As the word count counter on the bottom left of the laptop screen hit 5000+, I found myself exhaling in relief. Countless hours, days, weeks spent in deciding on a topic, developing a proposal, planning research, and many bouts of stress later, I was finally ready to hand in the final draft of the end of the module assignment.
As a distance learning student of the MA in Education program, I am in my second term and upon successful completion I would officially be halfway through the program not counting the dissertation. As I think back to my first blog, outlining the start of my journey as a distance learner, I couldn’t help but wonder at how much I had learned, not just academically, in just a few short months.
Cape Cod is such a lovely place. It has been some time since we visited the area and I forgot how beautiful the seashore is here. Several years ago I lived in northern New England and once again, I forgot how much we enjoyed it. I could very easily live here some day. But, on this trip it feels wonderful to visit our old, favorite places and connect with friends. It is also quite nice to pack a picnic basket, pitch an umbrella on the sand, and enjoy a good beach read while sunning myself lobster red. What does all this have to do with studying Postgraduate Laws? Let me share…
There is nothing like a bit of physical work and a DIY project to develop a sense of satisfaction. This weekend I planted three flower beds and installed outdoor furniture including a wonderful swing with a canopy. The big, old fashioned porch swing at my grandparent’s house is my favorite summer spot. We are substituting a flowering crab apple tree for the porch here in our seasonal, suburban idyll, but somehow the idea of a lazy afternoon swinging in the shade is incredibly appealing. Hopefully we made a lovely bower, a quiet place to enjoy the seasons. I plan to settle in to the wonderfully plush pillows with my puppy, watch the canna grow, and work on the units in my Western European legal history study guide at every opportunity.
Being a bit of an old soul, the idea of transformative learning never appealed to me, and I in no way or form fit the profile of an autonomous learner. Instead, I always preferred to follow the directive of the typical white haired, corduroy blazer sporting, battered leather briefcase toting professorial figure. Under such guidance I was able to work feverishly towards adding an “outstanding” to my educational credentials. Hopefully satisfying my parents that I was indeed working towards someday generating a hefty return on the tuition fee investment they grudgingly funded.
However, when it came to doing a master’s, the exorbitant costs of studying and living abroad left me with no option but to pursue the distance learning route to achieve my educational goals. I spent several weeks researching and emailing dozens of universities – half of which I did not care to pursue on one pretext or the other, and the other half that deemed me academically or otherwise unworthy to enter their virtual realm. Finally, a combination of fate, and getting my foot in the door right before the entry deadline, landed me at the helm of the University of London. Through the distance learning MA in Education programme, I was able to finally become a student of the UoLIP, UCL AND IOE (now UCL Institute of Education), plus I got the coveted @ucl email address as a bonus.😇
Questions about study habits and practices are very personal questions. They’re not personal in the impolite sense that to raise them evinces a bit of social ineptitude on the part of the enquirer. Rather, they’re personal in the sense that what ‘works’ for each of us will be determined by largely subjective or person-relative factors: What are our goals? What resources do we have access to? What sort of preparation have we undergone? What learning-strategies have we found to be most effective? What extra-academic obligations do we have? And so on.
Given that studying is so deeply personal in that latter sense, this post will only be about how I approach studying. Specifically, it will be about how I approach the study of philosophy as a University of London (UoL) student. My aim in sharing my approach to studying philosophy is threefold: first, I hope that it will provide those who may be interested in studying philosophy both with an idea of what it’s like to study it at the university level, and what it’s like to study it as a UoL student; second, I hope that others who are studying philosophy, or other essay-based humanities subjects, will glean some ideas from my approach that might help them with their studies; and third, I hope that others will share their ideas on studying with me (perhaps in the comments section of this post!) so that I might learn from them.
Last month, one sultry afternoon I was busy in my office finalising a particularly delicate audit report, when my wife’s SMS queued in ‘…your Fedex box is in…’
Jumping off my chair, I dashed out, hopped into my car and navigated through the busy streets of Calcutta as if my life was on fire and reached home in no time! My wife’s eyebrows narrowed as if she was staring at a ghost ‘…are you well? All okay at the office…?’ My 14-year-old daughter was smart to sense my reason for exhilaration and wasted no time bargaining for her share of the pie for giving me my ‘box’. Twenty-four years after stepping out of college, I could feel my teenage excitement once again as I leafed through the fresh pages of my newly arrived University of London International Programmes LLB study guides. True, I had seen it all a couple of weeks earlier through the highly sophisticated prism of our ‘VLE’, but the reality of the ‘oven-fresh’ pages far overwhelmed all virtues of virtuality. I was rejuvenated, almost therapeutically.
