From education to employment

GPR at KEGS – two years on

Global Perspectives and Independent Research: it sounds like the sort of subject that can drain the will of even the strongest student, and leave their writing hand with a repetitive strain injury. But it’s so much more rewarding  than this; the opportunity to engage and discuss global issues and build up your own perspective about pretty much anything and everything going on in the world today.

Walking into your first GPR lesson, it’s hard not to be intimidated. Chairs aligned in a circle around Mr. Barrow sitting on a throne of current affairs awareness, you wonder whether it may have been helpful to briefly glimpse at the newspaper whilst you were eating your breakfast this morning. Then, when everyone’s sitting comfortably, you’re thrown a curveball like “So, Rob, how’s the Arab Spring?”, “Sid, what’s your view on the welfare state?” or “George: briefly explain to me why you think the Banana Guard is the greatest invention of all time.” Sometimes it’s very difficult to come up with an argument that you know very little about; I don’t even like bananas. However, GPR isn’t an exercise in what you argue, rather how you argue. By using evidence and reasoning to formulate a conclusion, you’ll be surprised at how well you can cope under pressure – and this formula is the cornerstone of GPR.

Whether you’re writing an essay or presenting a talk in the first year, or slaving over your dissertation in the second year, the approach is always the same: analyse a perspective, evaluate its credibility and validity, and then construct your own, informed argument. You’re introduced to a cornucopia of different flaws and faults that an argument may have; ad hominem, tuo quinque, and tautology to name but a few (and don’t worry, you don’t need to take Latin to understand).  Reading an article in class, you can swiftly identify where the author’s hyperbole has escalated out of control (slippery slope), or where he has painted an incorrect version of the opposing argument just to make it easier to knock down (straw men). By the end of the first year, you find that these ideas have leached into your subconscious to the extent that you apply them to almost anything you read or hear – other subjects such as English and History in particular benefit from this critical approach, and you could even apply the concept of ad hominem to Alex Ferguson’s post-match grilling of referees. These transferrable skills are utilised at the end of Year One in three different tests – the essay, a critical thinking paper and a presentation. By the time all three are completed, you have a pretty good idea about what interests you politically and culturally, which is pretty useful for the dissertation to come.

And now we reach the elephant in the room; the dissertation. Five thousand words of blood, sweat and tears that seem a lifetime away from the structured two-mark questions of your GCSEs. This is virgin territory – never before have you ever undertaken such a weighty, absorbing, gut-busting  and detailed piece of work. Perhaps the biggest secret in GPR is the fact that the dissertation is probably the easiest part of the course; you choose what you write about, and you can link it into your future degree so that you can build a background of expertise in the niche that you are interested in. You become so totally consumed in your topic that five thousand words seem a drop in the ocean compared to what could be investigated, explored and uncovered. It’s at this point that you realise what a diverse group of students a GPR class is; economists rub shoulders with architects and poets, and experts in medical ethics chat to theoretical mathematicians. It is from these conversations that you realise the depth of knowledge of KEGS’  students is astounding, matched only by their enthusiasm and intellectual curiosity.

The final year of GPR is the closest experience to university that you can achieve at school – the supervisions you share with your dedicated supervisor nurture and develop your ideas and arguments until you have created a coherent and understandable structure to your essay. You also realise the specialisms that the teachers of the school have – in discussion with your supervisor, not only do you share your interests, but you also learn what made them choose their subject in the first place, be it Maths, English or Biology. This level of interaction is what makes GPR unique, and you become rather attached to your dissertation, feeling like you’ve lost a friend when you eventually hand it in.

Chatting to Mr. Barrow and your supervisor in your post-dissertation meeting (viva), you can express just how proud and interested you are by the work and research you have done. For this isn’t a subject that just finishes when the mark is given; I know I will use the techniques, perspectives, interests and ideas that GPR has helped foster in the years to come, both at university and in real life. The skills we have learnt will remain with us for a long time, and this is the trait of a successful, inspiring subject. The experiment has worked – just don’t ask me to explain why the Banana Guard is the greatest invention of all time.

George Cox is now in his first year at Exeter University

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