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Profiles from our heritage & creativity research theme – University of Reading

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Profiles from our heritage & creativity research theme

Hear from our postgraduate researchers whose work comes under our Heritage & Creativity research theme.

Vaibhav Singh

Department of Typography & Graphic Communication

Title of PhD: Devanagari Type in the Twentieth Century: Motivations, Imperatives, Technology, and the Design Process

Briefly describe your area of research Photo of Vaibhav Singh

My research addresses the historical framework of twentieth-century technology for Devanagari typography: how, why and where initiatives took place to enable text-setting in this Indian script – right up to the digital age – and the motivations, imperatives and design processes behind these developments.

My argument is that the history of the "design process" is more instructive than the history of finished products – the process in its entirety offers more valuable information on scientific, sociocultural and political levels, compared to narratives of technological innovation and success, on which existing history and critical analysis in the field has largely focused.

Why did you select Reading?

I chose Reading for the Department of Typography & Graphic Communication – a uniquely positioned academic department (perhaps the only one of its kind in the world at the moment), where my research could be meaningfully situated and where it could benefit from the guidance of a faculty renowned for its rigour and excellence in the field.

The Department's Non-Latin Type Collection was an additional, equally crucial factor in my choice, knowing that my research would benefit from direct access to it. The University of Reading offered an academic setting that combined practice-oriented research and invaluable archival resources.

What do you enjoy about studying at Reading?

Reading has a diverse student community and I have enjoyed meeting and getting to know students from all over the world. It has broadened my understanding and introduced new ways of looking at concerns that research students share. I have particularly enjoyed, and learned a lot from, the opportunities for close contact with researchers and faculty from various disciplines, including my own, who have provided critical intellectual companionship throughout the course of my studies. Reading provides an academic community and support structure whose warmth and generosity counters any kind of bad weather!

What has been your biggest challenge since starting your research?

The biggest challenge has been to find effective ways to communicate the wider relevance of my research, and to integrate a diversity of perspectives within it. For a discipline at the crossroads of design, technology, industry, commerce, and most crucially the representation of language – with deep political and cultural dimensions – typographic research has long remained on the sidelines of more wide-ranging, interdisciplinary work. The challenge has been to reassess this position and situate my research in the thick of constructive debates across disciplines, to show that it has much to contribute towards an understanding of many larger issues.

What advice would you give a new postgraduate researcher?

Not to be overwhelmed by the multitude of directions and possibilities of enquiry that open up at every new step of one's research, but instead to consider all options with intelligent selectivity. It is also easy to get trapped within the narrow confines of one's own research interest – at times it is useful to question the relevance and wider implications of one's work, the diversity of its possible contexts. Lastly, I would suggest discussing frequently with colleagues and peers in an open manner, and to remain excited about the research, a PhD is not the end but a beginning.

Where do you want to be in five years' time?

In the next five years, I want to be at the forefront of type-related research, working towards the transformation of my discipline into a more broadly appreciated field that contributes to new areas of scholarship and feeds usefully into many others. I would want to do this by extending and disseminating the emphasis on research-informed practice that I've learnt at Reading – especially in India, where type design and typographic research are in formative stages. I hope to actively publish and create opportunities for wider appreciation of typographic research through a programme of exhibitions and conferences in the coming years.

Geraldine Ng

Department of Philosophy

Title of PhD: What Should We Do about Williams?

Briefly describe your area of research

My thesis examines, critiques and develops the sceptical moral views of the influential philosopher Bernard Williams. Williams is commonly charged with extravagant evasiveness, deep pessimism and holding a pervasively contingent conception of ethical life. I meet the challenge of defending Williams' ethical view by proposing that, implicit in his critique of the morality system, there is a positive notion of agency. I defend what I call the practical agency thesis and argue that it resonates with many of Williams' dearest concerns.

Why did you select Reading?

The department has a very good reputation in moral philosophy. It is a small, supportive and dynamic department. My supervisor Brad Hooker is a recognised authority on my subject, the moral philosophy of Bernard Williams.

What do you enjoy about studying at Reading?

The philosophy department fosters a particularly supportive collegiate environment without sacrificing hard honest academic criticism. I have found the university staff overall extremely helpful, from library staff to the Graduate School department. I have also appreciated the encouragement and the opportunities to teach.

What has been your biggest challenge since starting your research?

The biggest challenge for me was to appreciate the depth of knowledge one needs to have on one's subject in order to even begin to have anything valuable to add to the philosophical discourse.

What advice would you give a new postgraduate researcher?

