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Institute of Continuing Education (ICE)

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What would you study if you could choose practically anything? That’s the opportunity offered by ICE’s Advanced Diplomas in Research: unique undergraduate courses that let you pursue your personal passion. Academic Director, Dr Alex Carter, tells us more.

“Film, artificial intelligence, natural sciences, politics – essentially, you can research anything that our academics can support,” begins Alex. “But don’t worry about starting the course with a precise idea of your focus – inevitably, projects evolve during the year – what’s important is that you bring a passion for your subject.”

Taught remotely, the two, one-year, part-time Advanced Diplomas can be taken separately or consecutively. The first, the Advanced Diploma in Research Theory and Practice, develops different research skills each term. The second, the Advanced Diploma in Research in the Arts or Science, is a deep dive into your own specific subject, culminating in a dissertation. 

“These courses can be studied on their own, but they’re also ideal preparation for a Master’s programme,” notes Alex. “In the first-year course, we explore different research philosophies, enhance writing skills and sharpen critical thinking. Each term, students put these skills into practice. But, while it’s a skills-based course, it’s not a course about skills. It’s about investigating the research topic you’re passionate about and cultivating your perspective as a researcher. In the second year, we give detailed supervision to write up a full research project.”

Choose your own adventure

“The Advanced Diplomas allow you to specialise in an aspect of a topic you enjoy. Perhaps the most interesting part of your Politics BA was the philosophical element. Why not turn that into your own, bespoke study? We regularly find students are so engaged that their quality of work is closer to postgraduate level. With more independent study there’s greater discipline required, but we offset that with increased flexibility.”

“The near-infinite options available mean we support a wide diversity of topics, too. If you don’t feel represented by the traditional system, these courses give you the chance to follow your own path.”

How does this work in practice?

Inside ICE hears from Advanced Diploma graduate, Andrew Rowan, and his supervisor, Dr Rune Nyrup to find out.

Andrew: My work in financial technology sparked my interest in the places where philosophy of science and machine learning collide. I completed both Advanced Diploma courses, and my dissertation centred on explanations of black box AI predictions.

The first-year assignments helped me whittle down the many research possibilities to arrive at a precise proposal for my second year. That gave me the exciting opportunity to work with Dr Rune Nyrup from the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence.

The supervision system was invaluable in honing the core arguments of my dissertation. I actually looked forward to the early starts, travelling to Cambridge to meet Rune before heading back to the office!

It was a pleasure to meet with fellow students from a variety of backgrounds, united by their passion for diverse subjects. There’s no doubt you need to be highly motivated to succeed, but the course schedule fits very well into busy lives. I should know – my son was born and I got married while taking these courses!

Rune: Supervising Advanced Diploma dissertations is about focusing on writing and research. After the student sends me a draft of their work, we spend around an hour and a half discussing it. We go through the arguments and ideas, consider how to present them in the most convincing way and plan for the next leg of research.

As Andrew already had extensive knowledge of machine learning, we could concentrate on exploring the philosophical issues it raises. One thing that makes supervising ICE students particularly exciting is that they typically come with great experience from outside academia which informs their research. Andrew’s dissertation raised important and original criticisms of current approaches to making machine learning systems more explainable. I learned a lot myself.

The first year of the Advanced Diploma develops skills and ideas before tackling the dissertation in the second year. This makes the writing process more focused and gives students time to explore their ideas in greater depth than is typically possible within a traditional undergraduate course.

Learn more

Find out more about the Advanced Diploma in Research Theory and Practice

Find out more about the Advanced Diploma in Research in the Arts or Science.


This article was originally published in our Long-Vacation - Michaelmas issue of Inside ICE.

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