Casey Lawrence


MA in English Literature Alumni

Research Adviser: Tim Conley

Program Entry Date: September 2017

Research Topic

My Major Research Project examines the enduring legacy and social influence of the Oscar Wilde Trials as depicted in James Joyce’s Ulysses, focusing on how the novel represents the perception of queerness (and “sexual deviance” more broadly) in both public and private discourses. To this end, I analysed two episodes, “Circe” and “Cyclops,” which came to represent the court of law and the court of public opinion as distinct spaces of social judgement, and found that both contain allusions to Wilde which reveal the shift in cultural values occurring in the novel’s setting, turn-of-the-century Dublin.

What made you choose Brock?

I initially chose Brock because of its program options; it was one of only two Ontario universities that offered enough German credits to complete a minor. Having done my undergraduate degree at Brock, continuing on to do an MA seemed like the next logical step for me. The relationship I built with the school, professors, and community at Brock was one I knew would support me during the major changes that come with doing a graduate degree. The research interests and skills I developed at Brock during my BA were encouraged by a supervisor who knew me and my needs well, and I knew from experience how dedicated Brock professors are to the success of their students.

What are some of the challenges you have faced as a graduate student, and how did you overcome them?

I suffer from anxiety, and I was initially worried about stress impeding my ability to succeed in graduate school. During my undergraduate degree, I was hospitalized for a stress-induced ulcer, and I have been weary ever since of over-taxing myself. My supervisor’s support and that of my professors, peers, family, and friends were instrumental in helping me overcome my anxiety. Although mental health is a real concern for anyone starting a graduate program, there are resources available to help. There is no shame in asking for help, or in putting yourself first; making your health, whether mental or physical, a priority is a necessary part of graduate school. You have to take care of yourself and develop strategies that work for you to reduce stress. For me, working on creative projects, spending time with friends and family, and maintaining a strict schedule are what helped the most.

What makes Brock stand out for you?

What makes Brock stand out to me is the dedication of its professors. Whether I had an academic inquiry or a personal problem, my professors were always willing to help me in whatever way they could. I maintain regular contact with my professors from Brock, and they have continued to support me even after graduation. I could not have gotten where I am today, in a PhD program at a prestigious European university, without their encouragement, letters of recommendation, and external support. Brock University is a welcoming community of scholars who want their students to succeed; students are not just a number.

What are your tips for thriving in grad school?

The most important factor to succeeding in grad school is taking care of yourself. While your research is the thing you went to grad school for– the project you’re excited for and passionate about– it can’t be your whole life, or you will burn out. You have to make time for friends and family, but most importantly, for yourself. Eating right, exercising, and taking breaks are just as important as research. Your mental and physical well-being are more important than your project! Treat your research like a job; schedule “working time” and put aside the rest of the day to live your life– shower, cook, read a book (outside your topic!), call your mom, go for a run, watch a movie, and GET ENOUGH SLEEP!

How is being a graduate student different from being an undergraduate student?

Being a graduate student is different from being an undergraduate because you have more freedom. While you might be more limited in which courses you can take, the work you do in those courses is flexible. In undergrad, you might be given a list of topics to choose from for your final essay, whereas in graduate school, you choose your own topic and do the research yourself. However, with more freedom comes more responsibility. For your thesis or MRP, not only do you choose your own topic, you make your own deadlines. With no one telling you what to do or when to do it, you have to be disciplined and schedule time to work. Self-guided research takes motivation, perseverance, and initiative; you have to want to do the work for the sake of the research itself, not just as a means to an end.

Do you feel your degree has prepared you for your plans academically and otherwise?

Brock’s practice of giving its graduate students the opportunity to be Teaching Assistants is one unparalleled in other universities. Not only were we given practical training on pedagogy, grading, and leadership, but we were able to apply those skills in a classroom. At my current university, graduate students are not allowed to be Teaching Assistants until the second year of a PhD program; having been a TA at Brock means that I have more teaching experience than my senior colleagues! My teaching experience at Brock was invaluable professionally. Brock Master’s graduates have a leg up on the job market and are well-prepared for PhD programs, in my experience.

What are your next steps?

Thanks to the support and encouragement of my professors and peers at Brock, I successfully applied to the English PhD program at Trinity College Dublin in Ireland. I plan to continue pursuing many of the same research interests that I developed at Brock during my BA and MA by writing a dissertation on depictions of cross-dressing in modernist literature. In four years’ time I will hopefully have a doctorate, and after that, who knows? The possibilities are endless. My graduate studies have already opened so many doors from me; I can only hope that I will continue to grow and learn from all the amazing opportunities I have been afforded. In the immediate future, though, is a trip to Switzerland to research at the archive The Zürich James Joyce Foundation, where I have been invited to spend two months!