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History postgraduates enjoy the flexibility of studying part-time

From left to right: Professor Robert Bickers, Robert Nield, Dr Sara Shipway and Dr Alex Thompson at last week's graduation ceremony University of Bristol

Press release issued: 26 February 2019

The flexibility of studying part-time was very much in evidence last week when three post-graduates, including one who studied from home in Hong Kong and took part in seminars and supervisions via Skype, received their degrees

Drs Sara Shipley and Alex Thompson achieved their PhDs in History and Robert Nield an MPhil – all three studied part-time.

Mr Nield lives in Hong Kong and had already published two books but felt like enhancing his research skillset.

He said: “I was delighted to be accepted by Professor Robert Bickers from the Department of History, to continue my research into the former Treaty Ports of China as he is the acknowledged leader in this particular field.

“Being a ‘mature student’ (I was 64 when I enrolled) and retired, my lifestyle and other commitments would not allow me to study on any basis other than part-time. Given this, I also chose to study for an MPhil degree over two years, rather than a doctorate which would most likely have taken six years or more.

“I live in Hong Kong, which meant that I could not attend Professor Bickers’ fortnightly tutorials, apart from the three or four times I was able to schedule visits to Bristol. Instead, I would join the meetings virtually by way of Skype.

“This was, initially, a rather strange experience, being a face on a computer screen in a corner of the room. However, my presence was immediately accepted by the other members of the group and, given the powerful nature of that technology, I was able to participate fully in the discussions.

“One aspect that was denied to me was the collegiality of mixing with fellow students on a day-to-day basis and attending other events at the University that might have enhanced my overall experience. This made me all the more determined to maximise whatever opportunities I did have to mix in via the Skype meetings and in follow-up conversations with some of my fellow students.

“I am absolutely delighted to have graduated today. I realise that, compared to many of my fellow graduates, I am in a very fortunate position: I do not need to ‘do anything’ with my degree, apart from enjoy the fact that I have attained it.

“It is not a step on my career path, but it will undoubtedly serve to enhance my reputation and credibility with any other writing projects that I choose to undertake. But most of all, it will always be an achievement of which I am extraordinarily proud.”

Dr Sara Shipway completed her PhD after undertaking a masters at Bristol, which she also studied for part-time.

She said: “Having not been to university after school, I always wanted to pursue academic study and when the opportunity arose, I applied and was accepted to do a history degree at UWE which I completed successfully.

“I then moved on to do a part time MA in historical studies at Bristol in 2008. A module on the history of Shanghai sparked a deep and enduring interest in the history of China, particularly the one-hundred-year period when Britain had a strong presence in the region.

“I completed my MA in 2010 and my MA dissertation was developed into a PhD, which provided me with the opportunity to study this area of history in much greater detail.

“I chose part-time study because it enabled me to continue with other aspects of my life. I was able to complete my studies successfully mainly due to the support of my two supervisors, Professor Bickers and Professor Hugh Pemberton, but also due to the supportive post-graduate academic environment which is created at Bristol.

Seminars, opportunities to develop skills relevant to studying for a PhD, help in locating relevant material from the library staff and the support from fellow students, all contributed to keeping my focus on the project.

“Having had a long and happy association with the University of Bristol, I will miss the supportive academic community but the skills which I have acquired during my time at Bristol, such as the ability to locate a wide variety of sources, and a greater ability to analyse information, within the context of a wider historical debate, will help me develop further research and writing projects which I greatly look forward to.”

Dr Alex Thompson said: “I did a PhD in History, investigating the history of the British state's role in foreign colonial expansion in China in the nineteenth- and early twentieth centuries. 

“It took me just under six years to complete my doctorate.  I chose to study part-time because I have a family and my own business, so studying full time was out of the question, since we couldn't have survived without the income from my business. 

“Being part time also meant I was able to continue living in North Yorkshire, a long way from Bristol, but still be supervised by Professor Robert Bickers, one of the leading academics in the field of colonialism in China. 

“I am still running my own business.  Although I may not use my doctoral qualification as a gateway to an academic career, it is definitely something which I think will help me in the future.

“Since my business is a language school, having a higher degree is something which will highlight to customers that high standards of education are offered by my company.”

Professor Robert Bickers said: "Watching any student graduate is a delight, and no degree is easy, but I was truly very pleased to be watching Robert, Alex and Sara graduate. They’ve clearly found the process rewarding. I’d like to stress that their contributions in person and virtually, also always enhanced any seminar we held.

"All three brought different experiences, perspectives and skills to discussions amongst the group of postgraduate students I supervise, and that diversity made it a much richer experience for all of us."

The University caters extensively for part-time postgraduate students: in fact, about a third of our research students and around half of our taught masters students are part-time.

Part-time options are available on the majority of our study programmes, with some courses being specifically designed with flexibility in mind, so that students can combine work and study effectively. Many part-time students are actively supported by their employers.

Take a look at our postgraduate prospectus to see the range of options open to you; in the "key facts" box at the end of each entry we indicate where part-time study is available.

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