Kaspars Reinis is a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto
“I think the openness and the inviting nature of the comparative literature tradition makes people who would feel rather restricted by one discipline or traditional framework, feel at home. The interdisciplinary nature of the debates voiced at the Comparative Literary Studies Master’s programme (CLS) proves the importance of what it means to think beyond traditions, with traditions, and against traditions. Look at the variety of the research pursued by our teachers and professors—animal studies, memory studies, postcolonial studies, gender studies, utopian studies, etc.—this alone illustrates the richness of the knowledge that CLS can give its students.
What truly sets CLS apart from other study programmes is the monthly Stammtisch. It is an initiative by our professors and lecturers, where we meet once a month in a café, have a drink and socialize. The Stammtisch is a good chance for students to get to know their teachers better and to build an active community.
During my Master’s, I participated in a number of conferences, where I delivered papers, and I also did a semester abroad. Participating in research schools, conferences, and attending seminars has been a great experience! During my exchange I was lucky enough to be able to join the Centre for Comparative Literature at the University of Toronto, which is also currently the institution where I’m continuing with my studies. In my PhD research I focus on issues of climate change, absence, human/animal division and extinction. These topics have been at the center of my thinking ever since my studies in Utrecht, where I first encountered them as part of the debate in our animal studies seminar led by dr. Kári Driscoll. Once you start seeing animals in literature, art and other media, you are seeing and encountering them everywhere.
I feel that the Comparative Literary Studies programme here is a great preparation for a future in the academic community. The amazing exchange combined with the careful guidance provided by the teachers and professors at Utrecht, and the multiple seminars that deal with career prospects such as “Is there life after RMA?”, I feel secure that in the future I will follow the path that leads through academia. I could not imagine myself doing something else. The discussions voiced by the humanities are of utmost importance, and I feel that I can be a part of these discussions."
Roos Wijnants works as a press officer at Utrecht University
"In this master is plenty of opportunity to really specialize in one specific literary genre and to follow courses from other Master's programmes. Since I really knew what I wanted to specialize in (gender studies and animal studies), this Master seemed like (and turned out to be) the perfect choice.
This programme is special because of several reasons: 1. You get to go abroad! My time at the Freie Universität Berlin was amazing and the courses I followed there basically formed the basis for my thesis. 2. The classes are small and thus the discussions really intense and efficient. This really worked for me: there is room to really engage with the texts and books. Another pro about the small classes is the contact with the professors: you really get to know one another and they can help you find and formulate your expertise even better.
I am currently working at the Press Office at Utrecht University. My activities entail writing press releases and articles for uu.nl/news, scan the newspapers, look for researchers/experts who can explain- or give a new insights on- the ‘the news’. Apart from that I am ‘Twitter-chef’ of our Twitter account @UniUtrecht and @UtrechtUni. And of course I help journalists who are looking for a researcher to interview and/or write an article about.
One of the most important skills that I acquired during my Master’s and I still use on a daily basis is the skill to find the right ‘expert’ for press requests or for an news article. It’s basically the same as writing a comparative literarture essay: finding the right theorist to explain (the political and societal implications of-) a certain book, or finding the right book to explain a specific theory. It is this way of ‘thinking’, and of knowing which expertise is needed to answer specific questions, that I consider to be very useful for my current job.
Since I know my way around the humanities department, I am (in most cases) the one that writes the articles on literature/gender. If something is happening that involves question of gender or literature, I get to interview professors and write articles about it for the UU website (for example this article on gender neutral clothes for children) and thus get to employ my specific knowledge on these respective fields.
In the future, I think that I will end up doing a PhD after all: not now, but in a few years. Before that, I want to keep working here at the University, learn more about communication/journalism since the skills that I am learning here are very useful and valuable, also for a PhD-candidate. Another ‘ambition’ would be to work at the humanities department as a communication advisor or maybe as a teacher. But for now I am very happy where I am."
Roos Brands is a student
"When going over the different Literary Studies master programmes on offer in The Netherlands, what I looked for was a rigorous programme with a focus on contemporary literature that was strong on literary theory and offered plenty of space to develop my own expertise. The RMA Contemporary Literary Studies at Utrecht offers all that, and more.
