Arts, Humanities & Cultures – Undergraduate Research

Katrina Longhurst

Programme of Study: BA English Language and Literature

Title of UGRL project: You Are What You Ate

What attracted you to the UGRL scheme?
Being able to pursue research (let alone paid research!) whilst being an undergraduate is such a unique opportunity that I couldn’t resist applying for the scheme. I was looking for a way to extend myself academically outside of my degree and this scheme provided the perfect framework to do just that. I’ve had dreams of being an academic researcher for a while and I knew the scholarship would give me the opportunity to test whether further research really is the right path for me to go down. I had also seen Gemma’s profile and she seemed so enthused by the scheme that I applied.

How did you find out about it? 

I first found out about the scheme through searching through the masses of opportunities the university has to offer on the Leeds for Life tool on the VLE. Later, one of my professors approached me asking if I would be interested and offered to write my reference, and I also received the general email.

What were your expectations before starting, and did they prove to be right or wrong?
I’m honestly not sure what expectations I had of the scheme before I started. I remember being excited by the prospect of meeting like-minded people at the residential but also daunted that I wouldn’t meet any expectations, or that my mentor would regret giving the place to me. As an English student I was nervous because my scholarship is actually within the School of History. I was right about meeting other students who are really interested in what they do and really determined to use every available opportunity to extend themselves. As for my mentors, I get on well with them all and I’m fairly certain Iona, Alex and Josie don’t regret giving me the scholarship!! I have also been pleasantly surprised at how transferable my English skills were to the project; although I’ve had to remind myself on occasions to stop analysing the poetic metre of a source and get back to the history.

How have you benefitted so far from the scheme?
I’ve learnt to manage and carry out a project. Before the scheme I had no idea how to go about doing research; I would have just wandered around the library in a state of panic. My mentors Alex and Josie have guided me but they’ve also really encouraged me to figure things out for myself. As a result I have a lot more confidence in my ability to manage myself and deliver to a deadline- useful for the future dissertation. I’ve had the opportunity to attend an academic conference in the form of Leeds’ International Medieval Congress where I heard leading academics give their papers. I’m also now employed on an ad-hoc basis on a different area of the You Are What You Ate Project as a result of the people I’ve met through the scholarship. This means I contribute to the project not only through my research but also by attending the public engagement events teaching people about the diets of the past.

What has been your best memory of the scheme so far?
The residential was great because of the chance to meet other people just like me. I’ve also loved my meetings with my PhD student mentor Josie; whether it’s been a more serious chat, grabbing a coffee or playing pool she’s been so encouraging and I’m not sure I could have managed the scholarship without her.

What has been the biggest challenge so far? How have you overcome it?
Independent research can be really isolating and I’ve struggled with this the most. My work is based in the Brotherton so I was often on my own all day and all my university friends had gone home for the summer. The key to this is having a good relationship with your phD supervisor as they go through the same thing with their research and completely understand that sometimes you just need some human contact. It gets difficult trying to meet with the other scholars as everyone is working different weeks of the summer and different places, though it’s great when it does work out.

What is the biggest thing you’ve achieved on the scheme?
So far I’ve produced webpages and a blog but next year I hope to be writing a long essay and trying (fingers crossed) to get it published- that would be incredible.

Has UGRL supplemented your degree studies? If so, how?
Yes and no. Probably not as much as it will have for scholars working in the same department as their degree. However, my work has given me background knowledge of the seventeenth-century which will provide a really useful context for my upcoming module in Restoration literature. UGRL has supplemented my degree mostly in terms of the skills I’ve learnt in carrying out research which are transferable across the arts.

What have you learned about the nature of research/ researchers since UGRL?
As I have said, it can be quite isolating. It’s shown me how dedicated and determined a researcher has to be. You can’t just tell yourself “oh I’ll have a lie in today” because then you’d never achieve anything, so you have to be quite strict with yourself. You also have to be realistic about what is achievable in the time period you have- I’ve struggled with this as 6 weeks to produce a tangible output is not as long as it initially seems and you sometimes have to reassess your targets.

