Alumni Stories: Alan Sparkes

In this new series of posts, we’ll be looking at what our former students do after they graduate in History at the University of Gloucestershire. It will demonstrate the various types of employment history graduates can go into, providing some useful guides for existing students, but also highlight the fascinating journeys of our graduates. The next story comes from Alan Sparkes (Class of 2002), who came to the University as a mature student, and also went on to complete a successful MA by Research.

Becoming a mature student in History at the University of Gloucestershire was a life changing experience for me. In the early 1990s I left my career as a Professional Firefighter with the Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service due to (at that time) undiagnosed PTSD. I was devastated to leave a career I loved, but it was only when I stared studying that I began to see a future. I nervously began my degree in September 1999, but rapidly found my feet and absolutely loved studying. My general interest in History began to refine itself into a fascination with English Local History as an academic discipline, as well as historiography.

Then and now, Alan in 2002 (left) and in 2017 (right).

I was fortunate enough to have a second year essay published in a local history journal thanks to the mentoring of the late John Howe and it was his encouragement that saw me develop my dissertation in Local History too. In 2002 I was one of only two history students to graduate with first class honours and I applied to study for a Masters by Research at the University. At the same time I applied for a post working part-time in the newly built Oxstalls Campus Library, where I was able to put all my student experience to good use, helping other learners. My Masters was a revelation to me, as I really began see my research and writing style develop. When I finally took my viva voce in 2005, my thesis passed with just a few minor typographical errors and I was able to have two sections of background work for it published, including one paper in the Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society
Shortly after, I began teaching history at the local college, while working full-time in the University Library, with a view to teach full-time at either college or university. To this end I was planning on doing a PhD, extending the work of my Masters. However, a sudden heart attack at the tender age of 44 forced me to slow down and I reluctantly put the teaching and PhD on hold. Eleven years after my heart attack I’m still working for the University. It has been 16 years now and despite my initial disappointment at having to back away from my academic ambitions, I still love working here. Every day I have contact with students and staff, and the University is a big part of my life. I feel that studying History has transformed my life in so many ways.

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