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A grey wolf in the postgrad pack

Part-time Literature and Modernity MSc student, Paul Thompson, shares his experiences of becoming a postgraduate student in his mid-sixties.

Paul Thompson and daughter in Iceland
Paul and his daughter in Iceland

For many masters students, completing a degree part-time over two years is a good way of balancing study and other commitments, especially if coming to university later in life.

Paul Thompson was completing an undergraduate degree with the Open University when he decided to apply for the Literature and Modernity MSc in the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures (LLC).

In this short article, adapted from one originally published on the University of Edinburgh’s Drawn to Edinburgh student blog site, he reflects on the “interesting experience” of becoming a postgraduate student in his mid-sixties.

It’s an uplifting story of making friends and finding your place in a community where age brings an “added dimension” to the group dynamic.

“You might see me in or around campus - coming out of 50 George Square or the Main Library, eating in the DHT Café or the Dome, browsing at Blackwell’s Bookshop or amongst the vintage clothing racks at Armstrong’s - and wonder who on earth is this person with a Patrick Stewart hairstyle and Doc Martens boots. Who is he? Surely he’s too old to be a student, but he’s too louche to be a tutor.”

“I decided to go for [an MSc] when I still had eighteen months remaining as an undergraduate with the Open University - an institution where working alone at home is how it’s done - and so one day in late autumn I walked onto the campus here at Edinburgh for a postgraduate Open Day. There was a student panel, and I asked them if they had any advice for me - how should a grey wolf carry himself in the postgrad pack? As it turned out they all had a tale to tell about colleagues of my generation who were studying with them, and how they meshed positively and brought an added dimension to each group.”

Out of my Ivory Tower and onto campus…

The cast and crew of Lose Like a Human
Paul (third from right, with dickie bow) with the cast and crew of the new film, Lose Like a Human. Image © Iga Sobieraj.

“Having been offered and having accepted a place here at Edinburgh, I couldn’t wait to get out of my isolated ‘ivory tower’ of home-study and onto campus. Within the first five minutes of free time on the first day, I had met and formed a lasting friendship with a young man from Arkansas. During the first semester I collected friends from China, Singapore, India, Norway, Ireland, everywhere - male and female, some less than one third my age. But our ages didn’t seem to matter. After a while, seeing my own reflection in a window came as a bit of a shock.”

“My advice is this: get involved. Whether you’re a mature student like myself or someone much younger. It’s not necessary to get involved with absolutely everything, but pick something that genuinely interests you. Since those early days, I have become involved in a society which seeks to keep students of the humanities and the sciences aware of each other, got a part in a colleague's directorial debut movie (the recently-completed Lose Like a Human), and become a Student Ambassador. The latter involves taking visitors on campus tours and other promotional activities on behalf of the University."

“If any of this chimes with you, and you see me around campus, stop me and say hi. I’ll be delighted.”

A version of this article was published in July 2017 (as "Out of my Ivor Tower and onto campus") on the University of Edinburgh’s Drawn to Edinburgh student blog site, which features great stories by current and recent students.

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Are you interested in postgraduate study at LLC?

We offer a fantastic range of taught postgraduate programmes across literatures, languages and cultures, many of which can be studied either full-time (in one year) or part-time (over two years). 

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Related links

Find out about studying Literature and Modernity

Read about Lose Like a Human in The Student newspaper online