Studying Study and Researching Research

A Hole

A recent existential crisis (which I am of course, deliberately overstating for effect) prompted me to wonder “What is missing from my life?” After much agonised introspection, it turns out that the answer for me is “study”. I have an academic mindset and when I am not engaged in studying and researching I grow bored and restless. It also seems that, for me to really engage, there needs to be something at stake. It is not enough for me to just be studying for interest – I need some pressure and deadlines!

In my younger days I studied Mathematics, got a first in my BSc and went on to study for a PhD. For reasons I wont go in to here, I didn’t get my doctorate. Although I don’t regret the decisions I made at the time (I got a good job and have gone on to have a satisfying career without it) it does niggle. I have a personal goal to put it right.

I have recently finished a BA in Humanites with Philosophy with the Open University. This started out as an attempt to broaden my thinking and move away from Mathematics and Engineering. It worked. Although Pure Mathematics will always be my first love, these days I consider myself more a Philosopher than a Mathematician.

Stop Finding Reasons Why Not

After I finished my OU degree, I was sure that I could never do any more study. I had found making the time was getting increasingly difficult and stressful – with a growing family and a stressful job. Moreover, OU courses are now *way* more expensive than they were when I started. I don’t know that I would ever have started if they cost what they do now.

I was set in this thought: there is no way I can find the time or the money to do any more study, so don’t even think about it. But I had to think about. It sounds absurd, but studying feels like my calling. So instead of finding reasons why not, I started looking for ways to break down the barriers.

Financially – there are options. I am (I think) eligible for postgraduate loans that can cover the course fees. Even if not, I am sufficiently financially stable that other loans can be considered. For now, I have decided to worry about this aspect later since solutions exist.

The harder problem is time. I sat down and tried to work out how to carve out the 16-18 hours that the OU suggest is required. Anyone who knows me wont be surprised to know I made a spreadsheet to help…  I quickly realised this was not going to be possible without making some changes to my working pattern. I nervously broached the idea of working Compressed Hours at work – freeing up a day a week by working longer hours on other days. To my amazement, they not only agreed but couldn’t be more supportive.  I only have an informal arrangement at the moment, and am trialling this pattern for a period to make sure it works for both of us.

Giant Leaps or Small Steps

So now I know it’s possible. The next question is what to study – both subject and level. Given my goal of achieving a PhD, should I keep my eyes on the prize and try to jump straight into postgraduate research?

I have struggled to make this decision, swinging wildly between ambition and caution. In the end, I have decided to study for a Master’s degree first. While this puts off the end goal by a couple of years (and adds many thousands of pounds to the total cost!)  it nevertheless addresses the immediate hole in my life and that is what started this whole darn thing off in the first place. It does move me towards my goal – just in smaller steps.

The other consideration is that to put a credible research proposal together for a PhD, I need to have a credible research question in mind. I do not. Although I could probably work something up over the next few months, realistically I am not close enough to the cutting edge of research in any area to do this – nor do I have any contacts, or access to libraries. As long as I keep the prize in mind, I can address all of this while studying my Masters.

The broad topic is obvious to me – I will continue my Philosophy studies. Relearning all my mathematics from 20 years ago would be a struggle (an interesting one of course). However, there are other topics that I find fascinating and would love to incorporate – not least Artificial Intelligence. If I *do* end up studying something around AI, work have hinted there may even be some sponsorship available.

As to mode of study, Distance Learning is the obvious fit for me. I am used to, and enjoy, studying this way having been a student with the Open University for many years. The downside is that, for Masters level study at least, this severely limits my options.

It is possible that I may be able to study Part Time at a local university. There are not many realistic candidates: University of Bristol, University of Bath, University of the West of England, Bath Spa. Of these, only Bristol has a philosophy department in the right sort of area. I plan to contact them for more details,  but I think I would prefer to maintain the flexibility that distance learning brings. Work may well give me the opportunity to build up some relationships with researchers at Bristol, and I have a sneaky eye on studying for my PhD there.


I will study for a Philosophy Masters by distance learning, with an eye to moving on to a PhD afterwards – perhaps ideally at the University of Bristol.

I plan to document my learning and journey on this blog – so stay tuned.

Note - I consider my study as a mental peregrination. If you only want to read my physical peregrinations, ignore posts with the category of Study. Thanks!

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