Sharon O’Connor

Student spotlight details

Sharon volunteers at an educational charity, designing and leading workshops on creative writing and on preparing for university. The part-time MSt in Literature and Arts allowed Sharon to balance work and study due to the mix of distance learning and short stays in Oxford.

'As an undergraduate I studied English Literature with the Open University and found I loved studying and wanted to continue. But I found it rather isolating and wanted to meet face-to-face with fellow students more often. I decided on the MSt in Literature and Arts as the course is part-time, which enabled me to balance work and study, and the Residences provided a great student experience. The class discussions were wonderful as students came from all over the world and are of different ages and backgrounds, so everyone brought their own life experiences and knowledge to the table.

'The amount of reading required for the course was a challenge, particularly in the run-up to a Residence as I did not want to arrive in Oxford feeling under-prepared. Some modules have longer reading lists than others but whatever the subject, it really pays to put in the work before you arrive. The Residence then becomes a space to develop your thoughts and to bounce ideas off the tutors and other students and is much more valuable as a result.

'The camaraderie, fellowship and support among my course mates was all that I had hoped for and more. Being able to spend time, both at the Residences and online, with intelligent people who love their subjects has been so rewarding. This is where the interdisciplinary aspect of the course was so valuable, as aspects of a discipline you know well suddenly illuminate a discipline you are exploring (perhaps for the first time) and which others in the group know well.

'Since finishing the MSt in Literature and Arts, I am now using the research skills honed on the course and the knowledge gained in the modules in two ways. First, I volunteer for Bell House, an educational charity based in a Georgian house in South London, and have developed new workshops for it. For example, I designed and lead an ‘uncertainty in humanities research’ workshop for 6th formers, to help them prepare for university. Using 18th century materials I ask pupils to think about primary and secondary sources and examine them for bias or lacunae. I have also developed a creative writing workshop where I talk to younger pupils about Bell House’s Georgian and Victorian history to help inspire their creative writing. Secondly, I am an enthusiastic theatre-goer and reader and the early modern modules in particular have enriched my understanding and enjoyment of Shakespeare. The course’s interdisciplinarity has added to my appreciation of literature, as the history, material culture and philosophy modules have deepened my understanding.

'To anyone considering undertaking a Continuing Education course I would say go for it. It’s challenging of course but the rewards are huge and can take you in unexpected directions. As well as the satisfaction of completing the course I now have a different focus for my volunteering work and can see myself developing this over the next few years to incorporate research which is interesting for me personally as well as helping the charity to fulfil its aims. A sort of academic having my cake and eating it.'

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