For Eric Jay Dolin PhD ’95 (above), the road to earning a PhD was tricky. He realized while working on his degree requirements and dissertation that he wanted to be a writer, not a professor. “My dissertation was on the Boston Harbor and the role of the courts in the cleanup,” he says. “But my draft of the first few chapters turned out to be a 500-page narrative history.”
The realization didn’t come as a huge shock. From an early age, Dolin wrote about things he was passionate about—including a 140-page paper in high school on the mollusks of Long Island Sound. He explored marine biology and environmental policy, getting his bachelor’s in biology and environmental studies from Brown University and his master’s in environmental management at Yale before earning his PhD in environmental policy and planning at MIT. Since then, he has published four books that focus on history and nature.
I guess I’m a poster boy for pursuing your passions.
The book that solidified his writing career was Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America. Selected as one of the best nonfiction books of 2007 by the Los Angeles Times, the Boston Globe, and the Providence Journal, Leviathan was also chosen by Amazon.com’s editors as one of the 10 best history books of 2007. “Leviathan is my favorite because it’s the one that enabled me to make the jump to becoming a full-time writer,” says Dolin.
His three other books explored the fur trade, China, and lighthouses; a book on pirates is due out in September 2018. “For almost every single one of my books I essentially knew little or nothing about the topic before I started,” he says. In the end, his books are geared toward people like him: generalists.
“I’m not a trained writer, although I am a writer, and I’m not a trained historian, although people call me a historian because I write books about history,” he says. “I guess I’m a poster boy for pursuing your passions.”
Dolin’s work has received many accolades, including the John Lyman Book Award, the James P. Hanlan Book Award, and gold, silver, and bronze medals from the Independent Publisher Book Awards. “I’m happy that my books have been well reviewed and won awards,” he says. “But the most heartening to me is the feedback from readers who really like my books.”
Dolin and his wife, Jennifer, and their two children live in Marblehead, Massachusetts.
First published in the January-February issue of MIT Technology Review.
At Birkbeck, almost all of our courses are taught in the evening and our teaching is designed to support students who are juggling evening study with work and other daytime commitments. We actively encourage innovative and engaging ways of teaching, to ensure our students have the best learning experience. In the 2017 Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), the government’s system for rating university teaching, Birkbeck was allocated a Silver award.
Teaching may include formal lectures, seminars, and practical classes and tutorials. Formal lectures are used in most degree programmes to give an overview of a particular field of study. They aim to provide the stimulus and the starting point for deeper exploration of the subject during your own personal reading. Seminars give you the chance to explore a specific aspect of your subject in depth and to discuss and exchange ideas with fellow students. They typically require preparatory study.
Our distance-learning and blended-learning courses and modules are self-directed and we will provide you with interactive learning opportunities and encourage you to collaborate and engage via various learning technologies. These courses involve limited or no face-to-face contact between students and module tutors.
In addition, you will have access to pastoral support via a named Personal Tutor.
Methods of teaching on this course
We use a variety of formal and informal teaching methods, including lectures, seminars, workshops, gallery visits, group and individual tutorials, and field trips.
Gallery and museum visits, attached to particular modules, mostly take place during weekends, in term time. Some of these are self-guided, while others are tutor led. There is also an annual History of Art study trip abroad (this has been to Rome, Paris and Berlin in recent years) during the Easter break.
Find out more about the teaching staff for this course.
On our taught courses, you will have scheduled teaching and study sessions each year. Alongside this, you will also undertake assessment activities and independent learning outside of class. Depending on the modules you take, you may also have additional scheduled academic activities, such as tutorials, dissertation supervision, practical classes, visits and fieldtrips.
On our taught courses, the actual amount of time you spend in the classroom and in contact with your lecturers will depend on your course, the option modules you select and when you undertake your final-year project.
On our distance-learning and blended-learning courses, discussion, collaboration and interaction with your lecturers and fellow students are encouraged and enabled through various learning technologies, but you may have limited or no face-to-face contact with your module tutors.
Indicative class size
Class sizes vary, depending on your course, the module you are undertaking, and the method of teaching. For example, lectures are presented to larger groups, whereas seminars usually consist of small, interactive groups led by a tutor.
On our taught courses, much of your time outside of class will be spent on self-directed, independent learning, including preparing for classes and following up afterwards. This will usually include, but is not limited to, reading books and journal articles, undertaking research, working on coursework and assignments, and preparing for presentations and assessments.
Independent learning is absolutely vital to your success as a student. Everyone is different, and the study time required varies topic by topic, but, as a guide, expect to schedule up to five hours of self-study for each hour of teaching.
On our distance-learning and blended-learning courses, the emphasis is very much on independent, self-directed learning and you will be expected to manage your own learning, with the support of your module tutors and various learning technologies.
Study skills and additional support
Birkbeck offers study and learning support to undergraduate and postgraduate students to help them succeed. Our Learning Development Service can help you in the following areas:
- academic skills (including planning your workload, research, writing, exam preparation and writing a dissertation)
- written English (including structure, punctuation and grammar)
- numerical skills (basic mathematics and statistics).
Our Disability and Dyslexia Service can support you if you have additional learning needs resulting from a disability or from dyslexia.
Our Counselling Service can support you if you are struggling with emotional or psychological difficulties during your studies.
Our Mental Health Advisory Service can support you if you are experiencing short- or long-term mental health difficulties during your studies.
Assessment is an integral part of your university studies and usually consists of a combination of coursework and examinations, although this will vary from course to course - on some of our courses, assessment is entirely by coursework. The methods of assessment on this course are specified below under 'Methods of assessment on this course'. You will need to allow time to complete coursework and prepare for exams.
Where a course has unseen written examinations, these may be held termly, but, on the majority of our courses, exams are usually taken in the Summer term, during May to June. Exams may be held at other times of the year as well. In most cases, exams are held during the day on a weekday - if you have daytime commitments, you will need to make arrangements for daytime attendance - but some exams are held in the evening. Exam timetables are published online.
Find out more about assessment at Birkbeck, including guidance on assessment, feedback and our assessment offences policy.
Methods of assessment on this course
Our assessment methods are equally varied, ranging from essays and examinations to research portfolios and oral presentations, so as to develop a range of subject-specific and transferable skills. The programme culminates in a 10,000-word dissertation on a chosen topic.
All our classes are held in the evening, to enable you to continue your career - or gain valuable intern or work experience - during the day.
Breakdown of assessment on this course
The balance of assessment by examination and assessment by coursework will often depend on the option modules you choose. The approximate percentages for this course are as follows:
|Year||% Exams||% Practical||% Coursework|