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david__sutherland-2david__sutherland1David Sutherland

MA in European History

Gained an MSc Bioinformatics with Systems Biology (distinction) November 2012 having graduated with a BA German (First) in July 2007 and completed a Creative Writing module, 2013

David Sutherland already had three degrees – two from Dundee and one from Queen Mary – when he started studying at Birkbeck.  He has since added another two, both from Birkbeck, and is now studying for an MA European History.  Aged 66, he has also recently translated a book, The Kaiser’s Reluctant Conscript, from German into English.

'I failed the Scottish 11+ – and that was a great motivator! Although I was let through on appeal I think I set out to prove everyone wrong – I certainly didn’t go straight through the system.

'I studied Physics at my local university, Dundee, and stayed to do a PhD. I saw myself becoming a physicist, but became very interested in IT, then in its very early stages. I decided that was what I wanted to do and went to work for ICL [International Computers Ltd, now Fujitsu].

'I might have stayed in that job for life but I wanted to go to Germany. In the post-war years my school had actively encouraged pupils to think about reconciliation with Germany – we were taught German, rather than French, and I went on a German school exchange. My grandfather fought in the trenches in the First World War and my father was in the army in the Second World War. Given the changed circumstances it seemed worthwhile to live in Germany and help bury past differences.'

David went to work for ICL in Germany at the European Space Agency, and continued to work for them in Stuttgart and Nuremberg, before being headhunted to work for a well-known retailer in Switzerland.  He became head of IT for his company but, after a bypass operation, was given early retirement in 2001.

'I came back to Britain and discovered my IT qualifications were not considered up to date. So I did a Masters in Internet Technology at Queen Mary in 2002 and worked as a designer/developer until 2009. I might not have pursued my interest in German but for my brother in law, who suggested doing a BA in German at Birkbeck. After finishing a day’s work, I would head down to Birkbeck for the evening. I enjoyed the social environment and the opportunity to develop my reading. It was fascinating and great fun.  Now I’m doing a Master’s in European History!

The Kaiser’s Reluctant Conscript

'At the end of 2009 I was made redundant. After that, I felt I needed a break from IT and wondered what I could do. While I was studying for my German degree at Birkbeck I had read a book by a young German soldier, Dominik Richert, which told of his experiences during the First World War. At that time I thought it was strange that it hadn’t been translated as I felt that it was a book British people should read. Now I had the time and the motivation to translate it and give it the attention it deserved.

'It is the story of someone who didn’t want to go to war. When the war broke out, his father advised him never to volunteer for anything! He came from Alsace, and did what he had to do to survive. He eventually crossed no-man’s land in 1918, surrendering to the French and returned to his home town – now a part of France – in 1919.  He thought of deserting earlier, when he was on the Eastern Front, but he didn’t trust the Russians.

'The book was written in the 1920s and a copy of the text was found in a military archive by someone studying for a PhD in modern German history in the 1980s. It was published in German in 1988. Because of local interest in Alsace, it was subsequently translated and published in French.

'I translated part of it and sent it to the book’s German editors, who were very enthusiastic and put me in touch with Dominik’s son, Ulrich Richert, who is now in his 90s. We corresponded and we were able to clear the book for publication in English.

'The task of translation took about six months, and my wife gave me helpful editorial advice. The German edition stops when Richert deserted to the French, but the actual narrative goes on for other 50 or so pages. Ulrich Richert kindly sent me the original typescript and I was able to produce a complete translation.

'It has been a tremendously interesting project and I’m delighted that the book has now been published by military publishers Pen & Sword. I believe it’s a real contribution to understanding how people felt at that time in Germany.  It helps us to see that in the First World War ordinary soldiers on both sides had very similar experiences.’

Studying for an MSc in Bioinformatics

'When I was working for my Physics PhD some of my fellow-students were working on the application of Crystallography to Biology – but, for me, this was the road not taken!  So, when I had finished the translation, I decided I wanted to build on my IT skills and my science background to try to do something new – I was getting a bit bored and had nothing to keep me busy.  So I decided to study for a Master’s in Bioinformatics. I had enough knowledge of Chemistry and Physics to get started, but I didn’t feel very confident, going back to science after nearly forty years. I am pleased to say that Birkbeck was positive and encouraging.

