Thursday, 8 March 2012

"Minds are like parachutes. They only function when they are open." (James Dewar)

Gosh, it's been a busy term.  But my self-imposed exile from humanity is paying off.  I'm keeping on top of the reading for the modules that I'm teaching, plus my work is moving on.  If somewhat slowly.

I'm not totally immured in my office or my flat - I am getting to the gym a couple of times a week (and I'm delighted to say that the hospital's given me the all clear to run again), and I've been going to quite a few open lectures.

This university is pretty good at inviting interesting people in to give open lectures - since I've been here I've been fortunate enough to hear speakers such as the Commissioner for City of London Police, Michael Mansfield (who irritated me no end), and my academic hero, Richard J Evans.  The topics have been disparate, and most of them have had little, directly, to do with my subject.  It could, therefore, be argued that attending these lectures is not the best use of my limited time, but I think that it is essential for my education.

In the past fortnight I've been to the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies to listen to three papers on Legal History.  I've been to a cross disciplinary seminar addressing Foucault and 'the gaze'.  I've listened to the Chief Executive of BPP tell us how Universities should be changing to address the challenges of the 21st Century.  And, I've listened to an excellent lecture asking whether there was any law in the death camps of the second world war.

Were these relevant to me and my work?  Well, the Foucault seminar definitely was - it jump started my thought processes and opened up a blind alley that had been bothering me for some time. The IALS History seminar, not so much so - but I did learn a lot about historiography and legal studies.  The chap from the BPP made me realise how lucky I am to be working and learning in a university that cherishes academic research as much as it does teaching, and made me think carefully about what I value from my experience as a mature student (and it certainly isn't a degree focused only on turning out a partially formed lawyer grunt).  The lecture about the death camps was just interesting - and it addressed one of my fascinations.

But, I'm gaining far more than direct knowledge - I'm gaining inspiration.  Exposure to the work of academics from institutions other than this one is always interesting.  I'm learning about the ways in which academics actually work, and  the enthusiasm that they have for their subject - even if I don't totally understand it!  I've also made the discovery that not all academics are skilled presenters - which I find strangely reassuring.

It's also interesting that, since I had my damascene moment a couple of months ago, and suddenly saw 'my place' as a burgeoning academic, I've felt much more at home at these lectures.  I still haven't had the courage to ask any questions, but I feel less like an interloper.  I also take the view that, if I don't manage to get an academic job when I finish my thesis (if I ever finish...), the opportunities to attend these kind of sessions will not be as plentiful.  Therefore, I must make the most of it while I can.

And, after all, as En Vogue sang, "Free your mind, and the rest will follow".  You never know where a thought will take you.

1 comment:

  1. I am at the end of a distance learning Business degree and will do a distance learning Masters following that. Distance learning is not really a choice but catering to the necessity that I need to continue working full time. Your post has struck a nerve which has been bothering me for quite a while, I lack the inspiration and communication that studying at a "brick" university offers. Don't get me wrong,being able to study has opened up a new world with unlimited possibilities for me, but there are hardly any people to discuss what I learn and read and there is no opportunity to attend lectures of the sort you have been writing about. So, while some of the lectures are only loosely related to your subject, I believe that they might be useful one day, you never know. Therefore, enjoy and have a lovely weekend.