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Combining two degrees: a story of Plato and programming

The University of London's flexible approach to learning enabled me to pursue two of my intellectual passions simultaneously. 

Written by Shen H. |

Shen standing in front of a blackboard
''Over time, I have found my studies through the University of London’s distance learning programme to be more and more rewarding''.

My name is Shen, and I am a 19-year-old Romanian-Chinese student, studying for a degree in philosophy and the classics – one that I pursue concurrently, with a degree in computer science at Goldsmiths, University of London. Essentially, I am enrolled as a student in two universities more than a continent apart – and yet, I am able to pursue my passions, thanks to the Coursera platform, and the University of London’s powerful distance and flexible learning programmes.

By day, I study the philosophers of classical antiquity, translating the writings of Sappho, Aristotle, Heraclitus, or Plato, working from the texts of the original Ancient Greek. By night, I study an entirely different sort of “philosophy” altogether – one that is expressed in a language delineated not by letters, but by brackets and neatly indented lines.

I admit that my choice of subjects may seem like an unorthodox combination. After all, what does philosophy have to do with computer science? As I found out through my studies, however, programmers have much in common with philosophers. In fact, in our programming class, we begin every week with a lecture called “Code Philosophy”, where we discuss what it means to code, rather than simply how. I am surprised by how often my philosophical training directly makes me a better programmer. And it is these powerful synergies that influenced me to pursue both philosophy and computer science – the latter via distance learning, at Goldsmiths, University of London.

The University of London’s distance and flexible learning programmes are the key to my ability to pursue both subjects simultaneously. 
My “physical” institution is a small, Midwestern Liberal Arts College that does not offer any STEM classes, let alone a degree in computer science. For the longest time, I was worried that in order to pursue my passion for philosophy I’d have to give up on computer science altogether. Thankfully, that’s around the time when I found out about University of London’s BSc Computer Science degree. The system of flexible due dates and world-wide testing centres fit perfectly into my existing schedule – and I submitted my application for the programme on the first day it was available.

Being enrolled in what’s essentially two different universities is particularly challenging in terms of time management. Having one’s course load doubled is a bit of a shock – and there were often days where I had to prioritise one assignment over another. Either it is translating Heraclitus in Greek class, or translating graph functions in maths class – but not both at once! Thankfully this was where University of London’s flexible learning programme saved me. Designed for already-established professionals busy with full-time careers, the course automatically takes the schedule of different students in mind.

Over time, I have found my studies through the University of London’s distance learning programme to be more and more rewarding. Although our classroom is virtual, my fellow classmates are as real as any other student. And, in contrast to traditional bricks-and-mortar establishments, all of us in this programme are united in our passion for learning. There is nobody here that doesn’t want to be here – and this ‘esprit de corps’ is evident in the enthusiasm of our discussions – and the camaraderie of our jokes.

I remember marvelling at the sheer diversity of my classmates, as well as the talents they displayed. In our introductions, I met a nuclear engineer working in Canada, the founder of an investment bank in South Africa, medical doctors, musicians, scientists, and executives. Hailing from hundreds of countries around the world, it is no wonder that we are called a “World Class”.

This is the most rewarding aspect, of being a distance-learning student at Goldsmiths, University of London. To be connected with passionate learners from around the world, all united in our singular quest for knowledge – it is the sort of epic journey that is Homeric in nature. Where it is not merely the pedigree of one’s professors that is unparalleled, but also the quality of one’s classmates. As a mere 19-year-old, surrounded by these inspirational figures – I have found myself a cohort of mentors that contribute just as much to my learning as my professors.

We sit together, in this virtual classroom, from regions as far-flung as Alaska, Mongolia, New Zealand, and Sudan. And we sit here, as equals – just like it was in Plato’s Academy – united by our love of learning.

We are the World Class, of the University of London. And we are here to change the world.

Shen is studying the BSc Computer Science via distance learning in the United States.

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