Dr Alicja Syska

Dr Alicja Syska

Learning Development Advisor

Learning Development and Peer Learning - Student Services (Academic Registry)


I am a bit of a hybrid, with a varied career path and years of exposure to different countries' educational systems, cultures, and ways of thinking. In my role at the university, I am also a hybrid academic: part Learning Developer for the Faculty of Arts, part Associate Lecturer in History, with a specialism in American history and visual culture. 
I use my bridging position to enhance student experience and reinforce the link between the academic and pedagogic mission of the university. In my LD work, I draw daily on my academic training in cultural studies and my experience in the classroom. Equally, as a historian, I include new teaching and assessment methods and draw on specialist knowledge, continuously testing it in the unpredictable learning environment of the classroom. Thus, my hybrid position allows me to contribute to the university and to the field in a variety of ways.

Outside my work with students, I draw on my knowledge and experience in my third major role, which is leading the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. At JLDHE, an open-access peer-reviewed academic journal, we offer an important open forum for researchers who are interested in publishing work relevant to Learning Development, which is a field of practice concerned with how students learn and how they make sense of academic conventions.
If you're interested in researching, collaborating, and writing about academic practices in higher education, publish with us: http://journal.aldinhe.ac.uk  

Finally, I'm also very interested in how students acquire skills and articulate them to employers. As such, I'm a Key Lead for an employability scheme called Stand Out. Check it out: Stand Out!


Certified Leading Practitioner in Learning Development (ALDinHE http://www.aldinhe.ac.uk/development/, 2019)

Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice (University of Plymouth, 2013)
Ph.D. in American Studies, Distinction (Saint Louis University, USA, 2008)
Graduate Certificate in Women's Studies (Saint Louis University, USA, 2005)
M.A. in Sociology of Human Behaviour, First Class (Szczecin University, Poland, 2001)
B.A. in Sociology of Human Behaviour, First Class (Szczecin University, Poland, 1999)

Professional membership

Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (HEA)

Association for Learning Development in Higher Education

Roles on external bodies

Co-Lead Editor at the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education
External Collaborator at the International Legal Communication Research Center, University of Warsaw

Teaching interests

As a Learning Developer, I focus on building students' academic confidence by helping them develop strong academic skills, such as writing, presentation making, doing good research and working collaboratively. Appreciating students’ passion for their subject specialisms, I make my LD workshops bespoke to the Faculty of Arts programmes, which highly enhances student engagement. In my part-time capacity, each academic year I deliver over 50 workshops and see over 120 students for one-to-one tutorials, which altogether allows me to have an impact on thousands of students annually.

For a one-to-one tutorial, Faculty of Arts students can see me during my open hours (drop-in), every Friday in term time, 10:00-12:00, in the Writing Cafe.

In my role as a History lecturer, I teach a range of modules including Visual History, US History, Popular Culture, German History, Cold War and Dissertation Preparation. I also supervise undergraduate and MA dissertations in these subject areas.

Advice and Feedback Hours (drop-in): Rm 107, 5 Portland Villas, Mondays 11:30-13:00; or by appointment.

Research interests

I work across two areas: Learning Development and History, and, as such, my research interests span both fields. 

Within Learning Development, my interests include, but are not limited to: student writing in Arts and Humanities, student voice and engagement, employability, interdisciplinarity, cognitive theories of learning, and high-impact pedagogies.

In the field of History, I'm interested in cultural and historical memory, historical constructions of race and gender, American cultural myths and issues of national identity, as well as film, cultural imagination, and women’s history.

Grants & contracts

Research and Innovation Grant, Atlanta Conference, 2013 (£1,000).

The Roosevelt Study Center Research Grant, Middelburg, the Netherlands, 2012 (£500).

HCA Spring Academy Dissertation Grant, Heidelberg Center for American Studies, Germany, 2007.

Dissertation Grant at St. Louis University, USA, 2006.

Graduate Research Assistantship with full tuition remission and stipend at Saint Louis University, 2003-2006 ($64,000).

Key publications are highlighted


Hilsdon, John, Cathy Malone and Alicja Syska, 'Academic literacies twenty years on: a community-sourced literature review', Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education 15, Special Edition, Academic Literacies (2019), pp. 1-47. Available from http://journal.aldinhe.ac.uk/index.php/jldhe/article/view/567/pdf 

Syska, Alicja, Review of African Americans and the Presidency: The Road to the White House, ed. by Bruce A. Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz, Journal of American Studies (2011)

Sowinska, Alicja, 'Ambiguous Women: Debates within American Evangelical Feminism', The European Journal of American Culture, 26:3 (2007), pp.167-180.

Sowinska, Alicja, 'Dialectics of the Banana Skirt: The Ambiguities of Josephine Baker’s Self-Representation', Michigan Feminist Studies Journal, Special issue no19, 'Bodies: Physical and Abstract' (Fall 2005-Spring 2006), pp.51-72.*

* This article was used as a teaching resource at the California Institute of the Arts, USA, between 2010 and 2014.


