lostviolentsouls
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I understand that when doing an English degree, you choose a path to specialise in. I was wondering how general or specific these paths are or could be - are you restricted to, say, '20th Century literature' or can you be more specific, for example 'the portrayal of mental illness in 20th century literature?'
I have a real interest in how mental illness is portrayed and was curious as to whether it's possible to specialise in such a thing. it's simply a curiosity though!
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QHF
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(Original post by lostviolentsouls)
I understand that when doing an English degree, you choose a path to specialise in. I was wondering how general or specific these paths are or could be - are you restricted to, say, '20th Century literature' or can you be more specific, for example 'the portrayal of mental illness in 20th century literature?'
I have a real interest in how mental illness is portrayed and was curious as to whether it's possible to specialise in such a thing. it's simply a curiosity though!
The amount of specialisation really depends on exactly how the specific English department concerned have decided to organise their course. A very very rough shape for a lot of English degrees might be:

1. First year: compulsory courses designed to give you a grounding in key methods and approaches
2. Second year: a few compulsory courses on, say, an author who's considered super-canonical or on a particular form, or a research skills course; and a range of optional courses which are a bit more specialised
3. Third year: a dissertation on a topic of your choice; plus a range of optional courses which are definitely specialised, and tend to reflect individual lecturers' specific research interests

That said, there's tonnes of variation in how different departments organise things. Some degrees are surveys of English literature from Old English to the present with only limited space for optional specialised choices. The course arrangement where I currently study and work is very different to what I outlined above. The thing you need to do is look at the details of the course organisation at the specific universities where you might consider studying English. Even on English degrees which allow a great deal of choice there's usually a requirement to take, say, at least two courses on literature before 1800, or something like that.

I don't imagine (though of course I don't know) there'd be anywhere which would offer a full-blown, defined, named path within the degree called something like 'mental illness in twentieth-century literature'. To do even just a course devoted to the portrayal of mental illness in twentieth-century literature you'd have to find an academic somewhere who's a specialist on that, and who runs a course on it for their department as part of the degree offered there. But even if you did that you couldn't be completely sure of taking their course, since they might wind up going on research leave the year that you would be elegible for it, or they might get a job elsewhere, or the course might be really popular and the department would have to pick people to take it by lot.

But! It would be very possible to spend a fair bit of time working on portrayals of mental illness in twentieth-century literature if you took twentieth-century period courses and then chose to write in your assessed essays or exams about mental illness—a lot of English degrees allow quite a lot of freedom in the choice of topic for specific essays; when I did my BA some course conveners didn't set essay questions at all and asked us to come up with our own topics, while others did set questions but said they'd be happy to talk with any of us who had particular things we'd like to write about.

Furthermore if you went to a department where a dissertation was a part of the final year of the degree then, assuming they had someone able to supervise (and I suspect most departments would, at the undergraduate level) you could spend a significant amount of time in your final year doing your own independent research on the topic—although given the limited space available in BA dissertations I imagine you would find that you'd have to focus most of your attention on a fairly limited group of texts.

I hope that's a helpful answer. Do ask if any of it's unclear.
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lostviolentsouls
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(Original post by QHF)
The amount of specialisation really depends on exactly how the specific English department concerned have decided to organise their course. A very very rough shape for a lot of English degrees might be:
...

I hope that's a helpful answer. Do ask if any of it's unclear.

Thank you so much! It was just out of curiosity as to how specific your choices have to be, but this has made everything much easier to understand.
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QHF
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(Original post by lostviolentsouls)
Thank you so much! It was just out of curiosity as to how specific your choices have to be, but this has made everything much easier to understand.
Glad to hear that was useful. It's always worth chatting to people at the departments you think you might like to apply to—at open days, or you can email them—you can say something like, 'Obviously it's very early days but within my general interest in English, I'm particularly fascinated by [X], like in [examples], and I was wondering if you could tell me which components of your degree course might let me dig into that a bit'. You could mention it in a personal statement too—my impression is that admissions people like students who know that they have particular interests, although of course you should also indicate that you have a broad passion for English literature of different sorts and across different periods.
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