'Bioinformatics is IT applied to Biology. The big area is DNA and you can’t deal with DNA without using a computer. I may be retired and in my 60s but I have something to offer, and studying is much better for me than volunteering in a charity shop!  It means I can draw on my past experience to make a personal contribution.

Studying at Birkbeck

'At Birkbeck, whatever your age or background you are accepted. All age groups are represented.  It is stimulating and a means of meeting people who share your interests. It is unlike any other university I have ever been to.'

'When I was an undergraduate, our professor said it was much more interesting for the teaching staff after the war, because mature people came to university who wouldn’t take no for an answer.  I got that at Birkbeck.  Here you get a wide range of intelligent people who want to do well. People try to relate to each other.’


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'At Birkbeck, whatever your age or background you are accepted. All age groups are represented.'


MA dans l'histoire européenne

Acquise une Bioinformatics MSc avec la biologie des systèmes (distinction) Novembre 2012 après avoir obtenu un BA allemand (d'abord) en Juillet 2007 et complété un module de création littéraire 2013

David Sutherland avait déjà trois degrés – deux de Dundee et un de Queen Mary – quand il a commencé à étudier à Birkbeck. Depuis, il a ajouté deux autres, tous deux de Birkbeck, et est en train d'étudier pour une maîtrise d'histoire européenne. Agé de 66 ans, il a également récemment traduit un livre, Reluctant Conscrit du Kaiser, de l'allemand vers l'anglais.

«J'échoué l'11+ écossais – et qui a été une grande source de motivation! Bien que je suis laissé passer en appel, je pense que je suis parti pour prouver tout le monde mal – je ne vais certainement pas tout droit à travers le système.

«J'ai étudié la physique à mon université locale, Dundee, et est resté à faire un doctorat. Je me voyais devenir un physicien, mais il est devenu très intéressé par l'informatique, puis dans ses premiers stades. Je décidai que était ce que je voulais faire et suis allé travailler pour ICL [International Computers Ltd, maintenant Fujitsu].

«Je pourrais avoir séjourné dans cet emploi pour la vie, mais je voulais aller en Allemagne. Dans les années d'après-guerre mon école avait activement encouragé les élèves à réfléchir à la réconciliation avec l'Allemagne – on nous a appris l'allemand, plutôt que le français, et je suis allé à une bourse de l'école allemande. Mon grand-père a combattu dans les tranchées de la Première Guerre mondiale et mon père était dans l'armée pendant la Seconde Guerre mondiale. Compte tenu de l'évolution des circonstances, il semblait intéressant de vivre en Allemagne et aider à enterrer les différences passées.

David est allé travailler pour ICL en Allemagne à l'Agence spatiale européenne, et a continué à travailler pour eux à Stuttgart et Nuremberg, avant d'être pressenti pour travailler pour un détaillant bien connu en Suisse. Il est devenu chef de l'IT pour son entreprise, mais, après une opération de dérivation, a été donné une retraite anticipée en 2001.

«Je suis revenu à la Grande-Bretagne et a découvert mes qualifications informatiques ne sont pas considérés à jour. Donc je l'ai fait une maîtrise en technologie Internet à Queen Mary en 2002 et a travaillé en tant que concepteur / développeur jusqu'en 2009. Je ne pourrais pas avoir poursuivi mon intérêt pour l'allemand, mais pour mon beau-frère, qui a suggéré de faire un BA en allemand à Birkbeck. Après avoir terminé le travail d'un jour, je voudrais descendre au Birkbeck pour la soirée. J'ai apprécié l'environnement social et la possibilité de développer ma lecture. Il était fascinant et très amusant. Maintenant, je fais une maîtrise en histoire de l'Europe!

