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Alumni Profiles

Dr Katie Low

Dr Katie Low, postgraduate 2013; now works in EU Communications, Brussels.

I submitted my doctorate on Tacitus’ Annals in the summer of 2013. I very much enjoyed my time in Oxford, but my commitment to Classics sometimes had to compete with my strong interest in modern European languages and culture. Fortunately these two passions were not mutually exclusive: thanks to a college exchange and understanding supervisors, I was able to spend a year studying in Paris, where I dutifully worked on my thesis but also came back with a novel draft (not – yet – published), and with the help of Faculty funding I also attended conferences abroad. One of my favourite memories from my graduate career is of sitting on a Romanian mountainside one early autumn day, looking out over the Carpathians with new friends from eastern and western Europe that I had just made at a colloquium.

Following my viva I taught undergraduates in Oxford and elsewhere, but after a year of applying for full-time academic posts I realised I did not feel fully committed to the process; I had also heard about the internships available to graduates at the EU’s institutions. To my surprise I was offered one (I’ve written about this elsewhere), and so moved to Brussels. The internship was a wonderful, horizon-broadening experience, and turned out to be an excellent foundation for an internationally-focused career. I currently work in communications, for which my academic writing background is certainly useful, but now that I’ve established myself here I’m developing interests in broader policy areas, with a view to the future. As I do so, I realise I am drawing on the analytical skills I acquired during my studies. I’m very glad I came to Brussels, but I have no regrets about doing a doctorate in Classics first.

Dr Kelly Shannon

Dr Kelly Shannon, postgraduate 2012; now Assistant Professor of Classics at the University of Alabama.

After graduating with a BA in Classics from the University of Virginia, I came to Oxford for the MSt, intending to leave after the year was up to return to the US to enter a PhD program. One term in Oxford changed my mind completely. By the end of Michaelmas, after hitting upon my ideal topic and supervisor for a DPhil thesis, I had my heart set on staying in Oxford for the rest of my postgraduate education, made possible by generous financial support from the Clarendon Fund and the Memoria Romana Project. My goal had always been an academic position in an American university, so I am happy to report (writing nearly ten years after that first Michaelmas Term!) that I now work as Assistant Professor of Classics at the University of Alabama. My path to the tenure-track took me through two one-year positions along the way (a postdoc in Germany and an adjunct-lecturer position in the US). 

The excellent training I received in the Faculty of Classics has helped me achieve these goals. Oxford offered me unique resources and opportunities – particularly its lively seminars, excellent research libraries, and special collections that allow postgraduate students to learn skills like papyrology and palaeography directly from ancient documents and medieval manuscripts – that made me a better Classicist in ways that I still feel daily. In my intermediate Latin classes at Alabama, I still use handouts I created when I taught MILC Latin classes back in 2008-9. I am getting to redeploy my Greek palaeographical skills to produce a textual edition of the Greek paradoxographer Phlegon of Tralles that is one of my current works-in-progress. Even my dear old DPhil thesis has life in it yet – a revised version will be published soon in the Oxford Classical Monographs series. Oxford’s people are perhaps the most impressive of its many resources, and I am still in regular contact with my supervisor and other members of the Faculty, and with many of the friends I made while writing my DPhil, who are now colleagues in departments scattered across the globe.

Dr Giuseppe Pezzini

Dr Giuseppe Pezzini, postgraduate 2012; now Lecturer in Latin at the University of St Andrews.

I am a Lecturer in Latin at the University of St Andrews, which I have recently joined after a tour around several world universities, from Pisa to Princeton, from Leiden to Reading. Although each of these places played an important role in my life, it is certainly my D.Phil. at Oxford (2008–2012) that had the most determinant impact on my academic and human formation. As a young, freshly graduated Italian, I had received one of the best trainings that Italy could boast, and yet I was not immune from a degree of provincialism and cynicism. Studying and living in Oxford opened me to the world, introduced me to a vast range of different approaches to Classics, but at the same time allowed me to embrace and deepen my philological training, as well as rediscover and appreciate my Italian identity. Oxford gave me back my passion for the Classics, as well as the concrete possibility to turn that passion into a profession, as would later be shown through my career path.

