A passion for Scottish history led Dr Peter Symms to study for a PhD at Edinburgh in the 1980s, followed by an MSc (Research) two decades later.
|Dr Peter Symms
|PhD and MSc (Research) in Scottish History
|Year of Graduation
1987 and 2016
Your time at the University
I was born in 1937, and left school when I was 16 to go to sea. After gaining a degree with the Open University in the 1970s, I was accepted to do a PhD at Edinburgh University (part-time) in the 80s.
I arranged my time at the University by spending one day a week in Edinburgh. The Scottish History Department then was a pleasant place to work, and there was a pleasant atmosphere amongst the post-grads. I was not aware of any distinction between the full-time and part-time students – full time students took on average four years to complete and part-timers around five or six years. I took just over five years, working on a study of social control in 16th century Scottish burghs, and graduated in 1987. I won the Hume Brown Senior Prize for my thesis.
My academic life arose from my life-long interest in history. I would of course argue that the study of history is of great relevance to the study of everything else, but I would say that, wouldn’t I?
Tell us about your experiences since leaving the University
The first thing to say about my career path is that it has little or no connection with my academic work at Edinburgh. I had an established career in management lecturing, following a career in management. My academic life arose from my life-long interest in history. I would of course argue that the study of history is of great relevance to the study of everything else, but I would say that, wouldn’t I?
When I completed my PhD I looked for another area of research, and on the suggestion of a member of staff of the Scottish History Department, I began work on a study of Andreas Scheu, a radical socialist who lived in Edinburgh in the late 19th century. By that time I was working at the University as administrator of the Department of Geology and Geophysics.
When I retired I continued with the research, but put it to one side when my wife and I started going to New Zealand every winter. About three years ago I looked at all my notes and decided that if I did not try and complete the research it would be too late. To provide some impetus I felt that it was necessary to enrol again as a student, hence my work on an MSc.
I graduated with an MSc Research (with distinction) slightly ahead of time in 2016, and had the great pleasure of hearing a wonderful speech by the Irish president, who was receiving an honorary degree at the graduation.
Through my research work I have enjoyed Edinburgh University, although the cost of student fees has been something of a burden in recent years. I have been able to encourage my daughters to take full advantage of the university, and over the years they have taken a variety of qualifications:
My eldest, Eleanor gained an MA (Hons) in History followed by a PG Diploma in Community Education and BA Combined Studies in Art and Design (with distinction). Penny also followed in our footsteps and holds an MA (Hons) in Psychology, Master of Social Work, and PG Certificate in Advanced Social Work Studies. Finally, Philippa graduated with an MA (Hons) in French.
If I have any message for students it is to be sure that what they are thinking of studying is of real interest to them and not just as a passport to a good job. Study without this interest is something of an empty pursuit, likely to lead in later life to a rather sterile and pointless maturity.