What I love about the first half year is that it provides an overview of the current main issues and debates within the field of literary studies. The courses from the first two semesters are followed up by masterclasses, where students get involved in the current research of a faculty member. The idea is that you participate in two masterclasses that relate to your own research interests, which in turn are further developed in the process. Along the way, some text, topic, or idea is bound to grab you, and hey presto! There is your thesis topic. This setup helps you find your ground, and it’s absolutely fine to enrol on this programme without a clearly-formulated research project.
The programme has introduced me to several authors and theorists that have changed the way I think, not only about literature or humanities scholarship, but also about the world and my place in it. It has also enabled me to connect my interests in literature and visual art, which I never imagined as a possibility before. Drawing on new materialism, life writing scholarship and art history, I am currently preparing a thesis on the ways in which object agency and material entanglements inform the artistic and literary practices of a number of artist-writers. More generally, the programme has taught me the value of group discussions. Working together with great teachers and extremely bright fellow students who all have different backgrounds and interests has been extremely rewarding.
I have almost completed a teaching internship at Utrecht University, where I taught one seminar group on an undergraduate course on American literature 1850-1950, organised by the English department. This has been an amazing experience. I learnt a great deal about sharing knowledge and facilitating students’ acquisition of academic skills, but also about the value of inspiring others and about the significance of literature in young people’s lives. After obtaining my master’s degree, I hope to do a PhD and teach at the university. If things turn out differently, I am sure that my internship will prove a great asset as well, since it has provided me with skills that are valuable in many professional contexts."
Thalia is a PhD student at the University of St Andrews
“In the RMA Comparative Literary Studies there is a lot of space to specialize but also to keep doing different things and figuring out what your own research interests are. I really enjoyed being able to take the time to figure out what my MA thesis would be about – I couldn’t quite imagine having only one year to both take courses and write a thesis!
The space that was given to going abroad was probably my favourite thing. I went to Italy and was able to forge a partnership with a university that wasn’t originally on the list (Napoli L’Orientale) because I wanted to improve my Italian. When I got there most people joked I would learn more Neapolitan than Italian, but the whole situation worked out exactly as I hoped. Receiving instruction in a third language was incredibly valuable, as well as living in a city where I was forced to adapt (language-wise, but ‘not looking lost’ when you very much are is a skill as well). The realisation that there would in fact only be oral exams—foreign or not—really put the pressure on, but I learned a lot in 7 months and still look back on it as some of the most fun I’ve ever had. At the time I was also an editor at Frame – Journal of Literary Studies, and persuaded one of my professors, Prof. Iain Chambers, to write an article for us.
After graduating from CLS I worked as a project manager at a translation company in Utrecht (Metamorfose Vertalingen), not as a translator but as the go-between for our clients and our translators. We worked at a very high pace and it definitely silenced one of the much-heard worries at the RMA for me; ‘will we even find a job with a literature degree?’
During that time I also started a publishing house ‘Uitgeverij Chaos’ or ‘Chaos Press’ with another alumna from the CLS programme, Yael van der Wouden, and Sayonara Stutgard, who I knew from the Literatuurwetenschap Bachelor. There is quite a literary network in Utrecht!
We are an intersectional feminist press and have published original work by emerging Dutch writers as well as translations of ‘feminist staples’ such as A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf and How it Feels to Be Colored Me by Zora Neale Hurston. We take on a couple of interns a year, so if you are interested in joining us, do get in touch!
I had thought about doing a PhD during the masters, but I knew getting accepted into a PhD programme can take a while (I’ve been told around two years is the average), even if you venture outside of the Netherlands. Now I live in Scotland, where I am pursuing a PhD in Modern Languages and Social Anthropology at the University of St Andrews. When I was accepted at St Andrews, the language requirement was fulfilled automatically as the RMA was completely in English, so there was no need for investing in a language test.
I applied with my own project, which is inspired by my MA thesis, and research the influence of war literature on contemporary peace activism. The project is interdisciplinary, so there will be textual analysis as well as a fieldwork component to my dissertation. I think CLS has helped a lot in this regard, as Comparative Literature has a habit of getting involved with other disciplines anyway, meaning that even though I am new to Anthropology, I am not new to interdisciplinary work.”