My experience in Oxford was that of a universitas: I remember with fondness my trepidation at the first crossing of the daunting gate of All Souls, where Jim Adams would teach me what research is, as well as the furious cycling in order to reach in time Examination Schools, where I would give my first classes on Latin and Greek grammar. Many of the foundations of my work approach can be traced back to the graduate seminar, which significantly broadened my appreciation of the skills required in the academic profession. I also recall with affection the lunches and the tutorials at St Anne’s, the college with which I was affiliated and which provided me with a generous grant. Oxford is a special place, and even setting aside the matchless quality of the training I received there, my whole person benefitted from the dialogue with the many brilliant minds which form its international, tightly-bounded community.

Ben Lay

Ben Lay, postgraduate 2008; now a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy.

After studying Classics from 2003 to 2007, I took the MSt in 2007/8.  I enjoyed the opportunity to run to greater depth on a single topic in the form of the dissertation, to broaden the range of my studies (I took the Horace paper that I had been unable to fit in alongside my other Finals options), and to undertake more specialised and focused study (in my case the Greek and Latin Metre papers).  Following a period of varied work in and around the University, I applied to join the Royal Navy in 2011 and began training as a Logistics Officer in 2013.  I have since been promoted to the rank of Lieutenant, been deployed to the Mediterranean, Middle East, and UK waters, and am now serving in the Carrier Strike Group, expecting to join the hydrographic vessel HMS Scott next year as Head of the Logistics Department.

Besides the immediately appreciable advantages of additional seniority conferred by holding a MSt upon entry and being years ahead of those trying to obtain equivalent in-Service degrees, the foundations of Classical study have proved invaluable in other ways.  The high-level training in the arts of pure and applied thinking are readily transferrable to every aspect of military planning, operations, and support, and an ordered, analytical approach has helped at every stage of training.  My daily work also depends a great deal upon writing, analysing, and “staffing” documents. What comes as second nature to a Classicist, such as drawing the critical facts immediately from the text in front of us (and from the ones we cannot see but have to deduce), impresses the Command, just as the countless historical parallels or even a translated ship’s motto does for any of my shipmates.  I hope to apply soon for legal training within the Royal Navy, where again I know that the Oxford MSt will be considered favourably.

Daisy Dunn

Daisy Dunn, St Hilda's 2005; now a writer.

I came up to Oxford to read Classics armed with a Latin dictionary, a box of empty ring-binders, and a pink kettle. When I went down in 2009, I had twelve over-filled files, stacks of student newspapers I couldn’t throw away,and, resting on top, the ‘soft cap’ I chose in preference to the mortar board for taking to the university examinations. Seeing my accomplishments piled up like that only blurred the memories of what life had been like as an undergraduate.

There was no room in the car boot for the hours I had spent tracking down articles in the Sackler Library, or listening to lectures on the Homeric Question in Schools, or handling priceless Greek vases and Roman casts, and editing copy in the frantic newspaper offices on St Aldate’s. I studied both Greek and Latin as part of the course, and really enjoyed the opportunity to take papers in Homer and Ovid, as well as in Roman history, art, and the Reception of Classics in twenty-first century poetry. By the end of the final year I wanted to look at the subject from a different perspective, and won a scholarship to study for an MA in Art History of Renaissance Italy at the Courtauld Institute in London. After a break, this led me to embark upon a part-time PhD in the relationship between the two worlds, the ancient and the Renaissance, at UCL, where I was lucky enough to be awarded funding from the AHRC. At the same time I worked as Executive Officer of JACT, which supports the teaching of Classics in schools,and as a journalist. I completed my PhD in 2013. Today I work full time as a writer and critic, and remain involved in the work of JACT and the Classical Association. My first book is very much inspired by the topics I studied as a Classics undergraduate at Oxford.

