Back To School (Part 2)

I said I would keep you updated on my journey into academia and I have just finished my first official study weekend at the university itself.
All of the emotions and fears and concerns I mentioned in the first blog hit me like a tonne of bricks the moment I arrived yesterday. During the first couple of sessions I must say that I felt completely out of my comfort zone and very nervous despite the hugely warm welcome being extended by the uni team. 

To be honest – those guys couldn’t have been more kind and have really put some thought into this induction weekend.

As far as I can tell I am the only one there with no prior higher education experience. Certainly amongst the Masters students – I think there are a few newbies in the Batchelors course as well.

The first few sessions were gentle introductions and I learned that my particular cohort on the MSc is me and three other people. The fact that the group was so small did go a long way to easing my nerves. It was also massively helpful to have a group of alumni students and people ahead of me on the course on hand to act as mentors.

Thanks to Rich, Jim, Ed and Naomi for giving up their time to be there for us.

I was nervous right up until a few minutes into the first proper lecture. Our planned guest speaker had had to drop out due to a family emergency (hope all is ok, Ian) but we were lucky that @DrTomCockcroft from Leeds Beckett University was on hand to deliver a presentation on police culture.

Tom is a really good speaker and a knowledgable man and I found myself listening to him and thinking “I’ve been saying this as well but without the scientific rigour to back it up.”

In a nutshell, Tom’s premisezz is that there really is no such thing as “police culture” and if there is something like it then it is no different from any other organisation and it’s not all bad anyway.

Tom was critical of much of the current direction of policing but was able to back it up with proper evidence which can only support people like me who rant on with nothing but empirical stuff.

At the end of the presentation I thought three things:

1. If it’s so patently evident that large swathes of what is happening are wrong then why on earth are we still persisting with them?

2. Can Tom get a job at the College of Policing?

3. What he has said is what I would most likely have said if I had been doing a talk on the subject and so, actually, my antennae isn’t actually that far off – I just need to fine tune – and maybe I’m not as out of my depth as I thought I would be.

If you walk out of a lecture having agreed with pretty much everything the speaker has said (and a speaker of some standing) then maybe it is possible to challenge stuff – it’s getting people to listen that is the hard part.

This has always been one of my problems with academic study. People disagree with each other. Which is good but if you happen to believe the side that isn’t winning the argument when it all seems so patently obvious then it can be frustrating.

That and the fact that it is still clear to me that ideology will trump evidence more often than not when it comes to policing. We heard a stack of examples of that and  I maintain that this is the single biggest strategic hurdle for the future.

Some very interesting views on what “professionalising” the police actually means came out. I found myself nodding furiously. It would be the kind of thing that would probably get you into trouble if you were a police officer who expressed a similar view. Which goes back to what I said in blog one about whether policing is ready or will ever be ready for that kind of open debate.

The debate is happening. But seemingly in lecture theatres across the country. It would be tragic if it never gets out of those doors.

“Professionalising” the police is actually more about control. It is about removing discretion and replacing it with “what works” – as determined by one institution. And “what works” here might well “not work” over there.

The words “process driven” and “risk averse” featured frequently.

Professionalising the police is seemingly about badges and certificates “like doctors and lawyers” without there really being any evidence at all to suggest that this will improve policing.

All officers having degrees will not remove human error and runs the risk of making the service LESS representative of society than it is now.

There is a danger that policing degrees will not be degrees at all but will be “training” called a degree – not unlike the nursing model.

It seems to be as much about equipping officers to leave the service as it is about preparing them to fulfil the role. There is also the concern about what a policing degree earned in the first two years of service or prior to joining ACTUALLY means for those who do stay for a few decades. How current will it be? How relevant is a policing degree to another choice of profession?

Sound familiar? Maybe, but these were all points raised by Tom – not me.

I left that night feeling a lot less like a fish out of water.

Chance to relax and meet up socially with new and old friends and a truly pleasant evening was had by all.

Today, we were again lucky to have Tom take our small group through how to manage a research project, how to write a dissertation and ethics of research. We were joined by programme director Emma and over the course of the day, as things were explained, I found myself thinking “I can do this.”

It was a really positive experience and Emma later tweeted that I had been the one asking the most questions during the day. This is something I had vowed I wouldn’t do but – it was an indicator that I was feeling comfortable.

I have five pages of notes, a series of thinking points to consider as I move forward, an outline plan of my research question and some things I might do to approach it and a reading list.

You could say that despite my reservations – I ended up actively participating after all. A positive sign.

I do, however, really need to get my hands on a computer as a matter of some urgency.

All in all it was an amazing weekend, really well planned and managed by the CCCU team and I will be leaving feeling very different from the way I felt when I arrived on Friday.

It seems two days is a long time in academia.

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One response to “Back To School (Part 2)”

  1. Emma says :

    Sounds all good.If I recall my degree experience the joy was the research – that one was not being with loaded with information in order to pass an examination – to demonstrate that you had absorbed the material. My degree was very much a “steered” exploration of the subject, and for that reason you bring yourself to the fore – the encouragement to do something new and personal with the source material.
    The requirement for IT is interesting – I got my degree in 1991 and I had an electric typewriter which was then the height of academic technology.

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