Class of 2018: Great Scott - a mind like no other

Anas Mahmoud Ahmed Disi

Published on 30 November 2018

Scoring a record 98 per cent for his dissertation, Anas Mahmoud Ahmed Disi graduates this week from his English Master’s degree, picking up the Sir Walter Scott Prize for Best MA English Studies Student and leaving an incredible impression on his academics and peers.

“We’ve never had a student like Anas before, he just blew us away with his lateral thinking,” said his academic supervisor Dr Alison Younger, adding: “he has the kind of mind that allowed him to take huge imaginative leaps, he has such a passionate love of Literature and engaged in every aspect of the course.

“When it came to grading his dissertation, we spent hours scrutinising the work thinking we must be missing something, to see a piece of work of this standard which is nearly flawless and work we’d expect to see written by an experienced Emiterus Professor. Even the External Examiner was aghast when she read the quality of work he’d produced and couldn’t disagree with the marking.”

The 23-year-old Palestinian, who hails from humble beginnings and was born on December 25 in historic Bethlehem, has now returned home to Amman, Jordan, working as an academic co-ordinator at a private language centre. He hopes to further develop his professional career in teaching and research and commence a PhD that builds on the work from his MA, as he aspires to become a literary critic and professor.

Despite missing his graduation ceremony at the Stadium of Light and not collecting his award in person, Anas said: “I feel honoured. Being awarded this prize was not only a personal milestone, but also a feat of pride for my family and the many beautiful friends who supported me enough to finish the dissertation in the form it was submitted. It was their unwavering support that led me here.”

The dissertation for which he received his outstanding grading was a critical study between two schools of social and literary analysis – Marxist Theory and Postcolonial Theory. Asked why he was marked down two points, Alison Younger, Senior Lecturer in English, explained: “We marked him down by two per cent, simply on the grounds we thought that if he’d really wanted to push the boundaries he would have included one more critic. It certainly did not diminish his work however!

“His dissertation used post-colonial theory and Marxist theory to critique each other and was a massively philosophical discussion. We teach our students both of  these theories on the course that should give them the skills to go ahead and write a dissertation using one of them, but Anas took it one step further and used them both to critique the other. We would encourage him to put it forward for publication, it’s certainly worthy.”

Asked about his university life and living in Sunderland, Anas said: “It’s been an enjoyable experience; what I liked most was the availability, ingenuity and steadfast support we as students received from the academic staff. I got involved in a lot of activities among them the Sunderland Literature Festival, the public reading of Spectral Visions literary works and visiting a lecture on Bram Stoker by Bram Stoker’s descendent in Newcastle.”

Anas, also proved during his time in Sunderland that, as well as his famous birthday, he demonstrated his very own spirit of goodwill during last year’s festive season when he hosted a charity collection of provisions from students for a Christmas foodbank, instead of paying for their secret Santa tradition. His own family back home in Jordan even sent money to buy food for the cause.

He added: “I also had my first Christmas dinner ever at a classmate’s house…and it was marvellous!”

Head of the School of Culture at the University of Sunderland, Steve Watts, collected the Sir Walter Scott Prize on Anas’s behalf, during the Winter Graduation Ceremonies at the Stadium of Light. The prize was presented by Dr Malcolm Morrison, an Associate of Abbotsford the home of Walter Scott near Melrose in the Scottish Borders.

Student Profile: Anas Disi

Fresh from being awarded his Literature degree in Jordan, and teaching English as a second language to students, Anas wanted to further his academic research and chose the Masters in English at the University of Sunderland due to its reputation and the available literature modules he was interested in most.

The 23-year-old Palestinian, from Amman, Jordan, said: “Studying at the University of Sunderland was an enjoyable experience. The thing I liked most about the university was the availability, ingenuity, and steadfast support we as students received from the academic staff; we were also encouraged and free to let our curiosity and creativity take over, so long as we could do it with academic precision. Special thanks to the lecturers Colin Younger, Alison Younger, Peter Dempsey, and Geoff Nash, all of whom have sparked my interest in distinct research areas I hadn’t quite expected!”

Throughout his course, Anas proved himself to be an outstanding student, which led to him achieving the highest mark ever awarded to a student graduating from an English course at Sunderland.

Scoring a record 98 per cent for his dissertation, Anas graduated from his course, picking up the Sir Walter Scott Prize for Best MA English Studies Student.

He said: “I felt very honoured and pleasantly surprised. To me, being awarded this prize was not only a personal milestone, but also a feat of pride for my family and the many beautiful friends who supported me enough to finish the dissertation in the form it was submitted. It was their unwavering support that led me here.” 

“It feels incredibly flattering and unimaginably honouring that the staff have spoken so highly of my work. I am extremely thankful for my lecturers’ excellent facilitation and development of my abilities. The main reason I have an undying passion for literary criticism and social research is the dire and underestimated need we have of it in achieving clarity and justice in a world where things are not always clear and just. Be it Shakespeare, Marx, Freud, or Einstein, they who can read into Literature can read into the world.”

Anas’s dissertation is a critical study of a decades’ long divide and exchange of criticism between two schools of social and literary analysis, Marxist Theory and Postcolonial Theory, spanning texts fromEdward Said’s 1978 book Orientalism, all the way to recent exchanges between the two schools in the last five years. He added: “A giant pile of theoretical texts, basically! Following my findings from and research into this exchange, I chose to defend Marxist Theory.” 

Now he has returned home to Jordan, what next for Anas? 

“I am taking a couple of years to further develop my professional experience in teaching and research, then hopefully continuing with a PhD which builds upon my work in this MA. I aspire to become a Literary Critic and full Professor one day. Currently, I am an Academic Coordinator at a private language centre.”

What is his advice to students just beginning their University journey at Sunderland? 

“Don’t stress out, it’s not as scary as the Internet might tell you,” he said. “Debate any interesting thoughts you have in class with your tutors before they’re even on a draft paper, it helps you develop them, helps you think. Eat your three meals a day. Stock up on coffee. Go out, walk, and air-drum to music when it’s a headlock. Enjoy the ride!”