If not stated above, what explicit “employability” skills have you gained/anticipate gaining from the scheme? The residential taught me a lot about networking- how important it is and how to do it successfully. Networking is the most important skill as sometimes it really is who you know not what you know. You also need to have the confidence to approach someone and tell them what you’re doing and why they should be interested. Contacts are everything! The rest I have already mentioned- being able to be left alone and actually come back to your mentor or employer having produced something is great, no one is going to want to babysit you.

What advice would you give to someone considering applying for UGRL/ about to start a research project?
APPLY!- even if the scholarship isn’t managed by your parent school. If you’re interested in the proposed project and motivated enough you stand a good chance. Research the project leaders; get to know their interests, if they are doing a talk go to it and introduce yourself (I did this, it helped so much). They will appreciate the level of work you’ve put into your application. Also read around the project proposal, don’t go to the interview ignorant. Finally, if you don’t apply you will never get it- a cliché but true.

What do you want to be when you grow up? 
A lecturer…I think. I want to teach. I really like the idea of sharing my passion and knowledge about my subject with others for a living. If not, I’d love to be a critic or reviewer. I want a job which is still related to my love of literature. I also want to be fluent in French so maybe teaching English as a foreign language for a few works.

Who is your hero and why?
I don’t really know. I don’t have a particular famous idol. The people who I respect and inspire me most are people who I actually know among my friends and family.

What are your hobbies?
I do tai-chi which is a less usual one to find written under this question. I did ballet for 12 years but had to stop because of injury and I find tai-chi a great alternative. I also do life drawing, can make felt, play the piano and am failing to teach myself guitar. I would like to join swing dance soc next year.

What is your favourite flavour of crisps?
Doritos cool original, Pringles sour cream and onion or Skips if I want to feel 7 years old again.

Project Report
My work this summer has been in Special Collections in the Brotherton Library. I have been looking at The Cookery Collection’s seventeenth-century printed recipe books. I created two research areas: food believed to prevent melancholia, and recipes to prevent miscarriage.        “Mood Food”, the foods against melancholy, is a mini project for which I have created some web pages (link below).  For this part of the project I first had to get to grips with contemporary theories of health, markedly the four humours and the six non-naturals. Like today, people in the early modern period sought balance for health. All illness resulted from an imbalanced lifestyle or diet. Different foods had different qualities and were so used to keep balance across the diet. It was thought that melancholy resulted from an imbalance and could therefore be cured by foods which would counteract the melancholic humours. It is not then surprising that the cookery books are full of recipes ‘against melancholy’ or ‘to cheer the heart’. I then compared the foods recommended in the recipe books to those recommended by Robert Burton in his ‘Anatomy of Melancholy’ (1621).  Burton’s six-volume book was a hugely influential text on all things melancholy. Obviously we still use balance and diet to keep healthy today. Furthermore certain foods are recommended to help combat depression (which is similar but not exactly the same as melancholy). In fact, Borage, one of the herbs used in many recipes and advised by Burton, is still used today against the symptoms of PMS!

Whilst I really enjoyed ‘Mood Food’, it didn’t have the scope for me to carry it on for the whole two years. A different aspect of the cookery books which had fascinated me were the number of recipes related to female health and motherhood. The recipe books would have been central to a woman’s knowledge of herself and would most likely have been passed down from mother to daughter. The existing academic work has focused upon infanticide and secret abortions enabled by the recipe books. I therefore chose to do the opposite: to explore the recipes which give advice on how to prevent miscarriage. I will continue this work next year in the form of a long essay.

During the summer I also attended the International Medieval Conference here at Leeds. This was a fantastic opportunity to see academics across the different disciplines give their papers on a vast variety of medieval topics. It provided me with a real insight into the life of an academic.

This summer has been hard work but really rewarding, and I am looking forward to next year.

Without the scholarship I….
would never have met some really great people and would not have had the confidence to pursue academic research in the arts.


© Copyright Leeds 2018