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Student Profiles

David Frenk

David studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics, one of the joint schools available at Oxford (along with Philosophy and French/German, Philosophy and Mathematics, Philosophy and Physics and Philosophy, Psychology and Physiology). He grew up in Durham, and attended Newcastle Royal Grammar School. Out of a number of possible options for university degree, he eventually settled on PPE.

"Choosing a degree subject is not an easy process, especially if your interests are wide and varied. PPE is ideal for those who want to hold on to as many of those interests as possible. Each subject offers something different, but at the same time the three branches support one another, so the degree retains its focus.

While each of the three parts of the degree offers its own benefits, the one in which I have personally flourished the most is Philosophy. I didn’t expect that when I first arrived: I chose the degree largely because it allowed me to study Economics without having to drop my other interests. I soon came to realize, however, that the subjects you study at university are very different from the subjects you study at school, even when they have the same name. After my first year, my eyes had been well and truly opened to what Philosophy had to offer, and that became my focus.

The great thing about PPE is that it gives you that option. If you are a person with broad social interests, you can come to Oxford and study three of the most essential approaches to the study of human interaction. Once you have become involved with all three, you can decide which you are most suited to, and focus on your specific areas of interest. Most people will continue with two of the three after their first year, although there is the option to pursue all three branches. The most important thing I learned in my first year here was that you can’t know what a subject will be like before you’ve studied it. With PPE, you can sample three separate subjects before making an informed choice which of the three you want to focus on.

You shouldn’t choose PPE just because you liked Economics, Politics or Philosophy at school; you shouldn’t choose it just because you like dealing with abstract ideas, or on the other hand, because you like dealing with concrete, real-life situations. The course can cater for a variety of tastes in that regard. The crucial requirement is that you want to learn more about the way the world works. You must have a desire to better understand human interaction and the structures and institutions that make our life the way it is.

In short, you have to want to know:

  • How do we live, and why?
  • Is it really the best way to live?
  • If not, how should we go about changing it?

In terms of career prospects, PPE is one of the best courses you can choose. I’m off to become a strategy consultant for governments of developing nations (I get to save the world and get rich at the same time!), and my friends are doing all sorts of different things, from politics to banking, social work, academia, journalism…anything, really. If you want to make money, you can make money – and lots of it. If you want to make a social impact, you can do that too. And if you’re really lucky, like I was, you’ll find a job that lets you do both.

Choosing a career can be even harder than choosing a degree course. Whichever route you wish to pursue, PPE will stand you in good stead to fulfill your true potential and realize your ambitions. More importantly, however, it will leave you better informed to make that choice in the first place. After three years of PPE, you will have a much better impression of what you want to do with your life, and you will be able to channel that curiosity and desire to succeed at something into a concrete path for you to pursue."

Jason Gerlis

Jason grew up in east London and attended Bancroft’s School in Woodford Green, Essex. He chose to study Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Oxford University in 2003.

"A joint honours degree made sense to me as I thought it would offer flexibility and scope in my study and PPE certainly has not disappointed in this respect. The degree offers students a huge range of options which allow us to actually direct our degree as we wish. There are necessary core modules in each discipline but after these I have been able to choose the courses which really interest me and have therefore always felt in control of the path which my degree has taken.

Politics, Philosophy and Economics are three subjects which pervade every aspect of modern life, and the extent to which their study complements one another becomes more apparent the further I progress. During the first year of the degree we were given preliminary courses in each of the fields, after which most people continue bipartite into their second year. I decided to not continue with Politics because Economics and Philosophy, in particular, had begun to absorb all of my attention. Although an unusual choice I’ve found Economics and Philosophy to be a very pleasurable combination for my studies. The two subjects require of the student rather different talents, with Economics demanding a confident grasp of Quantitative Methods and the application of theory into real world situations, whilst Philosophy invites one to enquire into the reasons for seemingly intuitive beliefs and challenges the way we think about accepted ideas. The two subjects do however both require of the individual a similar method of thought, with each discipline rewarding the student for the formulation of coherent, logical arguments and the sort of lateral thinking which allows one to adopt various perspectives during one’s enquiry.

The course will appeal to those prospective students who have a serious curiosity into what drives humanity, and who would like to better understand not only how we live and think, but why. There is a staggering range of different personalities within the course from the contemplative, ethereal thinking Philosophers to the most analytical Economist, but the one thing that all PPEists have in common is the desire to understand the private, social and commercial interactions between people, and perhaps eventually to even differentiate between which sort of action or type of thought is the “right” way to live one’s life.

The one thing that a PPE course doesn’t do is limit your post degree options. From GCSE onwards it had always seemed to me that I was narrowing my focus, taking on fewer fields of study and closing doors to possible future career paths as I progressed. Politics, Philosophy and Economics however is centered more on training students how to think than on just teaching them a set of facts, and this has far reaching implications for post graduate employment. The ability to think analytically, laterally and coherently is a talent that, when well developed, lends itself to any profession. This is reflected by the huge variety of fields which PPEists enter on the completion of their degree from Politics to investment banking or journalism, as employers appreciate the discipline and breadth of understanding which this course engenders in those who are lucky enough to study it.

I honestly believe that I am gaining more from the course than vocationally applicable skills, Philosophy teaches you about life and although there are no easy answers on how one should live it certainly teaches you to start asking the right questions. In doing so I have begun to find out what is important to me in my life, and where I should be concentrating my efforts in the future. I feel lucky to have been able to study a degree which I have found so enjoyable, and which has given me the opportunity to develop to the point that I now look forward to the challenge of life after university!"

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