So what, on earth, my friends questioned, did a (luckily) fairly well established business professional dream of, to be motivated into a UoL degree of law all over again? Honestly, the decision was driven not so much by the brain as much it was by the heart. The story goes a year back, when one day staring at the majestic Himalayas on a rather romantic holiday, my notion of career, fame and accomplishment suddenly took an unreasoned U-turn.
Like most people, I was shocked at the bombing during the Boston Marathon. Television footage showed the devastating injuries caused when a bomb explodes, however primitive or home-made. I vividly remember as a young child overhearing my parents talk about the dismembered bodies on the streets of my home city, Dublin, after a bombing in 1974 (that killed 26 people and an unborn child). But for most of my life, almost all terrorist activity took place within the border of Northern Ireland about 70 miles away, far enough away for me to be immune to daily realities, but near enough to be part of my consciousness.
Although Boston grabbed the headlines, terrorist acts are perpetrated regularly. On the day of the Boston attack 75 people were killed in Iraq, the day before 35 were killed in Somalia, and the day after 22 were killed in Pakistan and 16 injured in Bangalore, India.
My main reason for studying Politics and International Relations is to help me understand the world around me. For some, understanding terrorism is impossible. How can you understand a suicide bomber who is prepared to blow themselves up for a cause? Or someone who would kill innocent people indiscriminately?
“Daddy, are you doing your homework?” My five-year old daughter gets it. Not that there’s much to get. If Daddy is surrounded by a splattering of books, journal print-outs and scribbled notes, with a pencil in his mouth and a quizzical-to-stressed look on his face, chances are he’s studying.
She started school in September and has homework every day (except Fridays). The letter tracing and phonetic spelling exercises that amount to her homework are accomplished within minutes of her whirl-winding home. It’s not exactly taxing, but she adores it. There’s an obvious sense of self-importance, but also a real sense of duty. This isn’t a task done in the classroom with the teacher breathing down her neck. This is her responsibility, something that she does on her own, away from the structured school day.
As a parent, I silently questioned the need for homework in the first year of school. Why would a five-year-old need to supplement school learning with extra tasks at home? I should have known better. I’m an external student, juggling one and a half jobs, parenting and lots of other demands, problems and commitments that life flings at me everyday. Why shouldn’t my daughter’s school life spill into our home life? Isn’t that what I’m doing right by taking this degree?
I’m not exactly panicking… With just eight weeks to my first exam, I’m on a pretty tight deadline with revision and scanning past exam papers. But a priority right now is outlining exam questions and being sure that I can stitch together a coherent argument on exam day.
As I’ve said before on this blog, my course in Politics and International Relations isn’t exactly related to my full-time job playing clarinet in an orchestra, so it’s not like my day-to-day working life intersects with and enriches my studies. Study time is a separate part of my day, hours snatched in the evening or – if I’m performing – in afternoons before concerts. However, my parallel career as a part-time journalist and writer is helping me no end.
I am a firm believer that there is no success without creativity. Maybe it is just my particular point of view as ‘creative professional’ and student of literature. I tend to think carefully about the means by which creativity facilitates outcomes and products. In the BA English, directed by the English Department at Goldsmiths, we have the chance to both study a variety of creative processes and to produce creative materials. For example, the juxtaposition of visual elements and language is an important part of some of our courses; we have the opportunity to study the creative process of remarkable writers, to try our arm in a creative writing course, and to produce our own original essays.
Sometimes it surprises me just how important creativity is to my study process. This week it was most interesting to read a few professional articles emphasizing the need to embrace and manage the creative process. Bruce Nussbaum offered some interesting tips on understanding how the creative process can benefit us and how to boost our own creative capacity in one of my favorite resources for inspiration, Fast Company Magazine. As a ‘creative professional’ my job is to produce original content with very specific goals every day; as a student I scrutinize literature, the product of a creative process. I noticed that the need to analyze creative output as a student is a big advantage in my professional life just as the requirement to produce creative materials professionally improves my study process.