I’ve been quiet lately

I was expecting to be posting on my blog every day since September with updates and excitement about finally doing the course of study I have been planning and preparing for since 2012.

I registered to do my Master’s Degree in Peace Studies.  Things did not go well.  I have been misled and let down.  This has been a huge distraction for me.  I could not even write about it.

I’ve put a complaint in to the university, which has been accepted.  I am awaiting their response.

Master’s Degree Registration

I have received a “Preparing for Lancaster: Begin registration” email saying it is time to register as a student for my Master’s Degree.  So begins the next stage of my study so I can be eligible to work in the peace sector.

For the previous stage, Open University study to get an undergraduate degree, I blogged my progress on my OU blog site.  302 posts, 1,971 comments Although that will continue to exist for another 3 years or so, it will disappear.  So I think it is time to return here to record my progress and my reflections on learning.

Is a PhD a possibility for me?

So I am preparing for my Master’s in Conflict Resolution and Peace Studies at Lancaster University and reviewing my plan.  My intention was to get a Peace Studies MA then a job in conflict prevention somehow such that I could do my bit to stop the UK starting any new wars by providing evidence-based arguments that there are better alternatives.

A few people have – in jest? – asked if I am intending to do a PhD or suggested I do one.  Having looked again at the university I have chosen – a “triple top ten university” with a joint top best research library and one of the top 3 research universities in the UK – and it seems I have chosen well.  One that prides itself on the quality of its research.  I wonder if that applies to the social sciences too, specifically the politics and international relations?  If so, I would be in the right place.

I had an idea the other day regarding modelling of the kind done in IT, physics and maths: are there models for conflict resolution?  If not, fame and fortune awaits if I invent the first.  If so, there is the opportunity to learn about them and apply them in the workplace.  But an academic view might be to review them, compare them, evaluate them – that could be what I do with this MA.

But there is a further opportunity. I am a practitioner by nature, not an academic.  I have been seeking ‘the learned journal for peace’, the professional body for peacemakers, the text books, the methodologies, the best practice for the people working in the field.  Do these things exist?  If not, they need creating and there is the scope for a PhD.

If I could create or document a framework for peacemongery such that practitioners could take it off the shelf and use it, that would be a heck of a legacy.  If I could form a ‘professional body’ or a methodology, that would also be a great contribution.  Even creating something so that when someone says “There is no alternative to war”, I can say “Yes there is, I wrote the book!” would be an immense move forward.

I shall keep pondering on this idea…


MA application done and sent

I have received two excellent academic references from my two Level 3 Open University tutors.  I am very pleased with them.  I’m considering framing them!

I have sent these, along with my application form, to Liverpool Hope University asking to join the MA in Peace Studies starting this autumn.

Well done me.

I’m very excited.  🙂

A template for university essay introductions

An article in the Guardian entitled How to write better essays: ‘nobody does introductions properly’ has, toward the end, a template for any essay that produces an ideal introduction in under 100 words.  I was not convinced.  He says:

Introductions are the easiest things in the world to get right and nobody does it properly,” Squirrel says. “It should be ‘Here is the argument I am going to make, I am going to substantiate this with three or four strands of argumentation, drawing upon these theorists, who say these things, and I will conclude with some thoughts on this area and how it might clarify our understanding of this phenomenon.’ You should be able to encapsulate it in 100 words or so. That’s literally it.

I was going to strongly disagree and came up with an example to prove it, but failed.  I took his template:

Here is the argument I am going to make, I am going to substantiate this with three or four strands of argumentation, drawing upon these theorists, who say these things, and I will conclude with some thoughts on this area and how it might clarify our understanding of this phenomenon.

and tried turning it into a very simple (and silly) introduction to prove it cannot be done in 100 words:

I am going to argue that in visual perception black is actually white.  I am going to substantiate this with the claims that black is black, white is white and in between are shades of grey.  I am going to refer to Tom, Dick and Harry who say black is dark, white is light and there is a sliding scale between them.  I will conclude with some thoughts on how reading 50 Shades of Grey will pass some time but it will not clarify our understanding of optical perception in humans.

