Tuesday, September 10, 2013

First grad school tour: Goldsmiths

As I've definitely mentioned before: I am on a mission. A mission to go back to school and get my master's degree. The question is in what and where. And actually...kind of when.

Unfortunately in my love of overhours and achievement and lust for travel I missed the deadline for applications for the 2013-2014 year (despite it being extended) so it looks like I'll be shooting for the 2014-2015 year. I find this acceptable though, in the grand scheme of things. Gives me more time to really research the schools I'll be applying to, potentially apply for scholarships (I'll explain more about that in a second), and most of all: get funding from my company so hopefully they'll pay for the entire thing.

The entire thing really started when I was back in Helsinki and attended JBL's lecture series on the blending of academia and industry. How do we best get the two together? There are brilliant minds in both places but they seldom work together. There are fantastic discoveries going on in universities everywhere but again, seldom are these results and discoveries and glories being used in industry for the furtherment of mankind and consumerism on a whole.

So how do we fix the situation? The only good response that was given at the lecture series (though not everyone agreed) was: do both. Have people who do both so they can understand the whole perspective and see the big picture.

Well, that's what I plan to do. Do both. I once again have a thirst for knowledge and I'm not going to stop. It was always in my mind to go back and finally the planets have aligned in such a way that it makes sense. Doesn't feel forced and unnatural, it's just the right time to go back.

And so it is. And the process has started. Starting with...

The proposal on why my company should support me financially in furthering my education. Since naturally I will need to take a small amount of time off of work to attend classes and the like in order to make this degree happen (as I intend to continue working while I get this degree). It's already gone through my boss and now it needs to go up the chain.

As a small summary, tuition is expensive for someone like me in the UK. I'm not a citizen of the UK, naturally, so I don't make it into their first tier of tuition prices (otherwise known as the cheapest ring). I'm also not a citizen of the EU, which would have qualified me for the considerably more expensive yet still cheaper second tier of tuition prices (nope, definitely don't quality for that still). I, being an American, make it into the third category of things: the foreigner category. Definitely the most expensive ring of tuition prices. We're talking a jump of:
  • Roughly 1,000pounds for a UK citizen
  • Roughly 9,000pounds for an EU citizen
  • Roughly 20,000pounds for a foreigner (everyone else)
Yeah, that kind of ridiculosity. Ohhhhh company, you are so helping me out with this amazingly expensive tuition.

Anyway, so I'd submitted my proposal as to how my furtherment of knowledge would cure cancer and save the company from financial and other types of ruin and set that into motion. My boss has every confidence that I will be supported in some fashion. We'll see what the verdict is. At the end of the day it comes down to how everyone's feeling and doing monetarily...so...let's hope that someone hates traveling for a year and I'll get everything paid, yeah? ;)

The second part of the process includes doing the appropriate research to find out which schools and majors would actually fit what I'm looking to study. This makes a huge difference to me though to no one else.

What am I interested in studying? That's actually a slightly difficult thing to describe since it requires a bit of background into what I'm already doing (which I've not actually described here).

Anyway the basic summary goes like this: industry and experience have taught me the how (methods) and what (technology) of my industry. What I want to know is the why. Why do people do what they do. This can be used in many contexts, so it continues to expand rather than limit what I've already been studying and doing.

So, the search begins.

And the first place I was interested in checking out for their program? Goldsmiths. It was recommended to me by my manager. They have an Interactive Design MA that looked pretty interesting and after emailing back and forth with their department head I arranged a face to face meeting and department tour to check out their program (getting a leg up on the competition as well since all grad schools here require a face to face interview to get accepted into the program).

I got horrifically lost along the way after having a hectic half-day at work (we were meeting at 1pm). Needless to say it should have taken me about an hour to get there, had I actually made it on the pathway I was supposed to. I did not, and instead it took me about an hour and a half and a frantic/stressful/anxiety-ridden call to the guy I was supposed to meet to find the place. I may or may not have made tactful yet justified claims that their campus was difficult to find. Luckily the man (Tobie) was understanding.

I met him at this building (the Ben Pimlott building), which is where the (interaction design) lab is:


Sexy building on the outside. Unfortunately was being gutted and renovated on the inside, since it's the summertime and term is not in session. I was soon to find out that this is common practice - all the students are away, quick do some construction! This is a great way to do things but it sure does make visiting rather difficult.

Luckily the lab was still working though so I got to see industrious grad students doing their thing during the summer, which is when most people go off and do crazy things because it's the summertime and they actually have things like vacation during summer (something I've forgotten for the past, well, all years of my life).

Tobie made me some tea (rooibos, which I thought was nice) and we chatted about the program. Large emphasis on the fabrication of a physical object, likely some programming to make the software interface and then placing that object in an environment (or several environments) and then reporting on what the result was of people interacting with it. Literal interaction design.

It dawned on me as we talked more that this program was extremely valuable to a certain kind of student. Unfortunately I am not that kind of student. I was looking for something a little more philosophical and a little less applied in this sense. Also it seemed they didn't really have a great plan for part-time students, seeing as how only 1 of the 14 students they'd admitted for the upcoming year was part-time. On their website they didn't have a well-laid out plan for people who worked at the same time. I had a sneaking suspicion that they would make do but that full-time would be the emphasis here. That's okay but obviously my lifestyle would be entirely different from the majority of students attending and I wouldn't want to feel like an outcast based on something like that.

Tobie gave me a great tour of the facilities in the building, most of which were under construction but you could still see their purpose. The majority of them were workshops where you could make your object of interaction choice: 3D printers, casting shops, wood works, textile shops, this kind of thing. It was a gorgeous place for craft. He asked me about my experience with materials. I honestly said I hadn't done anything like that since undergraduate art classes. It's been awhile since I've done anything physical like that, minus my small crafting (which I didn't feel like bringing up and didn't think of at the time).

All in all it was a good intimate program but looks like the shoe isn't fit for me. I'll not be applying here for the next fall.

Good that I saw this as my first one though, since it was a great primer for the next tour that I took (which was the next day, jampacked week as it was): UCL.

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