Tag Archives: undergraduate

Top 5 Practical Tips for your History Dissertation

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Whether you are a second year student preparing to start your final year dissertation, or a final year student in the midst of your research, below are my top five tips to completing your project. These aren’t tips on how to conduct your research or how to write coherently. Instead they focus on the more practical side of the dissertation experience, and are all things that I learnt and put into practice during my final year.

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Graduation!

On Wednesday the 7th of September I graduated from the University of Hertfordshire with a First Class Honours degree in History with French with a Year Abroad.

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I was lucky to have my family attend the ceremony with me and it was great to spend the day with friends and course mates celebrating our achievements.

Usually I’m not a fan of ceremonies. For me they fall into the same category as public speaking and presentations, and therefore are usually a great source of anxiety and fear. While I was still incredibly nervous walking across the stage, the fact that I was one of hundreds helped to calm my nerves slightly. It also helped to keep reminding myself that four years of hard work went into this moment, and that I should enjoy it!

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A couple of weeks ago, I was notified that I had been awarded a University Prize for outstanding contribution to the humanities programme. This was a proud moment for me, as I have loved every single moment of my degree and want to continue my studies further. The graduation ceremony helped confirm to me what I want for my future, and now it’s about finding the path to get there.

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To Masters Degree, Or Not To Masters Degree?

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While this is definitely me studying, it’s most definitely not my university.

I love my university. I love the people, my course, the campus, and the experiences it has given me. But the history department here is small, and the university itself is very enterprise orientated. So where does that leave me in terms of further study?

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When I say our history department is small, I mean that the staff fit into two fairly average sized offices, and that I have come into contact with pretty much all of them throughout my university career. That doesn’t mean we’re all best pals or anything, it’s just small, and because it’s so small it’s very student orientated. My lecturers know who they’re teaching, the biggest module I’m in this semester contains around 40 people – but split (unevenly) over two classes, meaning that my class is still small. Therefore my university history undergraduate experience has been very personal and I’ve felt supported at every step. The discussions are informal and the doors are always open, and yet it’s never felt like the university you see on the big screen, or what you imagine you’re filling out your UCAS application. For my masters I am thinking of applying to much bigger universities, with large faculties and more than six modules on offer each semester. This has left me wondering how I would manage the transition, not only from undergraduate to postgraduate, but also from student focused to an academics lead institution.

Life after graduation?

This brings me on to my seconds point. My current university is very career orientated, taking on the task of preparing its students for the ‘real world’, and this works for them. In terms of humanities graduates, over 90% are employed within a year of finishing their degrees, and in our second and third years we have compulsory modules on graduate and employability skills. Now this is very useful, and I’m not for one moment saying that it’s not. I like being able to pop into the careers office for a chat about my CV or help with an application, and this kind of support is what makes students from all the different schools employable. Where I feel it falls down is the promotion of further study as a valid pathway after graduation.

Apart from a few fantastically helpful people, postgraduate study (that is not a PGCE) has never been presented as a proper option. It’s been on the outside of our corporate based careers fairs, and for the two compulsory career conferences I’ve had to attend for humanities, those representing postgraduate study have failed to attend for various reasons.
I know that if you want something bad enough, you’ll find a way to make it happen. I also know that postgraduate degrees in this country aren’t cheap, but this is why I wish the promotion would have been there. So prospective students could discuss options for funding and financial support, and pick the brains of postgrads who have gone on to take a number of different courses at different universities.

At this moment passion is my driving force, and I am being helped by some amazing individuals so who knows where I’ll be this time next year. All I know is that I have loved (and continue to love) my undergraduate experience, I would have just liked a little less of the ‘you-will-graduate-and-be-a-successful-high-flying-business-person’ approach, and more of a ‘look at all these options you could be considering!’
But then again, I’m coming to the end of my last semester as an undergraduate.
Maybe all of this is just an existential crisis?

