A Year Four student from the Department of English at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University has received a host of offers for postgraduate study from some of the world’s best universities.
She has chosen to study a masters in East Asian studies at the School of Humanities and Sciences at Stanford University, one of the world’s best-ranked programmes for this subject.
“I didn’t have very specific plan for my life, but I was always clear about my research interests,” said Yutong, who is fond of literature and was determined to follow this interest when she started at XJTLU.
“When I found out that XJTLU had the Department of English and that it offered my favourite programme, I decided to study here.”
After starting at XJTLU she found that the modules offered by the Department of English not only met her preferences for literature, but also opened a wider world for her.
“LITERATURE IS MY FAVOURITE SUBJECT”
Two modules within her degree programme, focused on literature and gender, and English literature in history, guided her towards the world of literature. They exposed her to other areas, including the work of Jane Austen, eighteenth-century literature, British Romanticism and Gothic literature, and helped solidify her interest.
In addition, modules focused on historical linguistics, semantics and pragmatics, helped expand her knowledge and she conducted a comparative study of English and Chinese linguistics under the supervision of academic staff.
Her interest in academic research began through her involvement in the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships (SURF) programme. She and two classmates jointly completed a research project entitled ‘Framing risk in the work of Yiyun Li’ under a tutor’s guidance.
“That was my first time understanding the feeling of doing research. I read books every day, from morning till night, and analysed sentences word by word during the summer vacation,” she said. “I was really busy and tired, but I was very happy.”
“I PREFER CHINESE LITERATURE”
When she entered her third year of studies, Yutong became interested in modules offered by the Department of China Studies and asked Professor David Goodman, head of the department, if she could sit in on, or audit, modules, which Professor Goodman agreed to.
She selected two modules to audit every semester, which covered a wide range of areas, including literature, politics and international relations. She attended all lectures and discussions, and submitted assignments and reports in the same way as other students, the only difference being that she didn’t sit exams and gained no academic credits.
A module on modern and contemporary Chinese literature had the greatest impact on her: “That was my first time learning about Chinese literature and its history through an academic approach,” she said. “It helped me realise my preference for contemporary Chinese literature and social history.”
Students in the Department of English are required to read a large amount of material, usually two books before each class.
Yutong was diligent in her approach to her studies, attending every class that was required of her: “I was very interested in these books, I've discovered and expanded my interests through reading,” she said.
She loves reading, discussion and critical thinking: “I especially like the process of students and staff debating their opinions,” she said. “I really enjoyed participating in this kind of class interaction.”
Yutong’s final year project researched British romantic poet George Gordon Byron’s influence on the development of modern Chinese literature during the May Fourth Movement period.
Her supervisor, Dr Thomas Duggett, whose research interests include British romantic literature, had never studied modern Chinese literature. In order to guide Yutong’s project, he had to challenge himself to help her find relevant information.
They communicated often on progress and newly obtained information, and discussed new perspectives.
“I feel so lucky to have been able to meet all the academic staff and I really appreciate their help,” said Yutong. “Thomas had no obligation to help me to find information, but he spent a lot of time and energy guiding me!”
“ALWAYS REMAIN CURIOUS AND ENTHUSIASTIC FOR LIFE”
During the postgraduate application process, Yutong sent applications to her favourite 10 universities, including the University of Oxford, Harvard University, Stanford University and Columbia University in the City of New York.
In her personal statement, she described her favourite research areas and academic interests, and how she came to be interested in them. She was clear about her future academic plans and about how the different schools to which she was applying would help her achieve these plans.
Academic staff from the Department of English also provided plenty of valuable suggestions for her personal statement. “I particularly appreciate those staff who helped write recommendation letters for me, including Dr Stephen Jeaco, Dr Penelope Scott, Dr Duggett and Dr Graham Matthews, who had already left XJTLU,” she said.
She added that staff from XJTLU’s Continuing Support Centre also gave her personalised advice on adapting her personal statements and CV: “Different universities have different document formats and requirements. Staff from the centre helped to check all my writing,” she said.
Yutong believes she is fortunate to do things she had enjoyed and is good at, and that her interests are the result of continually expanding her knowledge and exploring new things, rather than just focusing on one area.
She received offers from Stanford University, the University of Oxford and Columbia University in the City of New York and is excited to start at Stanford, as the next stop in her journey through life.
However, what’s most important to her is the possibility to explore more during her life in general, rather than just in her studies: “Always remain curious about the world and maintain enthusiasm for life,” she advises.
BA APPLIED ENGLISH
Dr Paul Cheung, director of the Applied English programme, said: “The BA Applied English programme offered by XJTLU represents an innovative way of training English majors in China. Students receive training in the fields of English-language linguistics, English literature, and for those with the requisite skills in Chinese language, translation and interpreting.
“This combination of training is designed to meet the needs of students preparing themselves for the demands of postgraduate education and those entering an increasingly competitive employment market.”
The first group of students commenced their studies in September 2012 and graduated in July 2016. Apart from successfully finding employment in China, graduates are furthering their studies beyond Mainland China to universities in Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, the United States and United Kingdom.