Alex Heavens has always been fascinated by history and the ancient world. He grew up listening to audiobooks of the Iliad and the Odyssey, and taught himself Latin and ancient Greek while doing his A-levels. His passion propelled him to Reading to study BA Classics.
"I had a fantastic time studying classics at Reading. The course offered a wide range of modules, so I took subjects I hadn't done before to broaden my knowledge, before narrowing my interests as I progressed through my degree.
"The lecturers are brilliant experts in a variety of fields, and very supportive. I also went on the study trip abroad in my second year to Athens; this was a brilliant experience which enabled me to see the amazing places I was studying and meet other people on my course.
"I came to Reading loving classics and graduated loving it even more – so much so that I went onto do a master's."
Love of language
Alex motivated himself to learn Latin and ancient Greek during school, and seized the opportunity to build on his knowledge at university:
"I loved my Latin classes! I decided to study BA Classics, rather than Classical Studies or Ancient History, because of my love for the ancient languages. We worked through difficult texts together as a class, which offered opportunities for discussion and additional one-to-one tuition was also available.
"Learning an ancient language and studying texts that are millennia old is challenging both linguistically and intellectually, but I received plenty of support from my lecturers.
"While studying the ancient languages I found myself interested in poetry as well, which inspired my dissertation on Latin and Greek words for sin to the 4th century AD. I still enjoy reading poetry from that era.
"Studying these ancient languages set me up to learn other languages as well – I now read in Italian and am learning French. I also took language-inspired modules outside of the Classics Department, for example French Cinema. This module was all about culture and analysing materials, which was extremely complimentary to my Classical studies."
Alex applied to take part in the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme (UROP) and was successful:
"UROP was a six-week paid placement, which I did over the summer between my second and third year of study: I worked closely with an academic to research how modern linguistics could be applied to ancient language.
"I conducted independent research on a volume of about 2,000 Latin poems and analysed each of them in terms of their politeness and how they asked people to do things.
"This was fascinating to read because it was a niche subject which isn't often looked at, especially at undergraduate level, and was cutting-edge research in the field.
"My research was combined with the academic's research and formed the basis of a co-authored article. I also presented the results of our research at the British Conference of Undergraduate Research (BCUR) which was a great experience.
"This scheme is really wonderful, and offers students a valuable insight into an academic career. It taught me how to be self-reliant, self-motivated and how to work at a higher academic standard. This experience taught me to be a better scholar, and inspired me to go on to do a master's and perhaps even a PhD in the future."
Alex credits the staff at Reading with creating such a friendly and supportive environment within the Department of Classics.
"The real asset and the number one strength of the Department for me is the approachability of the staff. These people are leading experts in their fields yet their doors are always open for discussion – something I really benefited from.
Whenever I felt my understanding wasn’t quite there, I always knew I could reach out for help and I could get it. It really made me feel welcome in the Department. Something I remember very fondly."
Soon after graduation, Alex began working at the University of Reading, utilising the many transferable skills a classics degree teaches you.
"Classics teaches you skills and knowledge in many different areas – you learn to understand culture and philosophy, how other disciplines interconnect, how to consider other perspectives, how to analyse critically, how to write well in an engaging manner, as well as self-motivation, organisation and time-management skills."
Working in the alumni office for three years, Alex was responsible for keeping in touch with graduates.
"It was really interesting to work at the University where I previously studied and to see it from another perspective. Speaking to classics graduates I found it very encouraging to see the diverse career destinations that a degree in classics can lead you to. Be it finance, publishing or politics.
"What I also found very touching was the pride that Reading classics graduates have of their time. I realised my experience and the things I took away and really enjoyed were not unique to me. There are decades of graduates who have the same warmth towards the Department."
Alex now works as a Development Coordinator in the Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences Division at the University of Oxford.
"I guess the big thing is making sense of complex information and making it accessible for non-specialists. I did this a lot in my degree and I do it all the time when I’m reading scientific papers and talking to scientists about raising money for their projects.
"Classics is pretty broad, so you have to be comfortable working in lots of different disciplines – language, philosophy, history etc. It teaches you to be flexible and a fast learner. That and all the time and project management skills that are crucial for working, are nice indirect things taught as part of the degree. "