Over the last year, I have attended six workshops from Warwick University’s Masters Skills programme which are required for the accomplishment of the Warwick Student Portfolio Award (WSPA). Since the introductory seminar on the WSPA, I have written online blog entries for all my action points from each workshop I have attended.
As an MA History student, I found the workshops particularly helpful in improving my written work and seminar participation. The WSPA has taught me new methods in approaching and completing tough assignments, which I was never taught at undergraduate level.
In the introductory workshop on the WSPA, I discovered that different people have many different ways of learning and processing information. I found out that I was a ‘reflector learner’ as opposed to an ‘activist’ or a ‘theorist’. I learned that this meant I spent a lot of time thinking over work and processing my thoughts on information. Although this was a perfectly fine way of learning, I also found out that this meant I lacked the skills that activists or theorists possessed, namely being assertive and completing tasks effectively. I made action points in order to improve the latter skills such as getting more involved in extra-curricular activities, becoming more talkative and sticking to a planned timetable. Over the subsequent weeks, I found that I was a lot more organized and I was more effective in completing difficult tasks.
In the second workshop I attended, Reading & Note-making, I learned that there are many different types of reading techniques which serve different purposes such as scanning, skimming and close-reading. Although I have always been a slow reader these different techniques have improved the overall speed of my reading. The workshop also showed me effective note taking methods. I also found that reviewing my notes on a regular basis, helped develop my ideas for discussions or written work.
The workshop on Writing at Masters Level vastly improved my time management and organization for writing academic papers. I learned how to condense a question, critically evaluate old work and take a more minimalist approach when collecting vast swathes of information. The most important thing I learned from this workshop was the earlier you start writing the better, as that gives you more time to overlook your written work (an essential part of completing any written MA assignment, which I am currently putting into practice for my dissertation).
In the workshop on Critical Thinking at Masters Level, I was introduced to illogical fallacies and how frequently people use them. An awareness of illogical fallacies has equipped me with an important diagnostic tool in identifying strong and weak arguments. I also learned how to compare and contrast polarized arguments from the same historical topic. The more I compared arguments, the more balanced and well-rounded my written work became. I used the very same technique for political debates I engaged with on tv or radio such as the discussions around UKIP and the EU. I found this method could even unearth flaws within people’s arguments I agreed with. The whole workshop was perhaps the most enlightening session as it related well with my History degree, which after all is meant to be a critical and balanced investigation in to past events. The workshop taught me that engaging in debates drastically improves your critical faculties and your investigative capacity. Our critical tools are essential for evaluating political, historical and moral arguments and assessing why they are good or bad, weak or strong, logical or illogical.
As a relatively shy and quiet person, the fifth workshop on Becoming more assertive showed me that acting more assertively (linking back to the very first workshop) helped me complete tasks more quickly, effectively and even enjoyably. With the help of ‘Transactional Analysis’, this workshop highlighted that assertive behaviour was linked to mature and more adult behaviour. The ‘adult ego-state’ should be used when necessary, to remain calm, composed and most importantly rational when others try to forcibly influence your decision-making, mood or behaviour. I learned that remaining in a calm and rational state was also imperative when suffering from forms of depression or anxiety such as Imposter Syndrome, which I subsequently learned is a psychological phenomenon which makes people think they are inadequate. Having felt inadequate and depressed many times before, I learned that utilizing the ‘adult ego-state’ is an important exercise in putting my negative feelings into perspective and appreciating what I have achieved in my life so far.
Although I attended this workshop after my studies had basically finished, my final workshop on Presentation Skills still helped me put some new techniques of presentation skills into practice. I learned that good body posture through the practice of the ‘neutral stance’ was hugely important in coming across as confident and happy in all fields of life, but in particular when delivering a presentation. Practicing presentations by reading scripts aloud helps enormously with timing issues, confidence and even correcting mistakes, otherwise hidden to the quick reader. Knowing the audience and tailoring your content to what they ‘must, should and could’ know is also an indispensable method in delivering concise, relevant and interesting presentations.
Since commencing the WSPA workshops, I feel I have learned a lot and improved in many of my working techniques. I have also found that the WSPA has improved my emotional intelligence - helping me develop from an undergraduate to a postgraduate student. Furthermore, I have learned that completing extracurricular tasks, such as those from the WSPA blogs, does not distract you from your formal work but in fact can only help improve your work. I found that the WSPA has vastly improved my academic, professional and personal skills and has put me in good stead for the future, whether that be in further education or future jobs.
David Jonathan Walker, MA History, University of Warwick