Reluctant Conscrit du Kaiser

«À la fin de 2009, je suis devenu redondant. Après cela, je sentais que je besoin d'une pause de IT et je me demandais ce que je pouvais faire. Alors que je préparais mon diplôme allemand à Birkbeck j'avais lu un livre d'un jeune soldat allemand, Dominik Richert, qui a dit de ses expériences au cours de la Première Guerre mondiale. A cette époque, je pensais qu'il était étrange que cela n'a pas été traduit comme je l'ai senti qu'il était un livre peuple britannique devrait lire. Maintenant, j'eu le temps et la motivation de le traduire et de lui donner l'attention qu'il méritait.

«Il est l'histoire de quelqu'un qui ne voulait pas aller à la guerre. Lorsque la guerre a éclaté, son père lui a conseillé de ne jamais porter volontaire pour quoi que ce soit! Il est venu d'Alsace, et fait ce qu'il avait à faire pour survivre. Il a finalement traversé la terre de no-man en 1918, cédant aux Français et est retourné à sa ville natale – maintenant une partie de la France – en 1919. Il pensait à déserter plus tôt, quand il était sur le front de l'Est, mais il n'a pas confiance les Russes.

«Le livre a été écrit dans les années 1920 et une copie du texte a été trouvé dans une archive militaire par quelqu'un étudier pour un doctorat en histoire allemande moderne dans les années 1980. Il a été publié en allemand en 1988. En raison de l'intérêt local en Alsace, il a ensuite été traduit et publié en français.

«Je traduisais partie et envoyé aux éditeurs allemands du livre, qui étaient très enthousiastes et me mis en contact avec le fils de Dominik, Ulrich Richert, qui est maintenant dans ses années 90. Nous avons correspondu et nous avons pu effacer le livre pour publication en anglais.

«La tâche de la traduction a pris environ six mois, et ma femme m'a donné des conseils utiles éditoriale. L'édition allemande arrête quand Richert désert aux Français, mais le récit réel se poursuit pour d'autres 50 ou de pages. Ulrich Richert m'a gentiment envoyé le tapuscrit original et j'ai été en mesure de produire une traduction complète.

«Il a été un projet extrêmement intéressant et je suis ravi que le livre a été publié par les éditeurs militaires Pen & Sword. Je crois qu'il est une réelle contribution à la compréhension de la façon dont les gens se sentaient à l'époque en Allemagne. Il nous aide à voir que dans les simples soldats de la Première Guerre mondiale sur les deux côtés ont eu des expériences très similaires. "

Étudier pour une maîtrise en bioinformatique

«Quand je travaillais pour mon physique PhD certains de mes camarades travaillaient sur l'application de la cristallographie à la biologie – mais, pour moi, ce fut la route non prise! Donc, quand j'avais terminé la traduction, j'ai décidé que je voulais construire sur mes compétences en informatique et ma formation scientifique pour essayer de faire quelque chose de nouveau – je recevais un peu ennuyé et n'a rien à me tenir occupé. Je décide donc d'étudier pour une maîtrise en bioinformatique. J'ai eu assez de connaissances de chimie et de physique pour commencer, mais je ne me sentais pas très confiant, pour revenir à la science après près de quarante ans. Je suis heureux de dire que Birkbeck était positive et encourageante.

«Bioinformatics est-elle appliquée à la biologie. La grande région est l'ADN et vous ne pouvez pas traiter avec de l'ADN sans utiliser un ordinateur. Je peux être à la retraite et dans mes 60 ans mais je dois quelque chose à offrir, et à étudier est beaucoup mieux pour moi que le bénévolat dans un magasin de charité! Cela signifie que je peux tirer sur mon expérience passée pour apporter une contribution personnelle.

Étudier à Birkbeck

«À Birkbeck, quel que soit votre âge ou votre fond vous êtes accepté. Tous les groupes d'âge sont représentés. Il est stimulant et un moyen de rencontrer des gens qui partagent vos intérêts. Il ne ressemble à aucune autre université que je connaisse.