Be prepared to work harder than you can imagine, to be confronted with your limits and, most importantly, to find a way of exceeding your perceived limits.

Where do you want to be in five years' time?

I would like to continue teaching philosophy and to further my research in ethics, aesthetics and political philosophy.

Monica Palmero Fernandez

Department of Archaeology

Title of PhD: The Realm of Goddesses in Ancient Mesopotamia from the Late Uruk to the Start of the Old Babylonian Period: The Figure of Inanna.

Briefly describe your area of research

My research project aims to explore the role deities and their cult played in ancient Mesopotamia at the time when writing developed alongside the establishment of administrative centres and the foundation of centralised structures of power (roughly from the end of the 4th mill. BC to the beginning of the 2nd mill. BC). I am particularly interested in the dimension of gender and the issues associated with its interpretation, both at the theoretical level and in the context of the study of ancient Mesopotamian religion and cult.

Why did you select Reading?

The main reason I came to Reading was to work with my supervisor, Professor Roger Matthews, with whom I had worked previously. I also felt Reading would suit me because I got the impression that it is a very open place offering outstanding support to its students.

What do you enjoy about studying at Reading?

The best part about Reading is having a shared office with four amazing colleagues. I am aware that in my department this is a luxury in comparison with many other universities, so I appreciate having a dedicated space to myself. For me, space is very important and Whiteknights is an amazing place where I can go for a walk if I feel stressed or bogged down with work, or grab a cup of tea with a colleague to discuss ideas.

What has been your biggest challenge since starting your research?

My research is interdisciplinary, which can be challenging when collecting data and securing collaborations. My biggest challenge to date has been to secure research visits to several organisations to carry out work on my case studies. I have had to liaise with the organisations, the lead researchers and funding bodies in order to secure the visits, and I am still working on it!

What advice would you give a new postgraduate researcher?

Don't be afraid to present your work. Networking is one of the key pieces in building both research confidence and expertise. I believe that many of my breakthroughs came about in conversation with colleagues, exchanging information and learning about what other researchers are doing. Also, there are many ways to fund travel and research stays, so be imaginative and keep applying.

Where do you want to be in five years' time?

Although I want to ultimately work in academia, I might take a few years out working for a consulting firm in order to build up my management skills and experience. Eventually, I would like to take on a leadership role in academia that brings together research and management expertise.

Evan Hayles Gledhill

Department of English Literature

Title of PhD: "Deviant Subjectivities": The Monster and the Child in the Gothic Imagination.

Briefly describe your area of research

I am exploring the depiction of monstrous figures in Gothic works, with a particular reference to their interactions with, or position within, the family. My research spans two centuries of populist Gothic texts and images, exploring key moments in the history of a genre. From the "bodice ripper" and penny dreadful, to the comic book and "video nasties", the monstrous Gothic has often been viewed as a corrupting influence, set against so-called "family values". I am interested in narratives of harm surrounding children, and the Gothic as both a source of harm and a forum to explore fears and anxieties.

What do you enjoy about studying at Reading?

I have a great supervisor and am building a wonderful friendship group among my fellow PhD students, who are becoming family. The Professional Development provision from the Graduate School has often been of a very high quality, especially the Introduction to Teaching. I also like the engaged and politically aware atmosphere on campus.

What advice would you give a new postgraduate researcher?

DON'T panic about not having much written at the end of year one, or still feeling like you have a lot of conflicting information and ideas. The first year is very much a chance to orientate yourself in your work, relationships and your field of study.

DO go to a conference or two, even if you don't present – meet people who do what you do, they're really very nice! I now have friends all over the world.

Where do you want to be in five years' time?

Lecturing and researching in the Gothic and popular culture history at a university level! Otherwise, I'd love to use my research on populist media cultures to work with media producers on their fan engagement and intertextual promotions, and help the seemingly faceless corporations achieve respectful and creative dialogues with diverse communities.

What were your reasons for choosing part-time study?

It's cheaper! If you can't secure funding, this minimises the probability of debt. Also, it's flexible – having some ongoing health issues, I am glad I have the opportunity to work over a longer period if it is required that I "slow down" at points.

What are the advantages and challenges of part-time registration?

The main challenge is that there are often expectations that PhD students have no commitments in their time, so events and training are scheduled haphazardly, or notification of talks is sent out only a couple of days in advance. I would like to engage more on campus, but I need more notice.

One of the advantages is that I feel much less pressure than my compatriots with fixed-term funding, which leads to lower stress levels.


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