Sally Higgins

Sally Higgins

Please tell us a bit about yourself and your background?

I grew up in the Potteries (Stoke-on-Trent) in the 1970s-80s. I started learning to play the clarinet during my school years thanks to an excellent peripatetic music service in Staffordshire. I went on to complete a Bachelor of Music at Sheffield University in 1985, followed by a PGCE at Sheffield Hallam University in 1987. Since then I have worked as a classroom teacher, woodwind teacher and music specialist in primary schools in the Leeds area with a break of several years in the early 90’s when I worked in Darwin, Australia. For the past 20 years I have played clarinet in the Leeds Symphony Orchestra. I completed the part-time MA in the Applied Psychology of Music at Leeds University School of Music in 2020.

What made you want to apply to your course and to Leeds?

I chose this particular course as I was interested in how music affects us. I had observed first-hand how music affected the children I taught over the years and decided to find out more about the mechanisms behind these effects. The idea of going back into study was exciting to me. As a mature student, I work and have family commitments in Leeds and being accepted onto the MA in Leeds enabled me more easily to balance work, study and family. When I attended the open day at the School of Music I found the environment and staff really welcoming. I liked it as soon as I arrived in the department. I was also aware of the high academic reputation of the University of Leeds

What is it that makes you passionate about your area of study?

Music has always been important to me as a source of personal enjoyment and support throughout life. I love teaching music and have an inherent drive to continue to learn as much as I can about the subject.

What aspects of the course did you enjoy the most? 

I enjoyed the whole course! The Case Studies module was really informative and stimulating thanks to all tutors involved, and the small-group format made it easy to share and discuss ideas with fellow students. The enthusiasm Dr Burland and Dr Greasley brought to the Research Techniques modules made lectures enjoyable and memorable. In the second year I particularly enjoyed the Music, Health and Wellbeing module led by Dr Freya Bailes. I learned invaluable academic skills in Professional Studies with Dr Ian Sapiro and Dr Emily Payne. In my experience, all the School of Music staff were really supportive. Overall, I enjoyed the academic challenge and as an older student I found my IT skills improved greatly over the course which was an added bonus! Although I enjoyed all the modules throughout the course I found the experience of researching and pulling together my final dissertation particularly satisfying.

What would you say about the learning facilities in your School and at the University in general?

The School of Music is a mix of the modern and more traditional. A modern foyer leads through to the Clothworker’s Concert Hall. Study facilities are good with comfortable lecture/seminar rooms and Steinway pianos are available in all practice rooms. All staff at the School of Music; reception staff, tutors and technicians, are very supportive and knowledgeable. I liked having access to the Post Graduate study room and lockers and enjoyed working in the libraries on campus, especially on the PG floor of the Edward Boyle Library. As a student at the School of Music I could also access the many free concerts and research colloquia.

Did you work closely with a particular tutor or member or the University’s academic staff? Tell us about that experience.

Dr David Ireland was very supportive as my dissertation tutor, offering encouragement, guidance and really helpful constructive feedback. He was always available to discuss ideas and answer any questions. All the tutors I worked with throughout the course were approachable, supportive and enthusiastic about their modules. Dr Ian Sapiro was my personal tutor for the course and his door (or email) was always open when I needed advice or guidance. I really appreciated Dr Emily Payne’s opinion, advice, and knowledge of the literature when considering my ideas for dissertation topics and Dr Alinka Greasley’s support and clear advice throughout. Beyond graduation I have found all professors to be supportive about further study and involvement with the University.

What other activities are available for students to take part in outside of their studies, and which ones have you tried out yourself?

As a working mature student with existing extra-curricular and family interests I did not take part in any of the many activities available to Leeds University students. During induction week we were made aware of all activities on offer and although tempted, I did not have time to join any of the activities beyond attending some excellent concerts at the School of Music (free to music students) and the interesting research colloquia which took place weekly at the School of Music. I am currently involved as a postgraduate volunteer member of the 2021 University of Leeds ‘Pint of Science’ team thanks to the continued encouragement of Dr Alinka Greasley, programme leader for the MA Applied Psychology of Music course.

What do you plan to do now you’ve finished your course, and how do you think the skills and knowledge you’ve developed at Leeds will help with these plans?

I am currently back at work as a part-time music teacher in primary schools and also volunteering as a vaccinator in the COVID-19 vaccination programme. I am continuing to fine-tune my MA dissertation with the aim of publication. Next year I intend to apply for a PhD place at the School of Music in order to continue my research into AI and music.

What would you say to anyone thinking of applying to your course?

Go for it! Beyond the many academic benefits and sheer pleasure of learning, I found that further study in such a supportive environment had a positive effect on my confidence in other areas beyond university life. It allowed me to identify personal strengths and work on areas of weakness, but primarily, my experience over these last two years increased my readiness to push beyond my comfort zone and take on fresh challenges.