But that’s only 91 words.  He might actually be right.  His template might be a good one.

Oops, I forgot the “Never use the first person” rule that applies in some subjects.  Second attempt:

This essay argues that rodents in the visual media don’t always like aged pressed milk curds.  This will substantiated with examples from old cartoons, feature films and modern digital cinematography, drawing on productions by Fred Quimby, Walt Disney and Pixar.  Their works demonstrate titbit-laden mousetraps, no dairy products and toy rodents who don’t eat at all.  The essay will conclude that it depends on context but that there is an age to cheesiness correlation, and it might be worth watching some Dreamworks videos for further research.

How’s that for a comprehensive media studies TMA introduction in 86 words?

I’m convinced.  What do you think of this method?

Less conventional postgraduate peace degrees

In a discussion about transferability of degree modules, it got me thinking about the history of universities and how 900 years ago one could switch between Bologna, Paris and Oxford universities willy-nilly because they offered the same curriculum.  Now it is really hard to get one university to give credits fro study in another even in the same country.  Division and protectionism, even in education.

Anyway, international peace degrees.

The University for Peace or UPEACE is (according to Wikipedia) “an intergovernmental organization with university status established in 1980 and based Costa Rica“.  I have looked at it before and eliminated it primarily on not having $US15,000 and partly because of lack of recognition for the qualification.  I also wasn’t too impressed with the course content.

The United Nations University or UNI is (according to Wikipedia) “the academic and research arm of the United Nations, established in 1973.  Based in Tokyo, Japan, has since 2010 been authorized to grant degrees. It provides a bridge between the UN and the international academic, policy-making and private sector communities.”  Most of its programmes seem to be about international development with the exception of the Institute for Sustainability and Peace Tokyo (Wikipedia) (their web site is down as I write this).  Even their Master’s Degrees are about the environment, sustainability and public policy rather than peace.  So, no conflict prevention type degrees.

Both are dead ends for me.

This is the sort of work I want: peace informatics

There is a group on LinkedIn called Peace Informatics describing itself:

This group brings together researchers, practitioners and other professionals who want to explore how Big Data can be applied in the field of peace and security. The group’s moderators provide regular updates with cutting edge information about related developments and aim to exchange views among network members about lessons learned, latest insights and potential collaboration.

Peace Informatics is initiated and run by the Peace Informatics Lab at Leiden University (Campus The Hague). The Peace Informatics Lab consists of a number of interconnected projects that explore new ways of Big Data methodologies in the field of peace & security.

I’m not convinced about the hype around ‘big data’ (my views come from decades of experience working with large databases, data analysis and business analysis rather than marketing bumf), but I am impressed with what I have seen of Leiden University, having done some of their MOOC courses.

But this could be a field where my IT experience would be very useful.  Now, how to get my foot in the door…?

Lancaster University Post-Graduate Open Day

Went to Lancaster University today to attend one of their many post-graduate open days.  It has seemed to me other universities only have the one day per year, or bundle post-graduates in the the undergraduates, but Lancaster University have made more of an effort.

I attended by bus from Lancaster town centre.  Although it is just outside the city centre, it is easy to get to by bus if you live in Lancaster.  There is an underpass road with the bus stops down there.  This means the buses drop you off right in the centre of the university campus, but there is no traffic on the campus.  It is very cleverly done.  You just go down a staircase and voilà! there’s a road and bus stops down there.

It was better run and better organised the the others I have been to.  It started at 1 pm and, being a Thursday, the weekly market stalls were up.  The centre of the university is like a tiny town centre with a WH Smiths, Greggs, cash machines, Costa and a bunch of other shops.  It feels like a new town’s town centre, especially with these farmer’s market type market stalls which are there every week during term times.

Personally escorted round the library taking in the very collections I personally needed.

Big chat with a departmental manager about the options.

Discovered that if only 1 person chooses a module, it gets run, unlike elsewhere.

I can do a custom degree (within reason).

One can attend all the department’s lectures; this means if one changes one’s mind about which 5 modules to do, it is less of a problem.  Just start out by doing all the ones you want and not doing the 5,000 word essays in the ones you want to drop.

