A PhD in Song Translation… by Tim Reus

Frozen_defense Tim ReusOn 8 June 2020, MA Translation graduate Tim Reus defended – via Zoom! – his PhD dissertation “Musical, visual and verbal aspects of animated film song dubbing: Testing the triangle of aspects model on Disney’s Frozen” at University of Jyväskylä in Finland.

To celebrate this occasion, Dr. Reus wrote a post for our Blog! If you’re interested in song translation, dubbing, or Frozen, you can download his dissertation here

“After my Bachelor degree in English, I wasn’t too excited about academic life. Sometimes I thought I’d like to be a professor, but then came some administrative difficulties (which meant that I couldn’t complete my honours programme) and an arduous BA thesis process… When I was finally done, I just wanted to get away from university life. But then my Master’s degree in Translation happened, and here we are, six years after that BA thesis, with a completed PhD dissertation and an academic sword — yes, a sword, because that’s what you get when you do a PhD in Finland! (It’s awesome and I can highly recommend it). So what happened?

117591063_294027048358512_1731373983807999946_n     The PhD Sword…. 


For me, it all came down to support and a sense of community. During my Bachelor’s, I didn’t feel particularly invested, but during my Master’s in Translation at Leiden University I found both. We were a close-knit group of fellow students and friends, most of whom I still talk to even though I’ve been living in Finland for over four years now. And by the time the MA thesis process started, I had found a topic I enjoyed and a supervisor who was also excited about it. With the support of Lettie Dorst, I delved deep into the world of song translation and dubbing, testing how useful various song translation models are to animated musical film song dubbing. In other words: I watched Frozen a lot.


That year reignited my interest in academia to the point of moving to Finland to pursue a PhD. In all honesty, I was also at a low point in my life, with a relationship of eight years just ending, but I’ve heard that that’s not a prerequisite for doing a PhD… So I wrote a PhD proposal, sent it to a Finnish scholar who specialised in theatre translation (which is relatively close to musical film translation, and the field is so niche/new that that relative closeness was close enough), and left the Netherlands in early 2016.

102463433_277179020137185_8036252851585941504_n The university

For me, the PhD process has been inextricably intertwined with my experiences moving abroad. I was figuring out what a PhD was and what I needed to do at the same time as I was finding my way in a new country. In the beginning, I knew nothing. I did some courses, read a lot of books and articles, and tried to arrange my ideas and references and the feedback I received from the research group into something coherent. That was my first year.


After that, I was forced to attend and present at a conference (which was nice, but at a much more immediate level also terrifying) and I started doing actual research. More watching Frozen, analysing songs, adjusting my methodology, and continuing to gather sources to cite. I wrote two articles, one of which is still “under review” by a journal. I have abandoned hope, but may some day revisit it to have it published somewhere else. At the same time, I got to know the country and city I lived in. I walked around, made friends, celebrated Vappu and Juhannus (summery holidays with barbecues, saunas, forest lakes and cottages, for the uninitiated), and in general, found a great new home.

101853032_262925218153319_2685374885315739648_n  Sauna cabin in the woods…

Since then, I’ve attended another conference, given guest lectures, done research so in-depth that it sometimes made me wonder what the point was, started learning Finnish (which I, frustratingly, still don’t speak any better than B1), connected with my peers, supervised BA theses and assessed MA theses, published more articles, moved to another apartment in the same city, applied for and received study grants, met a fantastic girlfriend, and wrote a dissertation. I realise that this sounds a bit braggy, but I’m just proud of what I did. It’s also been hard, often, and I’ve felt uncertain countless times and made countless socio-cultural and academic faux-pas that people had to correct for me.


And I’ve had so much help, too. My supervisors have been great, as has my ex-supervisor who helped me enter this path in the first place. It’s surprising how much just one year of studying can change. During my Master’s, I did a full 180. And I couldn’t be happier that I did — best decision of my life. The only downside is that I, as a 30-year-old man, am now suspiciously excited about anything Frozen…”



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