Graduate Profile: Jack Saxelby-Smith

“My lecturers were all very supportive, both in the classroom and out, and were extremely effective in making students feel comfortable to take on new challenges and extend our capabilities.”

Kent’s Religious Studies staff are committed to helping you to succeed in your studies and your development throughout your degree. Jack Saxelby-Smith graduated in 2021 with a first class honours. After initially planning to become a teacher, he is now continuing his studies with a postgraduate degree. Read on to learn about Jack’s experience at Kent learning with SpLD (specific learning difficulties) and how he benefited from the 1:1 support of his lecturers and the Student Support and Wellbeing team.

What are you doing now?

I am currently at the University of Edinburgh, doing an MSc in Religious Studies

What attracted you to your course, and to Kent?

When I came across Kent’s Religious Studies programme, it seemed to strike a very unique and intriguing balance between religious studies and Asian studies, which suited my interests best. Although religious studies is often associated with the study of world religions alone, what attracted me to this course was the wide range of possibilities in terms of study that far exceed these expectations. The course description highlighted its aims to expose students to many areas surrounding cultures and traditions more broadly, including non-religious views too. For me, this very objective and open-ended approach to the field was a key reason for applying.

When visiting one of Kent’s open days, I really loved the campus, especially the University’s library, which is hard to compare to any others!

Which aspects of your degree did you enjoy the most, and why?

The degree was full of surprises in terms of content, constantly challenging my ways of thinking and exposing me to new ideas. Modules such as Religion and Japanese Culture and Themes in the Study of Asia were standout courses for me, and often provided great discussions and insights during seminars. These modules exposed me to content that I had least expected, such as Indian poetry for example, which was very exciting and fulfilling academically.

What impressed you most about our academic staff?

I was blown away by the ability of lecturer’s to craft together such insightful modules so precisely and objectively. Each one became a kind of chapter in my intellectual pursuits, many of which have stuck with me.

My lecturers were all very supportive too, both in the classroom and out, and were extremely effective in making students feel comfortable to take on new challenges and extend our capabilities.

As a student with SpLD (special learning difficulties), I often require 1:1 support and guidance on particular areas of study or coursework, and all my lecturers at Kent were very accommodating of this and always able to help out when I felt I needed it. Lecturers such as Dr Nicole Graham made note of any students with an ILP (inclusive learning plan) such as myself, and actively reached out to me as a line of support before modules began. This kind of support from academic staff was extremely useful to have throughout my studies.

Which skills/knowledge did you learn on your course that you use most now in your career?

Frequent writing of essays meant I was able to enhance my comparative and analytical skills substantially. This has helped me greatly during my postgraduate studies thus far. I have also been able to utilise much of the knowledge I gained through particular modules for relevant discussions and assignments.

More general and transferable skills that I took from studying the degree, such as the ability to organise and communicate, are also extremely useful for me now. Seemingly more simple tasks, such as being on top of deadlines and planning ahead of time, or being proactive in communicating with the relevant staff members with regard to SpLD, are skills that took a great deal of practice during my studies, but have shown to be incredibly valuable in hindsight.

Could you describe a typical day in your current studies?

Very much the same as during my degree! I’ll usually attend a lecture or seminar, followed by some time in the library to work on any upcoming assignments, or do some reading for the following days.

What are your future plans/aspirations?

Initially, I was set on doing a PGCE following my MSc, in order to become a teacher in Religious Studies at secondary school level. I absolutely love the field of study, and feel like it has so much more to offer students at the school level. However, my most recent studies have inspired me to look into taking on a PhD in the field. So, I will have to get back to you on that one!

What is your favourite memory of Kent?

I have many fond memories at Kent, so it’s hard to choose. I loved doing a seminar on Indian poetry and nationalism. It completely took me by surprise. I never would have guessed I’d be learning how to read and analyse poetry when applying for my course, especially within such an interesting context. It was an extremely rewarding experience to engage with that material.

What advice would you give to somebody thinking of coming to Kent?

If you are someone with any kind of SpLD, take advantage of the support available to you at Kent and through student finance as early as possible. It can be quite a long process, depending on your needs, and so is worth sorting before your studies begin, if you can.

Getting support for my dyslexia was the most important decision I made during the course of my degree, and I wish I had done it sooner. If it wasn’t for my support tutor Sue Jupp, and indeed DSA supplying me with the necessary equipment and assessment for my SpLD, I would not have been able to do the degree to the best of my abilities. I owe it to them!

Also, make friends with your course mates, and start a society! It was very rewarding to discuss topics with others on my course, outside of the classroom. Some of the students in my year formed a Religious Studies Society, which was a great way to achieve this, and get to know people with similar interests.

How would you describe your time at Kent in three words?

Inspiring, surprising, fulfilling

Are you currently working on any interesting projects that you would like to tell us a bit more about?

I am currently looking into the connections between contemplative practices of particular cultures, traditions and religions, with SpLD’s, and analysing the various benefits and issues associated with this connection.

I am also starting a podcast with a current coursemate, where we are talking about religion in films!

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