Grad school in London

It’s taken a little while to get oriented since I landed in London, but now that I’ve settled in, this is a probably a good time to sit down and process the past two weeks.

First off, I’m staying at a place called Bankside House. It’s a student residence, just a stone’s throw from the Thames (couched between the Tate Modern, Blackfriars Bridge, Shakespeare’s Globe and The Financial Times). It’s a bit dingy, but the location, food and company are first-class. In the first few days I’ve made new friends from India, China, Singapore, Germany, France, Norway, Belgium, Mexico and The Gambia to name a few. I’m told that more than two thirds of postgrad students here hail from outside of the UK, which seems about right.

Campus is a 25-minute walk across the river and down Fleet Street. There, I’m taking courses in Social Policy, Philosophy and Public Policy, and Public Management. Already we’re being flooded with readings on defining the disciplines (not always an easy task in the social sciences), how to measure wellbeing (health, education, happiness), how to ration health care through quality adjusted life years (QALYs), the origins of the welfare state and so on. More to come. I’m managing to get through all of them so far.

Tower Bridge spanning the Thames this morning

Tower Bridge spanning the Thames this morning

One common thread I’ve seen early on has been the lasting influence of Jeremy Bentham’s work (the greatest happiness for the greatest number). All three courses live in different departments, but each has dedicated at least some time to his theories. One of my professors, Alex Voorhoeve, even brought us to UCL to pay our respects to the father of utilitarianism, where his preserved skeleton is on display. You can find him sitting in his reading chair in a wooden cabinet in the atrium, safely behind a pane of glass. Over the years UCL has been known to wheel him out for council meetings, where he is always marked as “present, but not voting.” Look it up. It gets weirder and weirder.

Across London I’ve been exploring pubs with new friends and old who’ve planted roots in the city. We visited places like the Cheshire Cheese (which I walk by every day), the Temple Brew House, the quirky Lord Nelson and the G-Bar at Goodenough College. I’ve sampled spirits straight from the cask (at a staggering 66 per cent). I’ve taken my first uber and witnessed my first anti-uber protest staged by unhappy taxi drivers. And last week I joined a few student groups including the Debating Society and perhaps more compelling, the Cider Appreciation Society. Looking forward to that one.

It feels good—almost natural—to be back in the classroom. It’s hard to believe seven years have passed since my last university lecture. There is a lightness in my step. I’m learning loads each day and perhaps more importantly, what I’m learning feels relevant. These early weeks have reaffirmed my decision to really work on my foundational knowledge of the public sector.

Of course, I miss home: my pals; my scooter; our apartment—which at 650 sq. ft. now strikes me as spacious; and of course Ches most of all. Thank god for Skype. But I’ll get a taste of Canada soon. I already have two Canadian Thanksgiving dinners scheduled this week.