Over tea in the Science Gallery, Louise Gallagher talks about the various stages of her education. Having graduated from University College Dublin (UCD) in 2006 with a two-subject degree in archaeology and Greek and Roman civilisation, Gallagher explains the unusual route that has led her to the final year of a four-year PhD. During her six years out of formal education, when she got a job in the Kildare Library and Arts Service, she realised that she had a strong desire to return to education. Although a master’s in librarianship was originally on the cards, she fell in love with children’s literature.
In 2011, two days after the application deadline, Gallagher heard about the new MPhil in children’s literature that had just launched in Trinity. After contacting the course coordinator she was informed that the deadline had been extended, leading to a rush to find essays she had written six years previously and gather references from UCD lecturers that “definitely didn’t remember” her. She explains that she was “massively intimidated” by the fact that she didn’t have an English degree: “I was coming in completely cold. The last time I had written anything critical about a poem was when I was 17 years old doing my Leaving Cert. It was ten years later, I felt I had a massive hill to climb.”
The opportunity I had was quitting my job and getting a grant as a mature student, which was really vital for me because I was using all my savings to go back to college
It “was a convergence of timing and financial aid” but also the readiness she felt to go back to university, that encouraged her to take some risks. “The opportunity I had was quitting my job and getting a grant as a mature student, which was really vital for me because I was using all my savings to go back to college. I was able to get most of my fees covered which was really fantastic and a small stipend which was also great”, she says. As an undergraduate she did not have the courage to “walk into a room, sit down next to someone and say ‘Hi, I’m Louise. How are you?'” As a postgraduate, however, she “was going to try and smile and have small conversations with people”. She smiles: “I think I got a lot more out of it.”
They care about how you’re getting on. As a postgraduate you need to recognise them as human beings. They’re not just scary people standing at the front of the class. Engage with them
The MPhil in children’s literature is a taught master’s, and gave Gallagher a class to bond with. Speaking of her dislike for outrageous college nights out I find myself being able to relate. As a master’s student, however, she chose to attend some college events: “I went to the Postgraduate Ball, and I went to the English Ball. We decided we would do that. We weren’t really big for going on nights out. Everyone was working or travelling home or being very dedicated. I’m really glad I went to those because I never went to any college functions as an undergrad.” As a current PhD student she feels that there are not as many opportunities for bonding or socialising, making it a rather solitary existence. She engages instead with lecturers: “They care about how you’re getting on. As a postgraduate you need to recognise them as human beings. They’re not just scary people standing at the front of the class. Engage with them.”
As we begin to finish our now-cold tea, we talk about teaching assistants. This year she is going to be teaching for the first time: “All I can think about is first year me who, basically, rarely went to class and was kind of a bit terrible, to be honest.” She’s already working on tactics to encourage first years: “I’m really looking forward to those awkward silences as nobody answers the question, and everyone is trying to hide behind their notebook. I think baked goods. I’ll be the girl who brings cupcakes just to tempt them into speaking.”
Laughing, Gallagher jokes: “I’ll be that really zany teacher!”, quickly followed by “oh my god, don’t put that in the article”.