Tag Archives: degree

10 ways you know you’re a final year arts student

19 Dec

Freshers’ week lasts forever…right?

I’ve made it halfway through my final year as a BA English and History student, and there’ve been many painful moments of realisation over the last few months. Despite my best attempts to keep the work-play mix in checks and balances, as I slump to the library for another daily grind I find myself lamenting the slow and painful death of my social life. Perhaps the saving grace stopping me from going completely mad is the fact that my course-mates seem to be going through the same thing. So here are ten symptoms well known to those battling through the final year of their arts degree:

You know exactly what you want to do after you graduate…just kidding
You’re really glad you chose an arts degree, because they have the best possible reputation for post-graduate employment, and you don’t know which job offer to accept next September. See you in Costa Coffee, future baristas.



Your social life has become that of an ageing bohemian
I never thought I’d go to a cheese and wine night until I was in my 30s, but arts students hold them regularly as a happy medium between a night on the town and a night on the sofa. Good food, great alcohol, even better company and none of the annoyances of jostling about in a sweaty nightclub with a bunch of strangers. It’s pretty em-mental. Sorry.



Someone just recalled the one library book you need over the Christmas holidays, and it caused you to have had an existential meltdown

But that’s the one book…what do they need it for…I can’t write my essay now…may as well not do it…why did I choose this degree…life is pointless.



You’ve finally given in to using a backpack daily

Remember that canvas tote bag that you used to use all the time? No, you probably don’t, because you ditched it in September when it became heavy enough to use as a hammer throw. Now you’ve succumbed to using your Roxy rucksack to carry your books to the library. Mum always did say something about comfort over style…


You’ve been studying so hard you forget which words are real- and invent your own

Last week, at the end of an eight hour library stint, I used the word ‘premacy’ in my essay, to discover that it is not a word, other than being the name for a Mazda minivan. Primacy is a word, as is pre-eminence, but premacy is definitely not a real word.

The Mazda Premacy is delightful but not what I need right now

You’re buying lined paper at an abnormal speed

I swear I bought a new pukka pad last week and I’m already making notes on scrap paper. Where did it go?!



You worry about your argument in your daily life

Not arguments with real people, oh no. But the argument you’re meant to be having with all of the scholars you’re citing in your latest essay. Is my argument strong enough? Should I side with Winthrop or Koritansky? What is the meaning of all this?

Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 18.21.48

You get the best ideas when you aren’t studying and write them all in your phone
No matter how long you spend in the library, you’ll get the best ideas for your work when you spend some time away from it. Then a ray of brilliance shines down on your thought process, and you’re on the toilet, or out with friends. Who are you texting? Myself, actually…


Your sense of humour revolves around ironic socio-cultural references

This probably explains the cheese and wine nights. Where else will we fit in?

Screen Shot 2014-12-19 at 08.47.30


You have dissertation complaint stand-offs with your course-mates

All discussions about final year projects have become a tirade of one-upmanship to vie for pity: I’ve only written 200 words. Yeah? I haven’t even decided on my title. Urgh.

Screen Shot 2014-12-19 at 08.50.35

Despite starting to smell like a library, you wouldn’t have spent your degree any other way than exploring the wonderful, fascinating, inspiring and challenging world of the humanities. Let’s face it, maths was never an option.



What Does it Take to Study a Joint Honours Degree?

22 Aug

This article has also been published on the Guardian’s ‘Blogging Students’ website at: http://www.theguardian.com/education/mortarboard/2013/sep/02/joint-honours-degrees-double-the-trouble

You’re a hard worker. You’re conscientious, engaged and smart. You never skipped classes at school. You got the results you needed for university. You had the best three years of your life and graduated with a 2:1. But nowadays, climbing the education ladder is just not enough. With competition for graduate jobs fierce as ever, students are looking for more ways to stand out from the crowd and enhance their CVs before they don the mortarboard.

Applying for joint honours English and History on my UCAS form in 2010 I had this in mind. But along the way I’ve found studying joint honours has been anything but simple. Employability is one thing, but the decision to study joint honours should not be taken solely in consideration of your CV. A JH student needs to match their openness to interdisciplinary study with double the passion, patience and perseverance required to study a single honours degree.

