Bill Burroughs applied…

‘Words of advice for young people’ is the refrain William Burroughs stamped on the album ‘Spare-ass Annie’ by the Disposable Heroes of Hip-Hoprisy. I cannot aspire to Uncle Bill’s lofty heights, but was very pleased to be asked to ‘spare just a few minutes’ by a year 9 secondary school student to comment on what I look for in applications to study with us at Goldsmiths. Great topic for the school magazine he is writing for. While the applications we get are for PhD, since we do not have undergraduates in CCS, I think the wider (wilder?) things I look for are relevant at all levels (our applications go through several drafts of a research proposal and that is more important than the actual application form at this level, I think perhaps the personal statement in UG applications is the relevant place to show some of the below…). Anyway, for what its worth, here are a couple of answers to a couple of the questions I’ve just sent (as our interviewer pointed out, these will be presented as my views alone and not necessarily those of Goldsmiths) – [I hope its of use Natty]:

… Q3: What do you look for in an application?
We look for someone who has prepared well, who has an idea of what they are getting into, and approaches this with a sense of enthusiasm, curiosity and adventure. Higher education should be something that ‘changes the way you think’ and to be open to that – and critical of stale thinking – is really what grabs my attention in a student. Of course some good marks and some experience (extra-curricular activities, interest in politics, media or travel etc) are also appealing, but the most exciting students will convey a sense of a rampant curiosity, and an inquisitive intelligence. This can come through in so many ways: in a creative bit of writing, in a fascination for a particular artistic form of expression, film perhaps, or in psychoanalysis, or even in history or math, and then it could perhaps appear in an unexpected juxtaposition of two different areas. One of the best proposals for research I saw recently mixed a plan to do research into the history of propaganda with the study of abstract poetry. I thought that might produce new and interesting angles for cultural studies. Another mix that surprised was a proposed research into neuropsychology and artistic imagery – of the brain. How do we draw, map, imagine the architecture of that mess of stuff inside our skulls.

Q4: What makes for a good application- what would you advise year 13 students to think about when filling in a form?

I look for the ways the applicant has told us something about themselves in a way that has some verve, some sort of hard to name spark/mix of honesty, enthusiasm, creativity. It is of course hard to choose between the many capable applicants, so I look for someone with either, or especially both, a streak of creativity and a streak that I’d call a critical attitude to the world. Someone who is able to think critically about everything – without just having a winge – might make a very capable student.

Oh, and someone who reads. I mean, loves to read. To read and write. And to talk about books. To talk about writing – to care about writing as a craft, as a critical craft. And perhaps someone who might even help start up and write for a journal or magazine in their school. Three cheers for that part then.

I wonder if good bowling averages might also help with a Goldsmiths application, since we have a college cricket team in need of a spinner.

Hope some of this is useful for you. I have to crack on with some other friday night work – actually, I am going to watch the US presidential debate which should be on in about an hour – video streaming permitting…



PS. And if I was going to suggest any reading – Marx on education might not be a bad place to start. See the piece ‘Text message: what does Marx have to say about Jamie Oliver style school lunches?’