Finding passion for academia as a ‘very mature student’

Simon Greaves (MSc Politics, Philosophy and Economics, 2021) describes himself as a ‘very mature student’. After almost four decades working in journalism, and while working as the Video Revise Editor at the Financial Times, Simon chose to make his return to education at Birkbeck. Alongside working full-time as a distinguished journalist and commissioning editor, he completed an MSc in Politics, Philosophy and Economics at the College in 2021.

Simon Greaves (right) outside the Financial Times

It was not since the late 1970s that Simon had put himself under the academic pressure of a university degree. Having completed an undergraduate degree at De Montfort University, Leicester, he described his studies as ‘unfinished business’: “Thorough as it was, I don’t think it helped me get to grips with how an entire economy functions… But maybe I was too distracted by going to see the likes of Iggy Pop at De Montfort Hall!

“I wanted to pursue research after leaving with a 2:1, but I was forced to find work due to lack of funds. I took my first job at Haymarket Publishing in London, selling advertising space, before switching to journalism and working my way through local and regional newspapers into the national media.”

Simon later found himself feeling underqualified and wanted to pursue postgraduate study. For the past nine years he has run a journalism bursary scheme for the Guild of St Bride’s Church in Fleet Street, the old centre of London’s newspaper trade. While running the scheme, Simon began to think that, if interviewing candidates for a postgraduate study bursary, he should have a master’s himself. It was Professor Michael Ben-Gad, a renowned economist at City, University of London, who suggested that Birkbeck would be a good fit.

The student experience has been very different for Simon this time around. When studying in the 70s Simon had 16 hours of lectures per week, there was no internet and there was plenty of time for rugby and a lively social life. Fast forward to 2021 and Simon faced the challenge of combining evening study with full-time work. Nevertheless, he found he was able to connect with his fellow students: “Everyone in my cohort forged supportive friendships through a WhatsApp group and we still manage the odd social meet-up. There is strong camaraderie, with shared setbacks and triumphs along the way.”

Simon Greaves (left) with Dr Pedro Gomes, Reader in Economics at Birkbeck

Simon was surprised to find that at 60 years old he was not the oldest student in the room. “That’s the great thing about Birkbeck. My peers came from all walks of life — some straight from graduate courses in the UK and overseas, some working at the Home Office, others doing a second MSc, or retired, but fully engaged in study. As a very mature postgraduate, I have discovered how much more there is to learn and what a fun challenge it can be.”

Since completing his postgraduate course with merit, Simon has truly embraced and embodied Birkbeck’s ethos of lifelong learning. He recently had his first academic article published in a Polish economics journal and is now a doctoral candidate at Krakow University of Economics, where he is writing a dissertation on the work of Polish economist Michal Kalecki.