One of the first hurdles a JH student has to overcome is getting to grips with logistics. Working with two academic departments can result in clashing deadlines, twice the staff and double the feedback sessions. Rafe Hallett, Director of Induction in History at the University of Leeds, commented: “The first six months of study can be more of a struggle, as the JH student adapts to the demands of two communities and two discourses of knowledge. They can sometimes feel stuck in limbo between two ‘homes’ and feel envious of the apparent simplicity of SH students’ timetables, contexts and communities.” Hayley Reid, a Classics and English student from the University of Leeds found dividing her time and attention between two schools was more trouble than it’s worth: “It was one of the biggest mistakes I’ve made at university. I’ve chosen to focus more on the English side of things, but my parent school is Classics. I feel like I’m floating in some sort of subject limbo where I’m neither an English student or a Classics student.”

At a deeper level, JH students must also deal with two ways of thinking and two methods of learning. For me, the stark differences between English and History are manifested within the teaching style and characters found in each department. The English department at Leeds is situated on a row of small terraced houses. Walking into my seminars, I take a seat in a circle of chairs. Eight of us sit with our notepads on our laps and engage in free-flowing, spontaneous discourse about the set reading. My tutor will jump out of his armchair to search for his old, tattered version of Shakespeare’s Richard III to draw comparisons and encourage inter-textual thought. He once performed a whole scene from Etherege’s ‘The Man of Mode’, holding the book in his hand, jumping from side to side while acting out two parts. Conversely, I’ll head to my history seminars to engage in intense, regulated debate in a bare classroom- no bookcases, no armchairs and no digressions. Debates between historians can become incredibly heated, as not only are we trained to cultivate judgments of the past, but we learn how to assert them in a concise, convincing and intellectual manner.

Although studying a JH degree can seem like extra hassle, taking on two subjects at university level does work for some. Phillippa Watts from the University of Leeds, a French and History graduate with first class honours, enthused: “Studying a language was particularly useful as it meant I had access to more journals and sources compared to single honours students. I got to study two subjects that I’m passionate about, and have written a really interesting dissertation that bridges the gapbetween the two.” Andrea Major, a History tutor from the University of Leeds suggested that a JH degree does offer students this greater degree of continuity: “I have had JH students in History and English Literature who have tended towards ‘wider world’ modules in History who have paired that with post-colonial literature modules on the English side. They compliment each other extremely well, and as a result these students have found that work on one side of their degree has benefitted work on the other.”

Since employers consistently emphasise the need for graduates to be flexible, adaptable and creative in professional contexts, JH students are in a strong position in relation to employability. The ability to oscillate between two subjects is beneficial to a multiplicity of job applications, and in return for twice the hard work, JH students are rewarded with twice the number of career options available in comparison to single honours students.

The primary reason anyone should opt for a joint honours degree is because they have genuine passion for two subjects, and are open to seeing how they fit together. After all, a single honours student wouldn’t choose a degree they’re only 50% passionate about, so by the same token, students shouldn’t opt for JH just to add another string to their bow. Studying JH is not just an academic choice, it’s a way of life that defines your experience of university.

Joint Honours Degrees: A Defence

29 Dec

            In strong belief that my CV and career prospects would be enhanced by the study of two subjects at degree level, I applied to the University of Leeds in 2010 for the course QV31: English and History. The course has been much harder than I expected. While filling out my UCAS application years ago I envisioned that the degree would make me a rounded and balanced intellectual who wears tweed jackets with elbow patches and corduroy jeans. I hoped that the two subjects would be so cleverly intertwined that I could sit in Starbucks and make nuanced observations of every theorist, author, text and event relevant to the ensuing witty repartee. While I like to think that some of the above qualities apply in at least a diluted form (I got corduroy jeans for Christmas) in reality I have found myself stretched, challenged, and worked to the academic bone. I’m often so exhausted after revision periods and essay submission dates that if anyone even mentions academia they will not receive a kindly response, I don’t venture anywhere near Starbucks for syrupy overpriced coffees and I have to spend a couple of extra hours in Edward Boyle to draw my two degree subjects together: they are nuanced observations I have to go out and find myself.

            So after differentiating between the noble decision to take the joint degree and actually making the effort for it, I’ve come to write this article in defence of my decision. Along with realising how hard it actually is, I have come to find over the last 18 months that the majority of students chastise joint degrees, particularly ones within the realm of humanities, very harshly. My degree may not have the most contact hours or be the most vocational, but I believe back in 2010 I did make the right decision, because there are a plethora of reasons why in 2015 I will be leaving Leeds with my CV and career prospects significantly enhanced.

