Harry smiling wearing a graduation gown and standing outside the Great Hall on campus.

Harry Bedder

Why did you choose to study BA Cultural and Media Studies at the University of Leeds?

I was working in a low-paid position in a secondary school and was disillusioned by the lack of career progression for people without a degree. I had long held an ambition to do a degree and decided that I had nothing to lose. I was offered a place at several universities but found that the course content at Leeds best matched my interests. I was invited on campus and experienced firsthand the passion that the academic staff have for Cultural Studies. I also had the opportunity to spend a bit of time in the School building and I liked the atmosphere. After this, I knew that I wanted to choose Leeds.

I chose Cultural and Media Studies because I have a lifelong interest in multiple areas of the creative arts and the media, such as journalism, media production, and music, so Media Studies was an obvious choice. I only became aware of Cultural Studies during my Access course at City College Norwich, for which I was eligible as a first-generation university student. I was fascinated by the depth of analysis that was possible, and the freedom of using a multidisciplinary approach to find a fresh way of looking at media texts. Applying high philosophical concepts to everyday cultural life was very appealing to me. As such, the blending of Media Studies with Cultural Studies seemed to me to be best of both worlds, allowing me to closely align my studies with my passions and interests. 

Studying the BA Cultural and Media Studies course

As the programme unfolded, I enjoyed the enthusiasm that the lecturers demonstrated when presenting their own research. I liked having the opportunity to write at length about different types of media texts such as films, TV shows, and music, and the freedom to choose the texts that I feel passionate about. The possibility to choose Discovery modules gave me the opportunity to broaden my study and pursue wider interests in subjects such as human geography, music journalism, and the history of science. I found myself drawn to semiotics as a way to analyse the representation of issues such as race, class and gender in media texts, focusing on so-called ‘low’ culture such as television, popular cinema, popular music, and professional wrestling.

In my final-year dissertation I concentrated on how professional wrestling uses social media to further blur the boundaries of reality and fiction. This takes place within a collaborative framework of storytelling which includes performer and fan, called ‘kayfabe’. In doing so, I drew links between the characteristics of kayfabe and contemporary populist politics, with a focus on the rise of Donald Trump. By contrast, I showed that professional wrestling’s connection with social media can, conversely, foster radically progressive political spaces, considering the role social media played in the rise to prominence of female performers like Becky Lynch and Ronda Rousey. During my dissertation I had some lively discussions with my supervisor which launched my research in unexpected directions, challenging and increasing the depth of my analysis.

In order to analyse and think critically about media texts, it is necessary to have a good idea of how the media work. Taking modules from the School of Media and Communication allowed me to increase my knowledge of visual communication as an industry, in a very concrete sense, understanding the motivations behind media texts and putting media production into an historical context. This informed the way that I approached my critical analysis of media texts, giving me a solid foundation upon which to build my arguments.

What activities outside of your studies were you involved in?

Outside of my degree programme, I derived great enjoyment from joining Leeds Student Radio. I met a lot of people who were as passionate about music as I am, I learned about radio production, and it was a rigorous test of my verbal communication skills. I had a lot of freedom in the shows I put together, meaning I could showcase independent and avantgarde music and, in the following semester, create a history of pop culture. As long as I had a good idea for a show, LSR allowed me to make it a reality! I indulged my passion for music and the written word further by writing music reviews for The Gryphon. I found it very gratifying to see my work on the website and in print.

I was very proud to be selected for the Leeds Excellence in the Arts Programme (LEAP), which allowed me to attend one-off seminars and talks from scholars involved in various disciplines, ranging from an introduction to Disney Studies to learning about the systems of community justice in Ancient Greece. The dedication and enthusiasm of the guest scholars shone through and made the sessions highly enjoyable; they also informed my own academic approach and practice.

Through LEAP I found out about the Undergraduate Research Experience, a week-long conference where students shared their research in the form of short presentations. I found this a valuable experience which bolstered my verbal presentation skills and taught me how to condense a complicated piece of research into a short, digestible and entertaining form. I enjoyed answering questions about my research and I was pleased to receive a lot of positive feedback about my presentation.

Furthermore, working as a Student Ambassador during the University Open Days was a great experience; explaining my degree programme to prospective students helped me to realise my own passion for the subject and I enjoyed enthusing others to pursue a degree at Leeds. 

Looking back and to the future

All in all, I found my three years at Leeds to be a worthwhile challenge. I had to deal with some adversity, not least the Covid-19 pandemic, but I came out stronger for the experience and I achieved the result I wanted, which meant a great deal to me. I was very proud of the positive feedback I received for some of my assignments, and I felt nurtured and motivated by the kind words and constructive feedback of the academic staff at FAHACS.

Tess Hornsby-Smith from LEAP encouraged me to enter some of my essays into the Global Undergraduate Awards, and I was delighted to be announced as Europe & UK Regional Winner in the Music, Film and Theatre category with an essay I wrote for the Cinema and Culture module in my second year. The validation and recognition I felt for this award was immense and I felt that all my effort and hard work had reaped its reward.

I am taking a year out to consider my options for further study, which have been broadened by my positive academic journey at Leeds. Ultimately, I hope to pursue a career in academia and continue my research and learning. I don’t just want to study media, however, I want to be part of it too! So at the same time I will continue to look at ways to use my improved written and verbal communication skills and involve myself in the production and critique of media texts.

Financial support and opportunities 

As a first-generation university student on a low income, I was eligible for a means-tested scholarship. This was a huge help and meant that I could spend more time studying and less time working and worrying about how to make ends meet. In addition, I was eligible for the Plus Programme, through which I was offered exclusive opportunities, the potential of more financial help, and access to social events where I met some of the closest friends I made during my time in Leeds. I would definitely recommend seeing if you qualify for any form of financial assistance as it can make a big difference, and you might be surprised at what is available to you.

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