Damjan Božinovic is a former student
"What I liked the most about the Comparative Literary Studies programme (CLS) when I was looking for a suitable Master’s programme in the Netherlands, is the possibility for each and every student to adjust the curriculum for themselves and pursue any academic path they wish to. Through tutorials, seminars, lectures, and research schools, CLS gives the students numerous options and opportunities to find their own field of interest and expand their knowledge of that particular field.
To prepare you for choosing your own path, the first year is spent on working on your academic writing skills and gaining in-depth knowledge of various subjects. The second year is more personal in a sense that every student chooses their own elective courses which are directly connected to the Master’s thesis. Together these four semesters are the perfect length for a well-rounded Master’s programme.
Another fascinating thing about the programme is the possibility to write the final thesis on an exceptionally wide range of topics, which perfectly reflects the diverse structure of the programme itself. We were highly encouraged to work on different time periods, regions, languages, and cultures in order to follow our personal interests and career aspirations, which is both motivating and rewarding.
Apart from the first-class training in literary theory, the CLS research master’s programme offers students numerous opportunities for acquiring fantastic general knowledge in the field of humanities; from history and politics to sociology and philosophy. In that sense, the CLS RMA is the perfect training and preparation for a career in humanities."
Maria Zirra recently completed a PhD in English at Stockholm University
“I wanted to know more about trauma studies, and was particularly interested in the focus on transnational cultural memory that the Research Master’s programme boasted. A number of prominent postcolonial studies researchers were also affiliated with the Faculty of Humanities at the time.
From the start, I knew that I wanted to stay in academia. I feel that the Comparative Literary Studies Master offered its students very important educational tools and skills to kickstart an academic career, both through the level of discipline required to keep up with the challenging course load and by allowing us, the students, to engage with and think through current critical debates.
I was offered two PhD positions within 9 months of graduating from the Research Master in Utrecht. The most important contact, besides the very helpful and supportive Utrecht professors (Prof. Ann Rigney and Prof. Paulo de Medeiros, especially), who encouraged me to design a PhD project based on my Master’s thesis, was my advisor during my stay abroad at Ghent University (Prof. Stef Craps), who urged me to apply to several positions and guided me in designing my project.
I am currently employed as a PhD student at the English Department of Stockholm University. My general tasks are to do research on my project, go to conferences and workshops to get as much feedback as possible on my writing and to take PhD classes (about 90 ECTS worth).
Currently, I am teaching 2 20-student groups. I have to grade their work, offer academic writing tutorials and provide them with feedback, in-class activities, design tests, progress and homework assignments. Also, I am the head of the PhD Student Council - a body that ensures that PhD students at the English Department are properly represented and take full advantage of the resources offered by the Faculty of Humanities and the English Department.
In terms of knowledge, two courses of the Comparative Literary Studies programme were most useful for me: Fundamentals of the Humanities, which offered a panoramic overview and history of critical thinking in the 20th century; and Literature Across Cultures, where I learned about influential books in Comparative and World Literature (the field I am currently working in). Having such a wide theoretical background helps me continuously to shape and inform my research and respond to new literary approaches in criticism.
As far as skills are concerned, the very heavy learning load, the strict enforcement of deadlines and the emphasis on quality over quantity have taught me to be more organized, manage my time better and contribute to relevant debates with more confidence.”
Loes Singeling - van der Voort is an intern and reporter at de Volkskrant
“Initially, I wanted to do a PhD in literary studies and this Master's programme provided the best opportunity for this. However, as many people will find nowadays, it is hard to obtain a PhD position. I applied for a few in the Netherlands, but was not ready to go abroad for it. After having worked at a small NGO and at an elderly home for a short while, I decided to make a change: I enrolled in a Post-Master's programme in Journalism.
Comparative Literary Studies is an excellent basis for becoming a journalist. The programme offers a critical view of society, which is essential, as well as the ability to reflect on your own position and the position of others. After graduating, you know how to do research and you know how to write – not only practically, but aesthetically as well, because of all the novels you read. Writing creatively is becoming more and more important in journalism, and it is a very valuable skill to begin with.
Currently I am doing an internship at the newspaper de Volkskrant. I function as an editor of the national news pages – that means going on trips, reporting, researching, interviewing, writing – on all kinds of subjects that involve national news. My articles appear in the newspaper (sometimes daily, sometimes once a week, depending on the length) and on the website. In the future, I hope to grow in journalism, especially towards writing longer stories and writing abroad.”