            The hardest thing about studying English and History is that it requires an engagement with two skill sets. I first began to understand the differences more clearly this term when I had an English exam revision seminar next to a History one. On asking the question ‘Do we write a plan?’ in my English seminar, we were greeted with the following response: ‘Never, ever write a plan. If you write a paragraph plan I’ll just read that instead of your essay.’ When probed as to how we were supposed to have any element of structure to our exam answers without a plan, we were told: ‘Just jot down a few ideas and a couple of authors who correspond to the question, then write your answer and allow it to go with the flow.’ Having been rigorously trained during all my years in education thus far to write a plan as soon as I open exam papers, this news did not go down well. I then went to my history seminar and before anyone even had the chance to ask, my seminar tutor said, ‘You only have one hour for each question, but we strongly advise that you spend AT LEAST twenty minutes planning.’ English requires me to demonstrate the ability to freely associate ideas expressed in a myriad of literature, while maintaining my own creative writing style. With this in mind I proceeded to criticise past exam scripts in my history seminar for their spelling errors, muddled syntax and excessive introduction only to find that the answer gained a 68 for it’s in depth focus upon false dichotomies and sustained analysis of historiography.

            It was at this point that I returned home frustrated that there wasn’t more consistency within my degree. But in understanding the differences between my two subjects and the operating centres that they require me to switch on and off, I hope that in my January exams I’ll be able to manipulate the two to my advantage.

            Both subjects require me to make judgments. Judgments of literature, of events, of individuals, of texts, of human behaviour, of media and so on. In English, not only should I never judge a book by its cover, but I shouldn’t judge a book by another book either. Of course I am required to make distinctions between texts and cultivate discussions between works of literature, but I should never judge if one text is ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than the next, no matter how much I have a personal distaste for it. I can criticise a text for the extent to which it corresponds to or contests against its context and the themes that it explores in comparison to other texts, but never could I cast my own personal judgment down upon a text without having my rationale seriously questioned, because if it’s not a worthy text, it just won’t be on the course.

            Conversely, History is all about making personal judgments. The transition from GCSE to degree level sees a gradual increase in the importance of engaging with secondary literature, to the point that if I don’t have my own opinion on an event and its controversial issues, I’m pretty much screwed. Not only this but it is essential that I’ve read the relevant historiography and compared one against another. History has no time for creative free associations and will only listen up and give me recognition for analysis and judgment of the evidence that’s in front of me. English, on the other hand, with regards to my upcoming exam, is impartial as to my analysis of secondary literature. It’s an optional extra.

            The differences between my two subjects have manifested themselves within the teaching style and characters found in each department. The English department at Leeds is situated within a row of small terraced houses. I first walked into my seminar room this semester and was met with a very homely set up. About eight of us sit with our notepads on our laps in a circle of chairs arranged around my tutor’s desk. He’s got an oversized armchair and his favourite lampshade from home, and many pictures of his family dotted around the room. The conversation flows freely and my tutor often jumps out of his armchair to grab his old, tattered edition of Shakespeare’s Richard III to make comparisons between monarchs. He’s got a whole wall of books and he knows exactly where each book is located. Sometimes he jumps up to perform parts of Etherege’s The Man Of Mode, holding the book in his hand he’ll jump from side to side while acting out two parts.

            In my History seminars, the tone is far more focused. There’s at least one gaping silence in each seminar, plagued by nerves that someone will give a wrong answer or picked to speak upon Hazel Carby’s critique of club women when they totally forgot to do the set reading. Sometimes an interesting debate arises and it can get extremely heated. All my seminar tutor has to do is mediate between the two and ask all the right questions. Then suddenly she brings out a scorching piece of evidence that pulls the argument one way or the other and everyone’s looking at you for your retaliation. Going into a History seminar without having done the set reading, and having your own personal opinion upon it is like walking onto the battlefield with a gun and no ammunition.

            There have been many moments over the past 18 months when I’ve cursed the day I took a joint honours degree. Back then I had no idea that the two departments don’t convene at all in putting the degree together. But that’s what I’ve come to love about English and History, the fact that I can pick my own modules tailored to my interests and get to grips with two teaching styles, two departments and two groups of academics. It’s also why I chose to study in Leeds in the first place. Try typing ‘Joint Honours Degrees’ into Google and see what comes up. From now on, when I approach a new era of History I can’t help but research the texts written at the time. When I’m given a new text in English, I make the effort to find out its historical context. English and History isn’t just any degree, it’s a way of thinking, and a way of seeing the world. 


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,626 other followers

%d bloggers like this: