Class Notes

Carpe diem – from finance and fashion to a love of Greek and Latin

Brenda McDonald (MA Classics, 1998)

From accounts clerk to Classics teacher and self-employed life coach, alumna Brenda McDonald (MA Classics, 1998) has enjoyed an eclectic career. Here, we delve into Brenda’s love of the ancient world, discover how she found her modus operandi at King’s and share some words of wisdom from Brenda to fellow life-long learners pursuing a similar path.

After 10 years in the finance side of the fashion industry, Brenda realised she wanted to follow a different path. She explains: ‘It was not an obvious choice for me to study Classics, as I had not learned Latin or Greek at school, but something drew me to the study of the ancient world, and it changed my life.’

A classical education at King’s

Brenda’s first experience of King’s was while studying for her master’s in Classics (1997–98). Although enrolled at Royal Holloway, she was required to take one module at another London University College (now University of London). She recalls how she ‘jumped at the chance to study Theory of Literature under Professor Michael Silk (Emeritus Professor of Classical & Comparative Literature),’ a celebrated professor who inspired students with his expertise in Greek poetry and drama and Literary Theory for over 50 years. Brenda described her experience of being taught by Professor Silk as ‘challenging but inspirational’ and notes that she has kept her essays to this day.

While studying, Brenda pondered whether to continue with a PhD or to focus on a career. Despite being offered a British Academy Award for a doctorate, she opted for teacher training and King’s offered a PGCE in Classics, a decision she has never regretted.

Never stop learning

Brenda’s other qualifications include three more A-levels, another BA with the Open University and, most recently, a post-graduate certificate in Coaching Psychology from Birkbeck. Next, she would like to learn either BSL or Irish – or maybe both! She tells us: ‘King’s College has had a significant influence on my journey. As a late starter in education (I did not excel at school!), I have developed a love of life-long learning. I am a firm believer in learning for its own sake and I would always encourage students to study what interests them, not just what they think will be useful to them. Learning is open-ended, and there is always more to explore.’

A very eclectic CV

Brenda’s career path from accounts clerk to Classics teacher and now as a self-employed life coach and charity trustee has been fuelled by intellectual curiosity. Although her different careers were not planned, she explains that ‘the transitions seemed natural as I gained confidence and validation from my academic studies along the way’.

Brenda’s advice to others pursuing a similar career path? Always be curious, be brave and have a plan B. It’s never too late to make a change.