were incredibly helpful throughout the application process. My supervisor, Dr David McCallam, provided me with comprehensive advice on my draft research proposal; administrative staff were extremely efficient, and I received invaluable feedback on my various funding applications from academic staff.

I was also able to attend a funding workshop to gain an insight into writing doctoral funding bids for research councils. To help new students settle in, the School holds an induction session, offers teacher training days, and allocates each individual a personal tutor.

What are your tips for any students thinking about researching in Sheffield?

Approach the member of staff you think is best-suited to your research. From experience, they will be more than happy to work with you to refine your proposal. Likewise, make sure you also apply early; most deadlines for funding applications are in January/February and require you to have already received an offer for PhD study from your School.

Tell us about being a postgraduate in the School.

Although I live in Leeds and commute to Sheffield, I still feel part of the postgraduate community. There are always opportunities to attend conferences and participate in research clusters.

What is the highlight of your PhD study so far?

The highlight of my PhD so far was having the opportunity to undertake a one-month work placement as part of my White Rose College of the Arts and Humanities scholarship; a consortium across the Universities of Leeds, Sheffield and York.

I was fortunate enough to spend the month working for a charity organisation in Vancouver, undertaking research into homelessness initiatives in the city.

What do you know now about Sheffield that you didn’t know before you came here?

Having lived in Yorkshire since 2011, I already knew a lot about the area, but Sheffield really is a very friendly city!

What are your plans after your PhD?

After undertaking the first two years of doctoral study as a full-time student, I have now changed my candidature to part-time in order to take up a job as a government policy advisor in international trade.

Upon completion of my PhD, I hope to remain within the public sector or find work within the third sector.

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