«Quand je suis un étudiant, notre professeur a dit qu'il était beaucoup plus intéressant pour le personnel enseignant après la guerre, parce que les gens matures sont venus à l'université qui ne prendrait pas non pour une réponse. Je me suis qu'à Birkbeck. Ici, vous obtenez un large éventail de gens intelligents qui veulent bien faire. Les gens essaient de relier les uns aux autres. »

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«À Birkbeck, quel que soit votre âge ou votre fond vous êtes accepté. Tous les groupes d'âge sont représentés.

  • Surrey resident graduates with sixth university degree




Surrey resident graduates with sixth university degree

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A Surrey man claimed his sixth university degree this week when he accepted his Master’s in European History from Birkbeck.

On Tuesday (19 April), Dr David Sutherland took to the stage at the college’s formal ceremony in Senate House, Bloomsbury. The day marked the achievement of his third degree from Birkbeck, and his sixth overall, across an eclectic field of disciplines ranging from the physical sciences, to language and history.

The 69-year-old Limpsfield resident took his first step on the road to academic success in his native Scotland when he completed a BSc in Physics from the University of Dundee in 1969, followed in 1975 with a PhD in Physics. Well into his career in IT – working for the likes of ICL (now Fujitsu) at the European Space Agency – Dr Sutherland returned to his studies, attaining an MSc in Internet Technology from Queen Mary College in 2002.

From then, he began what is now a hat trick of degrees at Birkbeck – London’s only specialist provider of evening university study – graduating with a BA in German in 2007, and an MSc Bioinformatics in 2012.

Reflecting on his study experiences across the decades and this most recent degree – an MA in European History which he undertook part-time over two years ­– Dr Sutherland said the main difference is the “wide range of fellow students”.

He said: “In Dundee, I was with my peer group and there were very few ‘mature students’. In Queen Mary College I was very aware of being the oldest in the class. Birkbeck has people of all ages and backgrounds so it was easier for me, as an older student, to fit in. However, that is not to say the Birkbeck is only for older students, rather, it is for people of almost all age groups. I believe that this is good for both students and teachers.”

He said that although he initially underestimated the amount of effort required to do course work at postgraduate level, he was able to adjust to the pace.

He especially enjoyed researching and writing his dissertation, which focused on the Scottish Continental herring trade in the ‘long 19th Century’ – a topic which is linked to his family history.

He said: “My ancestors came from Wick in the North of Scotland, and it has been fascinating to find out how their livelihoods depended on a trade that extended far into continental Europe – to Vienna, Moscow, Romania, and even Odessa.”

During the process of writing the 15,674-word dissertation, he was delighted to discover how different the study of history has become thanks to the internet.

Dr David Sutherland

He said: “In particular, the availability of a wide range of government documents from the 19th century, and of newspapers from the same era, made it possible to gather information much more easily than would have been the case in the past. It is also much easier to collate information gathered in this way.”

This week, Dr Sutherland joined more than 150 fellow postgraduate students from the college’s School of Social Sciences, History and Philosophy at a morning graduation ceremony held in Senate House’s Beveridge Hall. He was joined on the day by his wife Sheila, who also graduated in the same ceremony with an MA in Comparative Literature.

Also in the audience was his brother-in-law John Walker, Reader in Reader in German Intellectual History at Birkbeck who first encouraged Dr Sutherland to enroll at the College.

In terms of his plans for the future, Dr Sutherland is now setting up a website based on his dissertation (

He said: “This website will not only tell the story, but will also present statistics from that period in graphical form. I am hopeful that it will stimulate further research. There has been a lot written about the Scottish side of the story, but this big, important industry would not have existed without logistics, traders and customers on the Continent.”

As something of an expert on the topic of undertaking a university degree, he had some words of encouragement:

“Study – at any age – can be both demanding and rewarding. Do not underestimate the effort. Plan ahead and do not leave everything to the last minute. You will get the greatest benefit from what you are studying if you attend regularly and participate in the work of the class. You will find that the lecturers are glad to help you, and often even a limited amount of guidance can go a long way. Most of all – enjoy what you do.”

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