History - Tom Parry-Jones (PhD student)
I went to school in Colchester, Essex, where I took A-Levels in English Literature, Maths, Chemistry, Physics and General Studies. Seeing the effects of the Iraq war from a garrison town was a political wake-up call, and I changed away from the natural sciences, coming to Cambridge in 2005 to read Social and Political Sciences at Magdalene College. While studying for my undergraduate degree, I was particularly interested in the papers in the history of political thought that my course borrowed from the History Faculty, so, after graduating, I joined them to study for the one-year MPhil in Political Thought and Intellectual History.
It was at this point that I also joined St. John's, who generously supported me with a Benefactors’ Scholarship without which I would have been unable to continue my studies at a postgraduate level. I have remained at St. John's to pursue a doctorate, with my PhD focusing on the ideas people held in the middle ages about what human nature was, and what they understood to be 'natural law'. Rather than studying theologians and churchmen, my research concentrates on the ideas of lawyers and university teachers, and hence how they related these abstract ideas to practical and grubby realities. The possibility of studying history not as dates or personalities, but as living ideas and their uses and effects in the world, is something which I only discovered when taking the subject at university, and this opened up a fascinating new side of a subject which I had dropped at school, where the GCSE syllabus seemed to mostly be about the finer points of German military strategy.
Whatever you are interested in, though, the History Faculty in Cambridge is likely to have a world-leading specialist with whom you can study it. The town itself too is a wonderful place to live and work, whether for one year, three, or even more. And I can think of few places more supportive to be a student than at St. John's. The College is able to offer accommodation in hostel rooms to all of its postgraduate students who request it, which means that you have the option to avoid dealing with the dog-eat-customer world of the Cambridge lettings market, and can get on with your life and studies instead. Generous financial support is available from the college for books, conference, and other research costs as well as full masters and doctoral funding for a large number of students through the Benefactors' Scholarships scheme. I have also benefitted greatly from the College's international connections, enabling me to conduct research abroad and improve the foreign language skills I need for my work. Being a student at St. John's has made me a better academic, and a number of friends as well - it's hard to ask for more in place to study.