St Andrews University open day

I attended the St Andrews University open day to see if it was somewhere I would want to do a master’s degree in peace studies.

The town is pretty, small and full of history.  It is also clearly a town around a university, not a university in a town.  Over a third of the 20,000 population are students.

Learning is self-driven.  There would be four contact (teaching) hours per week with tutors doing more when they can; Peace Studies would typically be five hours per week.  I am capable of self-learning, it is the teaching I would be paying for.  I want more than that.

It does not feel like a suitable environment for a mature student.  There’s nothing to do.

We could not afford to live there.

I am sure it is brilliant for an independent, focused, young adult with self-control and a passion for their subject.

But I’m ruling it out for me for cost and value-for-money reasons.

St Andrews University open day, pre-research

I’m in St Andrews in Scotland today to see what the town is like.  Tomorrow is the St Andrews University post-graduate open day.  The university has an excellent reputation for peace studies so it needed to go on my shopping list, despite it looking too expensive with too few work prospects and, therefore, an unrealistic option.

We’re staying at The Inn at Lathones, a very comfortable and welcoming hotel just outside St Andrews.  They kept the restaurant open for us when we arrived quite late last night and the dinner was excellent.  So was breakfast this morning.  The staff are great and, as every visit to Scotland has confirmed to me, the Scots are friendly and generous people.

The wander round the town was interesting.  It is obviously a university & tourism & golf town.

I stumbled across Student Accommodation Services by accident, popped in and they could not have been more helpful.  Lots of information and advice and a map of the town.

I had an excellent pint and a couple of free tasters in The Central in Market Street, a Victorian boozer with an excellent atmosphere and surroundings.

We picked up some bits for Christmas and gizzits for people in the friendly shops.  I got speculative costs from the letting agents for various forms of private accommodation of various sizes (although Premier Lettings was a bit snooty and unhelpful, warning me it was a bit expensive and not even wanting to give me a business card when I asked).

A bit disappointed the public loo was 30p and I had no change.  Also, I tried to buy a free bookmark in the Salvation Army shop for 20p so I could get some change, but they said it had no code on the till so could not take my money.  So, back to the pub to use theirs, and make a booking for dinner.

Then I saw the university’s Student Careers office.  I had to pop in.

When I first expressed an interest in working in the peace sector, one of the very first things I found was a page on the St Andrews University Careers Service web site about the peace sector.  That page was the start of my research.  I could not resist the opportunity to pop in and have a happy exchange with these good people.

At the desk was a young chap.  I asked if I was in the right place for student careers advice.  He sat back in his chair as if avoiding a leper, pulled a face as if encountering a blocked toilet and said:

Yes.  This is for students only.  The Job Centre is over that way“, flicking his hand in the general direction of ‘away’ like a dowager duchess dismissing a beggar.

I was at a loss for words.  I had been dismissed and was expected to depart from his presence at once.

The arrogant, stuck-up, public-school, elitist prick had, in a few words, managed to undo an awful lot of good impression created by the town.  I felt embarrassed and not posh enough to be in this town of big expensive cars and daughters of rich daddies.  Suddenly the attitude in Premier Lettings explained itself, the 30p for a wee, the types of shops (no mobile ‘phone or 99p shops here!, just a M&S Food Hall the size of most supermarkets elsewhere), the inflated prices of everything.  However, the caff with the sign “Kate met Wills in here” still seemed tawdry.

Is this a good university?  Or merely an expensive one?  They are not the same thing.  Right now, it feels all fur coat and no knickers.   Tomorrow, we shall see what the academic side is like.

Update:  we went back into town for dinner.  At the table next to us were three men.  One was saying to one of the others (amongst other, similar comments):

  • “We turned down 50 students who wanted to learn this shit.”
  • “I’ve brought you all the way up here to convince you you already have this job.”
  • “I already know who is getting the post doc places.  Now it is a matter of convincing them to apply.”
  • “I need to see your CV so I can tell you what the Master wants to see in it.”
  • “Make sure you tell them you have another job offer.  It tells them you are in demand.”