Janette Bright graduated from the School of Advanced Study (SAS) in 2017 with an MRes in Historical Research. Since graduating, she has recently continued her studies by taking a part-time MPhil/PhD with the Institute of Historical Research (IHR). Janette wasn’t always planning on taking a Masters’ after her undergraduate Art History and Heritage degree, but after she was made redundant she decided not to look for a new job, and instead decided to apply to SAS. Here’s Janette’s student story…

My favourite part of the course was researching for my dissertation. The writing could be challenging, but it was a chance to immerse myself in a subject I found fascinating. I was allocated an excellent supervisor who guided me through to success. My dissertation looked at how children at the London Foundling Hospital were prepared for adult life. It is called ‘Fashioning the Foundlings: Education, Instruction and Apprenticeship at the London Foundling Hospital c.1741-1800’.

Janette Bright, MRes in Historical Research Alumna, IHR MPhil/PhD Student

Coming across this course was rather serendipitous. I was made redundant just a few months before completing my BA (Hons) degree, and was also occasionally volunteering at the London Foundling Museum. I had been involved in historical research for the Museum since about 2004 and was part of a researchers’ forum. Olwen Myhill, Administrator of the Institute of Historical Research (IHR), had been asked to visit this group to talk about the Institute and its library, and her visit was just at the right time in my career. Instead of looking for a new job, I decided to apply to for a Masters’ degree, in the hope that it would allow me to make a career change, either in historical research or something related.

I studied art history and heritage during my undergraduate degree, and I found through the MRes that Historical Research could be challenging and required a different approach. Having studied mainly through distance learning during my undergraduate degree, I particularly enjoyed the weekly seminars. Being part of a small cohort of students was also supportive. I was particularly impressed by the friendliness of the staff - the tutors, administrators, receptionists and other support staff. 

I live in a smallish town near the city of Chelmsford in Essex, with my husband and two black rescue cats. Living in Essex, the University is a train ride away, albeit it takes a couple of hours door to door.  Accessibility was one of the reasons I chose the IHR.  When I started, I did wonder if I would find the weekly trips into London for regular seminars a bit of a chore. Although I live far enough out of London to guarantee a seat on the mainline, the underground ride is sometimes a different story.  Despite the occasional short ‘crush’ on the tube, I found I enjoyed the contrast of small-town life with the buzz of the city. 

Through studying with the School of Advanced Study, I was impressed by the range of libraries freely available to me. I liked that some have a different ‘personality’ in terms of their setting. The online resources are particularly useful although, like any student, I always want access to more! If you live near a different university, SCONUL Access will allow you to access material there – the library staff can advise you on how to apply. I would also recommend obtaining Wellcome and British Library Reader Passes, as these do give you access to additional online resources.

Training sessions and seminars are another bonus; not just instructive but a chance to meet fellow students. In addition, the SASiety social group is a great way of making new friends. The location of the University in Bloomsbury means close access to green spaces, a range of food outlets (in addition to IHR and SAS), a huge Waterstones, plus museums and other institutions. The only drawback of me living a couple of hours outside of London is that I cannot always take advantage of everything available on campus.

Since graduating with my MRes degree in 2017, I have begun a part-time course of study as an MPhil/PhD student with the IHR. I was lucky enough to successfully apply for funding through the Veale-Straschnov Award for Doctorial Historical Research for Mature Students. Without it I would not have been able to continue researching the Foundling Hospital as I am now. I am studying part-time and working part-time – that includes working at the Foundling Museum. It means I get the added bonus of being able to share and talk about my research with the Museum visitors and staff.  This in turn often gives me new ways of thinking about what I am studying.

If you’re considering starting a course with SAS, you should take every opportunity to ask others about their research and talk about your own, even if you think your topics are unrelated. You will pick up valuable research tips and create a network of support and friendship.