Joanna Dirmikis

Joanna Dirmikis, Magdalen College 1997; now a qualified barrister.

My passion for Greece, drama and history drew me to studying Classics. Oxford was an obvious choice because it has the best reputation in the subject and Magdalen was the obvious college for me because of having Professor Oliver Taplin, a world expert in Ancient Greek theatre. I have very fond memories of the tutorial system at Oxford and the theatrical performances I acted in and directed whilst I was a student at Oxford.   

Studying Classics helped me hone some of the skills I still use today for my work as a barrister -forensic analysis of huge amounts of information, honing arguments on one side or another, interpreting and weighing evidence and asking and trying to answer some very challenging questions. But it also gave me a bedrock of knowledge which I can always go back to and build on if I want to. I am still fascinated by the Ancient World, still love all things Classical and I am so glad I decided to study what I did. It has made me a better lawyer and hopefully a more interesting and well-rounded person !  

Douglas Reith

Douglas Reith, Christ Church 1989; now an actor.

Mods 'A' Literae Humaniores at 36 years old! Daunted? No;apprehensive? You bet! There I was, a Christ Church 'Fresher' in October 1989,exactly twice the age of the other new bugs. I'd re-sat my Latin and Greek 'A'levels, in order to be at least on a par with all the bright and younger things. My initial worries were groundless.

The House is a wonderfully inclusive college, and I was never made to feel out of place by any of my much younger comtemporaries. The course tested and stretched me to the limit -sometimes beyond! But I always had the support of wonderful tutors -and fellow students brighter than I. I had resigned from my announcing job with BBC Radio 3 to return to classics, and I haven't regretted that decision for a second; it was a fantastically enriching 4 Years. I went on to teach at a VIth Form college in London, then briefly at Westminster School, and as a private tutor, until I revived my acting career. I have no doubt that my reading of Greek Tragedy and Comedy has informed and deepened my understanding of performance - even in my present role in Downton Abbey! Looking back now, what a privilege it was to have the time and freedom to study some of the greatest literature ever written, and be guided by some of the finest minds available.

Ave Aedes Christi, sed numquam vale.

Tim Boswell (Lord Boswell of Aynho)

Tim Boswell (Lord Boswell of Aynho); New College 1961; now a politican.

'On reflection-perhaps it is always so in Oxford- my time there (Lit Hum 1961-65) was marked by the closing stages of the careers of great persons. I attended Eduard Fraenkel's last years of seminars, was tutored in New College by Eric Yorke, and heard lectures by Maurice Bowra. On moving from Mods to Greats, I was tutored for Roman history by C.E.(('Tom') Stevens, and watched with fascination the dialectic on 4th century Greek history between my own tutor Geoffrey de Ste Croix and Gerald Cawkwell-while on the philosophy side Freddie Ayer was still active.

I then did something eccentric if not unique, and after graduating applied to do a post-graduate Diploma- in Agricultural Economics!. This launched me into an early career spanning both the practice of farming ( on our family farm) and political research.The latter eventually took me into Parliament as Conservative MP for Daventry 1987-2010, including Ministerial time as a Government Whip, then as Minister for Further and Higher Education, and finally back to Agriculture, while in Opposition I covered a wide range of front-bench shadow responsibilities including mental capacity and disability issues, and became a specialist in equality and human rights. Along the way, I served at different times as County Chair of the Natuional Farmers' Union, Chair of a constituency Party,Chair of an agricultural research charity, and even for two years as a public interest member of a Science Research Council(then AFRC, precursor of BBSRC). Having moved to the House of Lords in 2010 on retirement from the Commons, I am now Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees and chair the Select Committee on the European Union. When I was contemplating reading Classics, we heard a lot about the possibility of transfer of training!