Please tell us a bit about yourself and your background
I am an Italian PhD candidate in the School of Education. I am a teacher of English as a Foreign Language, interpreter and translator. I have a BA in Interpreting and Translation from the University of Bologna, an MA in TESOL and Translation Studies from Aston University and I have also recently passed my DELTA Cambridge Module 1. I have worked as a freelance translator and interpreter in English, Italian and Spanish for quite a few years. I started teaching English four years ago and have worked as a teacher of General, Academic and Business English in Italy, England and Spain. I am passionate about travelling, cooking and have recently taken up knitting!
What motivated you to undertake your PhD study and why did you choose the University of Leeds?
I had been thinking about pursuing a PhD since my MA. I stand by the choice that I made to work as a teacher for a few years before starting my PhD, as I don't think I would have been able to do it based on purely theoretical knowledge. I was working as a part-time teacher at the University of Milan and a freelance business English teacher in a consulting firm when I started wondering whether it would be the right time to think about boosting my career prospects with a PhD. I looked into funding, sent a few applications and finally got a scholarship and excellent supervision at the University of Leeds.
What is it that makes you passionate about this area of study?
I believe in the potential of Education and in how language learning can empower people and give them freedom. My area of expertise, TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages), is first and foremost a diverse and evolving community that aims at improving language teaching around the world. I have always found that working in this field allows me to be creative, it expands my knowledge every day and allows me to meet and learn about many different people and cultures. There is still a lot of work to be done to improve language teaching around the world and I am enthusiastic about the prospect of being part of such a dynamic research community.
Please tell us about your research topic…
I am studying learners and teachers' beliefs on the teaching of English listening skills. I would like to conduct a study in secondary schools in Italy. Despite being one of the most important skills in communication, listening is more often than not overlooked in foreign language teaching. I would like to find out what teachers and learners believe, how (and whether) listening is taught in class and how this can ultimately aid the development and implementation of sound teaching practice.
How has your experience been at the University so far?
I have had a positive experience at the University so far. The environment is inspiring, there is a lot of support and I believe it will only get better.
What would you say about the learning and research facilities in the School and at the University in general?
The University has great facilities: the libraries especially are amazing. The School of Education has everything you might need, from a common room to PGR offices. The University also has one of the best student unions I have ever seen, with plenty of societies and events.
How would you describe the research environment in the School? What would you say about the support you receive?
I couldn't be happier about the support I receive. My supervisors have helped me from the very beginning and they are personally and professionally excellent. The research environment is inspired, especially in Language Education, the group that I belong to. Research seminars and workshops with speakers coming from other institutions are often organised and we are always encouraged to collaborate and exchange ideas through forums and discussion groups.
Do you take part in any activities outside of your study? (Clubs & Societies/activities in the School etc).
I have started going to a knitting club, which is something that I had never done before! I have also joined the university gym, which is modern and a great place to distract myself from constantly having to think for a living. I have also joined a society which organises English conversation classes with refugees and asylum-seekers. This is similar to the volunteering work that I did back in Italy and it has been a rewarding experience so far.
What do you like to do outside of studying?
When I am not studying, I like doing pilates, cooking, travelling and going to art galleries. I also like binge watching TV series and the strangest documentaries I can find!
What do you think of Leeds as a city?
First of all, the size of Leeds is great: it's not so big that it feels daunting, but not so small that it's dead. It is a friendly place with lots of music gigs and nice restaurants. It's also very well-located if travelling is your thing, as it is close to many other beautiful towns (York, Scarborough, etc.) and you can easily reach both the south and the north of the UK.
What would you say to someone considering a research degree in the School?
Start planning well in advance: a PhD application can take quite a few months to complete. Apply for as many scholarships as you can based on the eligibility requirements (both in the UK and in your own country, potentially): doing a PhD without funding can prove challenging! If education is what you would like to research, I would recommend working as a teacher for a few years at least, as I find it has helped me a great deal. Identify your ideal supervisor well in advance and get in touch with them with a proposal. This is a great environment for doctoral studies, but a demanding one too, so bear in mind that you will be working hard... but you will certainly be satisfied as well!
What are your plans once you have completed your PhD?
I would like to see how the PhD goes and how I feel working as an early-career researcher. I think I would like to pursue a career in academia, but my field offers so many opportunities, ranging from publishing to research to teacher training, that I will definitely consider working outside of academia as well. I have almost always juggled more than a job and I quite like having variety in my life, so I might opt for staying a multi-tasker in the future!