This week I went to university.
A rather mundane statement, I agree, but quite significant for me as it was my first visit to my academic institution in the eighteen months since I’ve been a BCU student. I’m a distance learner, you see, as well as being part-time. So my time spent on-campus is limited, to say the least.
But I was excited to head up to Brum, not only because it was a city I’d never been to before, but because it reminded me of how it feels to be a student, especially a new student – carrying round a heavy bag, looking desperately lost for some hidden tutorial room was something I hadn’t done for about five years. Usually I just wake up, open up my laptop and watch a lecture over breakfast, in my PJ’s. Or do some reading on my phone at work. Being sat around a table with other people was a little nostalgic for me.
What was great about meeting my tutors and other members of the faculty – and of course some other MA and undergraduate students – was that it gave me a better idea of academic life. With my grand overarching plan to find a PHD opportunity this autumn, I was interested in just getting a feel for being on a campus again. Going out for a few drinks and getting in on some work gossip was fun because it actually made me less intimidated about attempting to join the scholarly ranks – at times we could have been talking about any old job.
I will say thought it did highlight a few disadvantages to being a DL. Firstly, it was great to see that a fellow MA Screen Studies student, Jamie Morris, was involved with some lecturing on an undergrad popular culture course, and that he was presenting the material in a Research Seminar in March. It’s really great to see someone being given these opportunities, and having spoken to Jamie I know it will be a really interesting talk. There was a little frustration that being at a distance I hadn’t had these same opportunities, but I am sure if the idea of presenting my research had occurred to me the staff at BCU would have assisted me. Yet it’s maybe an element of the DL experience I never thought of until having visited campus.
Mixing with other students and academics on a daily basis is probably the biggest difficulty one faces on a DL course, especially when (like me), you don’t live in a place that has its own academic institution(s). Even though I was only there for a handful of hours over Thursday and Friday, just being able to bump into someone or meet them for coffee is a great way to exchange ideas and plan projects. I think that’s probably something that keeps the energy and interest levels up, and when you’re situated away from that environment it can sometimes feel incredibly difficult to overcome that feeling of isolation. Twitter is no substitute for face to face conversation, I don’t think.
Yet do not let those frustrations belie the fact that I’m hugely enjoying this MA, and pursuing the idea of a career in academia is at once both exciting and scary. Yet having met (now in person!) several of the BCU Media and Cultural studies gang, I’m even more determined to turn it up a notch, not only in my reading and writing but in terms of engaging with the wider academic sphere. So thanks to those that have speculatively added me on Twitter these past few weeks, I hope I can properly introduce myself at FSN2015 and not just be that guy who tweets about sitcoms all the time.
Speaking of sitcom, there’s been some positive work toward my final dissertation thanks to the wonderful Inger-Lise Bore, who keeps prodding me in the right directions. Hopefully the next couple of weeks will see me sharpen my ideas into a research proposal that’s much more theoretically solid. Meeting properly with her and speaking again with Paul Long means I’m also putting energy into thinking ahead to a phd proposal and what that larger research may look like – I’ve got some ideas percolating. I’m being challenged to submit abstracts to conferences, and I agree it’s necessary to get some of my thoughts out there through that form – so something else to work on late into the night!