Applying Experience: Nia Owen ’18

May 6, 2019

Phoebe Pan ’20

Nia Owen against a city backdrop
Nia Owen ’18
Photo credit: Photo Courtesy of Nia Owen

After spending a year working within the art and film industries, Nia Owen ’18 is gathering her experiences and heading to Cambridge University for graduate school.

What have you been working on since graduating and what are you up to right now?

After graduating, I moved to London from my native Wales. I started off working in the British Film Institute (BFI) restaurant, which was an exciting time. I worked during events and premieres including the BFI London Film Festival, and went to Q and As with my favorite directors. This experience was instrumental in my decision to apply to graduate school in film. I then interned with the Stephen Friedman Gallery during the Frieze London art fair, which again was an eye-opening experience as an art history graduate. Since then, I’ve been working for Royal Museums Greenwich as a visitor and sales assistant.

You‘re heading to Cambridge University for a Master of Philosophy. What will you be studying, and what was the application process like?

I’ll be studying for an MPhil in film and screen studies, and I intend to write my thesis on contemporary British feminist working-class cinema. I had been thinking about applying during my senior year, so it wasn't such a shock when I started writing the application this past autumn. I went to an open-day session and then got in touch with the supervisor in my department whom I wanted to work with and who has been amazingly kind. She was willing to go over drafts of my research proposal and gave me research recommendations, many of which I could find at the BFI library. All in all, it took me about two months to feel satisfied with the application—the research proposal was limited to one page, but that made it harder, as I had to contain so much in so little space. I also asked for two Oberlin professors to be my references well in advance; they have been extremely supportive, and I am very grateful to them.

Did any of your experiences at Oberlin lead to your decision to apply to graduate school?

girl standing in field of tall grass
Mari in Llanddowror, 2016 from Owen’s photographic project, Hiraeth. Photo credit: Nia Owen

I majored in art history and studio art, with the latter focusing on fine art photography. I always knew I would go to grad school eventually because education is so important to me. The professors I met at Oberlin have directed that path in the most positive and informative way. What I am most thankful for are the close relationships I built with them. I am very grateful for Professor of Studio Art and Photography Pipo Nguyen-Duy's endless encouragement and support. He helped me so much artistically, professionally, and personally.

Associate Professor of Studio Art Sarah Schuster really informed my senior year by giving me so much confidence and inspiration for how my artistic career could go beyond the medium of photography. I came to Oberlin intending to major in cinema studies, but I was drawn to the art history major because of the professors! Also, in my last semester, I took the class Introduction to American Documentary with Visiting Assistant Professor of Cinema Studies Joshua Sperling. I enjoyed the assignments and class discussions so much that it completely reignited my passion for film, which was unexpected, as it was a 100-level class and I was a senior!

Do you have any advice for current students who are looking to apply to graduate school?

Everything came together for me only in the autumn after graduating, once I had a taste of working life and exposure from working at the BFI. In the year since graduating, my ideas and knowledge have matured so much already, and I think my application was much stronger for it. I can only speak to applying to U.K. universities, but what I can recommend is starting as early as possible, even if it's just gathering information on what exactly you need to do when you apply. Applying to grad school is almost a full-time job in itself, so only apply if you're sure it's the right time for you. If it's relevant to your field and you think it's appropriate, get in touch with the supervisor you want to work with and ask (politely) if they are willing to discuss your research and ideas with you.

Nia will begin a MPhil this fall, and she hopes to be more involved with the film industry through writing and researching. She is also looking into funding and planning a few photography projects.

View her work online.

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