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Diary of a Mature MSc Student - Week 4

This week we were studying ethnographic research. This is where researchers immerse themselves in the lives of the people they are studying,with a view to describing their culture and habits. These studies generally take some time to complete. As I studied the texts I did wonder, whether as an outsider to my fellow university students in terms of age and experience, I might be conducting ethnographic research. I am not keeping detailed field notes but I do jot down and take pictures of what I observe each day. Here are some of my notes so far.

On Friday I headed to the library at 9am and found it to be almost completely empty. I think it is fair to say that many of my fellow students are not early risers.

In seminars the desks are typically full with MacBooks and water bottles though I see more physical note taking with pen and paper than I anticipated.

At one level there is huge diversity. My fellow LSE post-graduate students come from a very diverse range of countries, from Guatemala and Ethiopia to Singapore and Portugal. However, I am not sure yet how much diversity of opinion there is in the student community. I have found many students are very quiet in seminars. This may partly be that the environment is new to people, as we are all finding our feet, and our confidence, to varying degrees. For many students english is their second language and though in my experience the quality of their english is excellent, this may inhibit some from expressing views. It may also be cultural, with people from some countries quieter than others.

I am not quiet. I have spent over twenty years in management team and other meetings where it can be difficult to get your points heard. I would wait for that slight pause in conversation that allows you to jump in and get your points made. In my last two companies I was also CEO which allowed me to speak probably more than I should have. One of my former colleagues has said I have a tendency to repeat things often, which might be ok when leading a business where you have to give direction and a sense of urgency but this is not a good style for seminar participation. In the last two weeks I have become very conscious that I talk, a lot. When the lecturer asks a question and no one responds I tend to fill the silence. Even worse when there is a pause in conversation I often jump in with my thoughts and only this week did I become aware that my fellow students raise their hands for permission to speak. I have vowed to restrain myself in future, to raise my hand, encourage others to speak and to speak a little less myself.

This will be difficult for me as I do love to argue and debate. I am at heart a contrarian. If everyone in a room supports Remain I will argue for Leave or vice versa. I really like to test arguments through debate. It is something that has served me well as an entrepreneur I think. So far I haven't seen much diversity of opinion or political debate. Hopefully this will change as people start to contribute in seminars, though there isn't much evidence of political diversity at this stage. Academic research suggests that higher education has a liberalising effect on students which may be caused by socialisation.  I worry though that some students may be fearful of challenging normative liberal assumptions or they may simply be taking cues from the teaching staff. A number of lecturers have made their views clear, some through joking about say Trump or Brexit supporters and some more directly. For those with their careers ahead of them, will challenging the world view of their lecturers be helpful?

I hope to see some more debate as the term progresses and people feel more comfortable. I may even provoke some discussion by being contrarian if needs be, as I think there are many normative assumptions that need testing. I also find I learn a lot more personally through challenge and debate, as well as enjoying the experience.