Studying literature changes the way you think about the world

Kristína Urbanová graduated from the Master’s Programme in English Studies in spring 2021. For her Master’s thesis, she studied Herman Melville’s classic novel Moby-Dick (1851) through an anti-capitalist lens. Working on the thesis solidified her intention to pursue a career in academia.
Choosing a master’s programme and thesis topic

After getting a Bachelor’s degree in English and Journalism and Creative Writing in the UK, Kristína Urbanová was looking to continue her studies in a Master’s programme where she could focus on English literature. Such programmes were, in her words, surprisingly difficult to find, as most MA programmes in the field of English language focused on linguistics. She chose the Master’s Programme in English Studies at the University of Helsinki, mostly because of the opportunity to study literature, but also for her love of Finland as a country. 

Urbanová describes being introduced to Moby-Dick during her Bachelor’s studies as a “formative experience”. Her Master’s studies finally gave her an opportunity to closely study the work in an academic context like she had been wanting to. Inspiration for examining Moby-Dick as an anti-capitalist text came from her own experiences. She says that growing up and becoming financially independent awakened her to see how capitalism didn’t actually benefit everyone. The importance of this approach was highlighted during the writing process by both Urbanová’s background research into the exploitative whaling industry, and the coronavirus pandemic clearly treating people differently based on their social class. 

Thesis writing and COVID times 

Due to the pandemic, Urbanová ended up writing her thesis back home in Slovakia. She attended the thesis seminar online but did not have access to the university library or the opportunity to meet up with other students to work on the thesis. Despite all this, she felt well-supported by her supervisor, which aided the writing process.  

During the first couple of months, Urbanová did a lot of historical research. When writing about an old book like Moby Dick, she tries to set it in a historical context because, in her opinion, understanding the history and realizing that the book is a product of its time is necessary to understand the text itself. After historical research, she did more in-depth research on Melville as an author to understand the context of this particular book. Additionally, Urbanová read previous interpretations of Moby Dick as well as Marxist and other left-wing literary criticism.  

Even though Urbanová was already acquainted with Moby Dick because of her Bachelor’s studies, she had to reread the novel to get an idea of what the direction of her Master’s thesis would be. Having several ideas about possible ways to approach the book prolonged the process. 

According to Urbanová, the writing process itself was a lot more challenging compared to earlier texts, like her BA thesis. At first, she was surprised at being asked to produce written work five months before the thesis was due, while she was still in her reading stage. Because of how extensive the MA thesis was, Urbanová had to adjust her way of working; she could not do all the reading first before starting to write. Eventually, she realized reading and writing simultaneously made it easier to manage everything. 

Urbanová’s main advice for students writing their Master’s theses is to start early. She recalls doing most of the writing during the final couple of weeks but thinks that the process could have been easier and more organized had she started writing the final version earlier. In her opinion, doing the work in smaller bits can relieve negative feelings, like fear or anxiety, that might be attached to the process. 

Key takeaways from MA studies and plans for the future 

Urbanová has noticed that media literacy and people’s ability to analyze and understand stories is diminishing because of algorithmic apps and websites. She sees studying literature as an antidote to that, as it has helped to hone her intellectual skills and changed the way she thinks about the world. Studying literature also helps to develop universally transferable skills, like writing, critical thinking and empathy. 

Urbanová credits her amazing teachers for enabling all of this and making studying literature interesting. Her dream is to play a part in doing that for other people in the future as well, which is why she has decided to pursue a career in academia. At the time of the interview, she was preparing for another round of applications for PhD funding. Alongside that, she was doing a customer service job and working on a fiction manuscript.