I can distinctly remember standing at the top of the Wallace memorial looking over the University of Stirling campus and feeling a distinct impression of regret. This was in 1999 and I had just completed an undergraduate degree at the University of York. My regret was that I had not studied at Stirling, for it looked such a beautiful and peaceful campus. It was a fleeting feeling and I thought no more of it. In 2007 I was half way through a Masters in Theology at the University of Glasgow when my supervisor suggested I considered further study at a PhD level. I came from a very working class background in Belfast; we didn’t go to university let alone have doctorates – I was really pushing my luck, but I did some more research into it and found it appealing. Within three months I had four offers of fully funded places in the USA and an interview at the University of Stirling with the religion department. As I went to the interview I remembered the feeling from years ago and was determined this choice would carry no regrets. The choice was sealed when the interviewer asked casually for a list of the bands I was talking about and he turned to his computer and went to their websites. He was genuinely interested in learning something new, and that was the reason I selected Stirling rather than the USA. It has not been a decision I have regretted once.
The staff in the religion department are all very genuine people who are interested in you as a person as well as a student. In my experience all staff members are interested in your work even if they are not supervising you or if your area(s) of interest do not fall within their own. There is no hidden agenda and no desire to push you into something you do not want study-wise or are not ready for. Everyone makes time for you and will answer your queries or provide sought advice. The ethos is one of curiosity and passion for learning; there is no complacency and all new angles and approaches are welcomed.
My own work focused on the area of straight edge punk, hardly compatible with religion, one might initially think. The broad spectrum of interest and the importance of a critical approach to religion enables such a connection as mine to be not only made, but significantly engaged with and encouraged. I was welcomed into broader academic life through participation in excellently organised research seminars on a variety of topics, and encouraged to actively contribute to presentation days, symposiums, conferences and even competitions.
Employability was also an important area of focus, which is not neglected within religion at Stirling. I was given numerous opportunities to gain teaching experience as a TA on a variety of undergraduate courses. In addition I was encouraged to undertake various training programmes run by the broader university graduate service and I was helped in honing my presentation skills for conferences within the specific field. My time as a student came to a very happy conclusion after 3 and a half years when I was awarded my PhD. My time at Stirling has not quite ended there as I have now been given the opportunity to continue to contribute to the department with part time employment lecturing within the religion department. Regrets can teach us a lot; they can also, sometimes, be rectified and the result can far exceed what we dared hope for.