Penelope Bates (2011-13)

Family and friends have asked me why I have decided to do an MA (whilst probably also thinking at your age?).  I tell them one reason is because the opportunity was there at my place of work but the main reason is because Modern Liberal Arts is the first course I had heard about that motivated me to embark on some academic study after a break of more than twenty years. (I graduated from Warwick University in 1990 with a BA Hons degree in English and Italian Literature).

The spark came from watching a You Tube video clip about a new MLA degree, during a faculty forum meeting at work.  I sat there listening to Nigel describing how this new course explores big ideas about the meaning of life; about the cosmos; about religion; freedom; beauty and truth – from Pythagoras to Stephen Hawking, and I was captured.  I had been considering doing some postgraduate study for a while but certainly not an MA. Up until the day I saw that video clip, nothing had inspired me enough to do anything about it, but the prospect of being able to choose to study music and philosophy, or the Renaissance or ancient philosophy and so much more, galvanized me into action and I found myself sitting in Nigel’s office asking if I could “maybe try a module …put just a toe in the water etc.”  The response was extremely positive and encouraging and despite my trepidation about taking on a whole MA, I quickly found myself persuaded to sign up as a part-time, mature, postgraduate student on a brand new MA course ready to start in September 2011.

So here I am, having completed the first year and about to start the second. It has been quite a journey so far and I strongly suspect with a 20,000 word dissertation to write, that the second year will be even more of a challenge than the first, but that is actually what I think I want.  Having reached a certain age perhaps I needed something like this to fend off a potential mid-life crisis. I wanted something that would be stimulating, challenging and fulfilling but more than anything, selfishly perhaps, I wanted something just for me and for my own self development.  The MLA is offering just that, a chance to experience learning again but for its own sake and not as a means to an end.

The course is helping me develop my critical thinking skills and has so far presented me with material I never imagined I would read, let alone think deeply and write about.  So far I have completed two 5,000 word assignments, with reading lists that have included works by Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Sartre, Kaufmann, Wordsworth, Barenboim, Gillian Rose, Schön and Nigel Tubbs.  The course is non-taught (no lectures) but being in the fortunate position of working part-time, I have been able to follow a number of undergraduate MLA modules (Renaissance, Freedom is to Learn and Broken Middle) which has been a really valuable learning experience providing me with much needed opportunities to supplement my reading and one-to-one tutor supervision.

I was also encouraged to attend a weekly postgraduate evening seminar with fellow MA and PhD students. I must confess I was terrified at first and was not confident about contributing my thoughts to the group, mainly due to the long gap since I had done any serious study but also because the subject matter was very new to me.  However, I soon relaxed and started to enjoy the seminars and am looking forward to them starting again this new semester.  Led by Nigel Tubbs, the seminars have introduced us to some interesting philosophers, writers and concepts, such as Sartre and existentialism and Derrida and deconstruction. The readings and discussions have covered some complex ideas which have at times been very difficult to grasp but have therefore been returned to and further dissected in one-to-one supervisions.  The one-to-one supervision has been invaluable, not only in providing reading guidance and the opportunity to explore difficult concepts and discuss ideas but also in helping to focus on people and ideas that have particularly interested me which has assisted me greatly with choosing, developing and writing my assignments.

Although a part of me will no doubt be thrilled if I end up taking part in a graduation ceremony at the end of 2013, this is not the reason why I will continue to put myself through a lot of hard reading, thinking, discussing and writing over the next twelve months. Even though I know this is going to be difficult, frustrating and a huge challenge, I’m doing it because it’s a personal learning experience entirely for its own sake.