Getting off the train at Guildford station for the first time and making my way across the footbridge, I’m full of joyful expectation. What will it be like to be back at University after nearly 30 years? How will I feel? Will the years roll back? Well, no … my adolescent daydreams are soon overrun by the realisation that I forgot to shave this morning and I’m looking very scruffy. First port of call is the shop beneath the University library where I buy soap, razor and microfibre cleaning cloth and trundle off to the gents’ loos. A bit cramped but mission accomplished and looking less grubby I head over to the School of Psychology to meet with Adrian Coyle, the Course Director for the Social Psychology MSc.
There was no pressure here: I had applied for the course, had been interviewed by Skype and had already been offered a place. The reason for visiting the University in person was to attend a class on ‘Self and Identity in Context’ (one of the MSc modules) to get a clearer sense of the course; to meet the present cohort and ask about the ‘lived experience’ of a Psychology MSc student at Surrey; and to attend the first School of Psychology Seminar of this semester – all part of working towards making an informed decision about how to respond to Surrey’s offer.
Meeting Adrian in person was amusing. The odd thing about encountering someone only on Skype is the way the whole dimension of scale becomes flexible, depending on where you are sitting in relation to the camera. Not being particularly tall, I had the distinct impression Adrian was the same height or perhaps a little shorter than me. Wandering over to his office, my mental image is shattered as I meet the very tall Adrian. This skewed Skype perception was obviously mutual as he greets me with words to the effect, ‘Hello, Richard. You’re a lot shorter than I thought you were’! That out of the way, we have a pleasant chat around the course without mentioning height once, before being joined by another Social Psychology MSc applicant and we are off to the ‘taster’ lecture.
I was taken aback by the incredible diversity of people in the room, with students hailing from various corners of Europe and further afield. Asked to introduce ourselves and say something about what was important to our own sense of identity, I chose to major on my advanced years (I’m 51) as opposed to my height (I’m 5’ 9”) and the fact that pursuing my interest in Psychology to this next, MSc level was part of my identity.
It was a great lecture by Sophie Russell that covered the key concepts and helped me recall the Social Psychology I had studied with the Open University (… big up the OU). In discussing her identity, Dr Russell appeared to mention a number of times that she was a Bohemian which slightly puzzled me as I couldn’t remember exactly what it meant but sensed it was something rather naughty in a ‘Carry on Camping’ sort of way. However I was soon corrected when I read on a later Powerpoint slide that she was actually a Bahamian – a native of the Bahamas rather than ‘a socially unconventional person, especially one involved in the arts’.
Next stop was the School of Psychology seminar, given by Birgitta Gatersleben and drawing upon research conducted with David Uzzell and Niamh Murtagh. Entitled ‘The role of technology in promoting energy conservation: a psychological perspective’, this was a whistle stop tour of energy meters, automated lights, the IT crowd and associated behaviours. It was a really engaging and enlightening talk which showed some of the complexities when trying to change behaviour for the social good. The Q & A was interesting too as an audience member from the Department of Sociology shared his observations from his research and I genuinely got the sense of how the various social science disciplines can produce complementary and even integrated insights.
Seminar over, it was back to Adrian’s office for a quick summing up and I headed off back to the station in a rather roundabout fashion having completely lost my sense of direction on setting foot outside the AD building. I think the biggest thing I took away was the sense that I would be studying and interacting with like-minded people and that there is a creative energy in universities when people come together and share ideas. After my day of sampling Psychology at Surrey, I firmly intend that in October 2014 I will be part of that.