The unseen students of Sheffield

I’m just going to come out and say it. I’m a distance learner.

That’s right – I am studying remotely from London for a doctorate in English Literature at the University of Sheffield. I’m one of the many “unseen” students who make up a fair proportion of the student population, without the reassuring walls of Western Bank Library to retreat to or a John’s Van bap to keep us going. OK, the logistics may be a little fiddly here and there but I’ve actually found it fairly easy arranging my contact hours around the odd train trip from The Big Smoke up to the City of Hills and Wind.

Truth be told, I was a little apprehensive about the whole thing. Doctorate level study can be fairly isolating anyway, as is the nature of conducting original research and even more so in the Arts and Humanities. That I was prepared for, but on top of that I’d be living remotely too which could threaten to enhance any feelings of seclusion. I had this premonition that I’d be the student equivalent of the old man who lives on the moon in those John Lewis adverts – with the odd CiCS email as my only point of contact! But I felt staying in London was the right choice for me and so I was determined to try and make it work.

Happily, any worries I had quickly subsided. Having studied at Sheffield before I knew the University fairly well, but only recently have I discovered it has a variety of systems in place to help distance learners feel supported and involved. I travel up to Sheffield once or twice a month to visit my supervisors and pop in to raid libraries, but otherwise everything I need is online via MOLE and other resources. I’ve found that staff are more than willing to accommodate my circumstances, arranging meetings to suit my timetable, communicating solely via email, Skype or over the phone. I’ve been put in touch with other distance learners to share experiences over email or in discussion groups online, so I feel part of a wider community even though we’re physically “outside” the University.

The University really has done everything it can to make sure I’m having the experience I wanted and, more importantly, I feel involved and part of its make-up. I’m grateful that these efforts have prevented me from ever feeling at a disadvantage for choosing to learn remotely. It helps bring home how much of a special learning environment the University of Sheffield really is.

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