From BA degree to PhD to novelist

Degrees in literature and law have provided University of London graduate, Jackie Rule, with the foundation to start an academic and literary career
BA English graduate Jackie Rule
"It gave me the confidence to articulate my own ideas": Jackie Rule
I wanted to study for a British university degree as this would give me a level of knowledge about literature that is pretty much unparalleled in its breadth and depth

When she graduated in 2008, Jackie Rule received a special prize  to mark that she had achieved top marks worldwide for her BA English, studied through the University of London International Programmes. This was just the start of a new career path which has led to a PhD and writing a novel.

Jackie studied her BA English degree with the University of London because, although she had a place to read English and Drama in the UK, she moved to Australia to rejoin her family who had relocated to Sydney shortly after she completed her A levels in London.

“I wanted to study for a British university degree as this would give me a level of knowledge about literature that is pretty much unparalleled in its breadth and depth.”

As with many other students, Jackie found that there were challenges in studying independently. “Structuring your own time and being disciplined enough to follow through is a big task. When you are studying on-campus you know that you have to be there for a lecture at a certain time, and other things work around that. But when you don’t have to leave the house to study, there are abundant temptations to distract you – TV, emails to check, even housework. I decided to go to the library every day with the same sense of priority and determination as if I was going to a lecture to give a presentation.”

"With a degree like this, you come out with a strong sense of your own ideas and an understanding of where you fit in intellectually."

There was a payoff for her perseverance in terms of broadening her perspectives and growing in confidence in her own ideas:  “I think that with a degree like this, you may start off ingesting other people’s viewpoints, but you come out with a strong sense of your own ideas and an understanding of where you fit in intellectually, within a much wider sphere of society’s academic, philosophical and ideological debates.”

Studying for a BA was just the start of Jackie’s academic studies. She went on to study law with the University of Technology, Sydney, and was admitted as a solicitor by the Supreme Court of New South Wales.

Jackie has since completed a PhD at the University of Sydney. She says of her BA degree: “It provided me with not only the critical tools and the theoretical framework with which to complete my PhD thesis, but also gave me the confidence to articulate my own ideas.”

Her thesis drew together her two interests of literature and law. “It looked, as case studies, at the novels Atonement by the British author Ian McEwan and The Reader by the German law professor Bernhard Schlink. My thesis used these novels as case studies to unpack questions about the ethics of representing history through fiction – in the case of Atonement the retreat from Dunkirk during the Second World War; the role of narrative in creating legal ‘stories’; the relationship between fiction, law and morality and the challenges of interpretation in literary, legal and historical narratives.”

She goes on to explain: “Atonement requires readers to recalibrate their understanding of the ‘facts’ presented in the book and to question our willingness to suspend disbelief. I compared Atonement with The Reader, a novel concerned with exploring Germany’s Holocaust past, to examine the differences in the books’ treatment of their sensitive historical subject matter.”

"My degree helped me to forge highly practical skills."

Jackie now works for the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sydney in a senior role as an Executive Officer. She still finds the skills she gained on her degree to be valuable in the workplace: “My degree helped me to forge highly practical skills. The ability to communicate clearly, to write concisely, to analyse data effectively, to solve problems creatively and time-manage efficiently are just some of the practical skills that I acquired.”

Jackie is now taking her interests in both law and literature further and has started to write a novel. Jackie explains: “The novel is set against the background of Australia’s ‘Stolen Generation’, a period when Aboriginal children were forcefully taken away from their families, to be placed in children’s homes, foster families or missions. The novel draws on some of the themes that I looked at in my PhD thesis, including the relationship between law and morality, the ethical implications of narrative form, and the challenges of testimony, justice and legal reparations.”