Our MA in Classical Studies: a student’s perspective

In this post, John Teller, a recent graduate of our MA in Classical Studies, reflects on his experience. If you’re interested in finding out more about this qualification, visit our department website

When I came across the details for the MA in Classical Studies at the Open University, in 2015, I knew it was exactly what I was looking for. I had no background in Classics, and no experience of studying history (I’d previously studied as a scientist and a policy studies wonk), and to begin with, I was advised against registering. However, after discussion with tutors, I convinced them that I might make the grade – and in 2017 I completed the MA with a distinction!

My initial excitement at being accepted was quickly tempered by the realisation that I had no idea what Classical Studies really was. My lifeline turned out to be the very heavily recommended book by D. M. Schaps, Handbook for Classical Research. This did for me what a good Lonely Planet guide does for the traveller. It showed me the scope of where I was going to travel in my studies and, whilst the enormity and the depth of the study material was mindblowing, it only whetted my appetite for what was to come.

Critical to my success and my enjoyment of the course were two key factors; my relationship with my tutor and the discipline of study. My tutor was a fount of knowledge, a source of encouragement and, when I needed it, someone who pushed me to strive harder to get the best out of myself. The online tutorials and the feedback from in-course assignments were extremely useful in providing clues to routes for improvement as well as increasing knowledge. For each of the two years I printed out the timetables and stuck them to my office walls with target dates included for reading, assignments and research. This helped me to appreciate the need for daily discipline as well as providing visual evidence of progress. Being an over-organised type, I set my target dates up to 4 weeks ahead of those required in case of mishaps, family emergencies or ill health (this proved useful on at least two occasions). I soon developed a daily rhythm to my studies which fitted in well with my work and family commitments. I chose not to have a break over the holiday periods but took my study tools and materials with me – much easier with the web and iPads.

I particularly enjoyed those assignments which asked us to do the detective work: for example, to identify the pros and cons of competing views of the same historical event or literary argument. The usefulness of this came to the fore as I completed my own dissertation which argued that there had been deliberate concealment, by ancient literary figures, of illicit drug use in the classical era. When the time came to begin preparation for this final piece of work, the apparently long-winded series of steps offered by the OU turned out to be a series of perfectly organised templates for the completion of the work. It was a superbly crafted process which I followed religiously and ended up with a dissertation of which I was proud.

The process of study and research had, by the end, become so embedded in my daily life that as well as feeling relief I also felt a sense of loss. I am using MOOCs to fill that whilst waiting to discover what I shall study next!

1 thought on “Our MA in Classical Studies: a student’s perspective

  1. Colin Gough

    Thanks John, I admire your discipline, something that seems to elude me in spades!!

    Looking at your dissertation I am sure I have heard the title/content (naturally without any details) being held up as an exemplar.

    Completely echo your thoughts on the value of a tutor – certainly mine has developed my skills resulting in performance which frankly I thought was beyond me.

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