Matthew Payne is in the fourth year of his PhD at the University of St Andrews. Before moving up to Scotland, Matthew completed his undergraduate and Master’s studies at the University of Cambridge. Matthew works on Seneca the Younger, the Roman politician, philosopher, poet, and infamously the tutor and adviser of the Emperor Nero. Matthew’s research is on aberration in Seneca’s tragedies, and how Seneca creates a coherent whole.out of abnormalities of language, setting, and psychology.
Thanks to the SGSAH Student Development Fund, as well as funding from my home university, St Andrews, I spent three months living and studying in the Netherlands. This was a fantastic opportunity for me. It was a chance to develop strong and deep professional relationships with both professors and peers, to experience academic life in a continental department and to participate in a new academic community, and to enjoy exploring a new country.
I was studying in Leiden University, and for my three months I joined the Leiden University Centre for the Arts in Society (LUCAS) research group. In contrast to my department in St Andrews, LUCAS comprises researchers not just in Classics but also in Medieval and Early Modern Studies, Art History, Film Studies and Modern Literature – having the department organised this way made it easy to trade ideas ‘interdisciplinarily’ at the regular seminars and lunches without even thinking about it! LUCAS provided me with an office shared with a fellow Classicist, who got me up to speed with all the things that were going on in the department, as well as, importantly, the best things to see and places to eat in Leiden. (Thanks, Karine!) And it’s heartening to know you can bond with anyone over a shared love of film.
Most of the time I was taking advantage of the excellent collections in Classics in the University Library. But I also benefited from the research seminar programme – even the one in Dutch – and from attending a conference with several US speakers whom I have always wanted to meet, and practical workshops put on by LUCAS. The best workshop was hosted by Prof. Ineke Sluiter on abstract writing, and was full of useful, practical tips that straight away improved my efforts. Incredibly helpful too was the supervision from Prof. Antje Wessels, which made me rethink my approach in one of my thesis chapters.
While I was studying in Leiden, I actually lived in The Hague, but travelling door to door only took half an hour or so. I loved living there – all the buzz and excitement of living in a city, but small enough that it was always easy to get around. Lots to see but easy to get around could apply equally well as a description for the Netherlands as a whole – there were so many beautiful places within a short train ride, like Haarlem or Delft, that it was always easy to find something to do for a Sunday afternoon. I think I saw more Old Masters in these three months than in the rest of my life!
I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to be in a different country, with a new culture to appreciate, a new language to learn and new people to meet. I learned some Dutch and had fun practicing it in conversations over dinner with the couple I lodged with. I made good friendships that hopefully will last a long time. It’s given me the confidence to look abroad as well as in the UK for what’s next after the PhD. I’m heading off to Köln on an Erasmus place in a few months!
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