Dr Peter Harris
Dr Peter Harris reflects on his time spent in Edinburgh, including serving as a Vice-President for the Student’s Association, alongside giving some detailed and strong advice to current students who are looking beyond graduation.
Dr Peter Harris
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Your time at the University
I chose Edinburgh because of its strong academic reputation, diverse faculty, and – let’s be honest – because Edinburgh is a great city to live in. I was not disappointed. During my time at Edinburgh, I was fortunate to benefit from a lot of different opportunities. I took a sabbatical midway through my degree to serve as Vice-President of the Students’ Association; I spent a year on exchange to the University of British Columbia in Vancouver; I participated in international conferences; and I made some lifelong friends as part of various student societies. Nor did I ever struggle to find part-time or holiday work in Edinburgh. In fact, the most enjoyable job of my life was working for the university’s Institute for Applied Language Studies as an organiser of social events for overseas students. The most memorable thing from my time in Edinburgh, however, was the people. Friends made in Robertson’s Close have remained my friends over a decade later; several flew halfway around the world to be at my wedding.
The University of Edinburgh can be relied upon to attract a fantastic mix of students from across the UK and the rest of the world. I really could not have hoped for a better start to my higher education.
There is no shortage of such opportunities at Edinburgh but the onus is on you to take advantage of them.
Tell us about your Experiences since leaving the University
I’m currently an Assistant Professor at Colorado State University. Immediately after leaving Edinburgh, I studied for a master’s degree at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. I ended up staying in London for two years, interning at various private sector companies and in the UK Parliament before landing a job as a Parliamentary Analyst for a public affairs firm. In 2010, I was accepted by a number of PhD programmes in both the UK and US and decided to opt for the University of Texas at Austin. I graduated in May 2015.
- Study what you enjoy studying and be good at it. Don’t take courses or pursue projects just because you think you should. Above anything else, what future employers want to see from your academic work is that you did well. That said, it’s no secret that today’s graduates are entering a fiercely competitive job market. As a result, it’s no longer good enough to just do well academically. Of course, nobody expects you have canoed backwards up the Amazon for charity or singlehandedly found a cure for the common cold in your spare time, but you do need to be involved in student societies, sports clubs, volunteering, student politics or some other kind of extra-curricular work that will allow you to develop skills and give future employers plenty of reasons to hire you. There is no shortage of such opportunities at Edinburgh but the onus is on you to take advantage of them.
- For those considering postgraduate education, I recommend that you cultivate strong ties with your lecturers and professors. Go to their office hours, attend departmental talks and events, seek out advice about further readings, and generally show that you are an interested and engaged student. You will rely on these people for advice and letters of recommendation at some point – and they won’t be as helpful as they could be if they don’t know your name! Your teachers want you to succeed, but they can only help you as much as you help yourself.
- Finally, everybody should practise their writing while at university. Being able to write well is a skill that will serve you well for the rest of your life, both personally and professionally.