Syska, Alicja, 'In Search of Subjectivity: An Irigarayan Reading of the Body in Self-Representations of Josephine Baker and Frida Kahlo' in Women in the Arts: Eccentric Essays in Music, Visual Arts and Literature, ed. by Barbara Harbach and DianeTouliatos-Miles (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2010).

Internet Publications

Syska, Alicja, CDE presentation model, LearnHigher 2019, available at http://www.learnhigher.ac.uk/working-with-others/oral-communication/the-cde-presentation-model/


Syska, Alicja, ‘Stand Out: A Creative Approach to Employability for Humanities Students’, presented at the Vice-Chancellor’s 16th Annual Teaching and Learning Conference. University of Plymouth, 2018.

Syska, Alicja, and Sara Erskine, 'Writing as a creative exploration with image as a pedagogical tool', presented at the Vice-Chancellor's 14th Annual Teaching and Learning Conference, Plymouth University, 2016.

Reports & invited lectures


'Dialectic of the Banana Skirt' at The Sheldon Art Galleries, Saint Louis, USA, 2006.


Eyes on America: Rethinking Popular Culture – English, History & History of Art 6th Form Conference (2015)

Annual lectures for the Shanghai Summer School as well as Open Days for Schools, at Plymouth University (2014-2017) 

Annual workshops for Children's University (2012-18)


'Marathon Running: The damages of wellbeing' (with Victor Ladron de Guevara), Association for Medical Humanities Conference, University of Plymouth, 2019.

'Lights, Camera, Learning: Teaching with the Moving Image', Learning of Screen and School of Arts, Birkbeck, University of London, 2018.

Poster: ‘Stand Out: A Creative Approach to Employability for Humanities Students’, Vice-Chancellor’s 16th Annual Teaching and Learning Conference. University of Plymouth, 2018.

‘Stand Out: Profiles in Employability’, Vice-Chancellor’s 15th Annual Teaching and Learning Conference. University of Plymouth, 2017.

Poster: Writing as a creative exploration with image as a pedagogical tool. Vice-Chancellor's 14th Annual Teaching and Learning Conference, Plymouth University, 2016.

'Writing With Charlotte: Image as a pedagogical tool to facilitate academic writing'. Writing Development in Higher Education Conference, Plymouth University, 2016.

'The Science of Memory: W.E.B. Du Bois and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., on the Genealogical Trail to Membership in the Sons of the American Revolution'. BAAS 58th Annual Conference in Exeter, 2013.

'W.E.B. Du Bois as a "Memory Entrepreneur": A Genealogical Project for Membership in American Society'. W.E.B. Du Bois and the Wings of Atlanta Conference, Clark Atlanta University, 2013.

'Black Origins of the American Self: W.E.B. Du Bois's Nationalistic Project.' BAAS 57th Annual Conference in Manchester, 2012.

'Rhetorics of Vision: Narratives of Eastern Europe in American Discourse.' HCA Spring Academy, Heidelberg Center for American Studies, 2007

'Methodological Challenges'—panel chair, Postgraduate Conference 'Thinking Gender' at the University of Leeds, 2006

'Tolerance for Ambiguity: Dialectics of Evangelical Feminism.' Postgraduate Conference 'Thinking Gender' at the University of Leeds, 2006

'Visualizing Distinctions: Constructing Public Identities Through Images'—panel chair, Mid-America American Studies Association Conference in Saint Louis, 2006

'Remapping Eastern Europe in America: "Us" and "Them" in Photographs', Mid-America American Studies Association Conference in Saint Louis, 2006

'In Search of Subjectivity: An Irigarayan Reading of the Body in Self-Representations of Josephine Baker and Frida Kahlo.' 'Women in the Arts' Conference at University of Missouri–St. Louis, 2005

'Dialectics of the Banana Skirt: Who Made Josephine Baker?' National Popular Culture and American Culture Associations Conference, San Diego, 2005

'Double Consciousness: W.E.B. Du Bois and Gender', Mid-America American Studies Association Conference in Lawrence, Kansas, 2004

'"It’s Hard to be a Woman, but a Black One!"—W.E.B. Du Bois’s Dialectic of Feminism,' The Ninth Annual Barnes Club History Conference at Temple University, Philadelphia, 2004


Other academic activities

Gallery work (The Sheldon Art Galleries in St. Louis, USA: working with Curator on the exhibition Josephine Baker: Image and Icon; Co-curating a gallery exhibition on Minimalism in the Pulitzer Institute for the Arts, St. Louis, USA)

Filmmaking (Plymouth College of Art) 

Conferences (Writers & Artists; PedRIO; ALDinHE; Teaching and Learning)

Editing (Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education)

Additional information

Other things I do:

Long-distance running 

Freelance copy-editing and proofreading