 

 

 

 

 

This is purely based of my own experience and an afternoon of thinking a little too hard.
Is your university particularly employment/academics leaning?
How have your options been presented to you, if it all?  

Stepping Outside That Comfort Zone

On Tuesday this week my university held its annual History  Undergraduate Dissertation Conference. It was a lovely day in which we could show off our projects to our course mates. postgraduates and members of staff in an informal setting. To add some excitement to the proceedings there were three forms in which we could present our research, a poster, 3 minute soapbox or 10 minute presentation, the best of each category winning a prize at the end of the day.

I really enjoyed hearing about everyone’s projects. It’s amazing that within a group of 27 students interests can be so varied, covering everything from modern political history to early modern medicine, from Victorian funerals to 1960s popular culture. There was also a mix of geographical locations being studied. Often I feel that at undergraduate level we are limited by our access to predominately British sources, but thanks to the digitizing of sources from other countries and different approaches/perspectives this is changing.

Although I’m enjoying my research and love talking the ears off those who ask about my dissertation topic, the conference was daunting to me. I’m not a public speaker. Sure I can dream about giving that perfect lecture one day, strolling about in front of a project screen with a clicker in my hand, but the reality is much different. Red face, shaky hands and wavering voice.

Why then, did I choose to present my work as a ten minute presentation?

My reasoning was simple, I’m proud of what I’m doing and I felt a ten minute presentation was the best way to showcase my work. I knew that no matter how much I prepared (and believe me, I was sooo prepared), I would face the same problems I always do when it comes to public speaking. But I needed to know that I could do it.  

To push me even further out of my comfort zone, shortly before my allocated time slot my supervisor made a terrifying suggestion. I should step out from behind the desk during the presentation, to engage the audience and remove the barrier between me and the rest of the room. Now I don’t know about anyone else, but a barrier between myself and the audience is a great thing. It helps to hide vulnerability and provides a sturdy object to hold for fear of passing out (over exaggeration).

But to my surprise, I stood away from the desk. I may have had a hand on the edge of it for the majority of the time, but I did it and survived. It wasn’t a brilliantly polished presentation, I stumbled over my words a few times, and the wavering voice, shaking hands and red face were ever present, but afterwards they were joined by a sense of achievement. Regardless of whether I won or not, the level of personal achievement that day was so huge that I would go home happy.

Now as it turns out, I did win! My presentation on County Meath shared the top spot with another about regulation of men in the EIC, and I couldn’t have been more proud. In fact, I’m still riding the high, which is why I have been able to write such a self indulgent post.
I promise normal service will resume tomorrow!

But if I ever need a nudge to do anything challenging, different or new again, I can always look back to the conference and at what can happen if I just take that little step away from the desk.

 

 

21 and Thinking about the Future (Sort of)

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So now I’m even more of an adult, scary huh?!
Although I feel that very little has changed. I haven’t gained any other rights or privileges since turning twenty-one either here in Montreal or at home (although a friend did find out that I can legally become a pilot now in the UK) so my immediate everyday life is the same.  Where I have noticed a change is the perceptions of myself now I’m older, both from others and from my internal monologue, which very rarely shuts up. Add to the annoying voice in my head a sudden realisation that I will have to go back into the real world and graduate next year made for a very nice quarter life crisis.

First of all, apologies to any of my third year pals at home. You’re a year ahead of me now and have your own stresses to deal with, so if this post is going to make even more stressed/angry/happy you know what you’re doing with your life, then feel free to stop reading/carry on as appropriate. 🙂

So what will I do next year?

Next year is pretty simple. I’ll go home, get cracking on my dissertation and drown under an immense load of reading in an environment that is familiar to me. Next year really isn’t that much of a problem, it’t the scary empty void that follows (I should be in drama!)

I attended a Graduate School event for my university here in Montreal, and it really sparked something in my brain. There are so many options available out there, and by studying abroad I have only broadened that horizon further. I have never thought of continuing my studies somewhere outside of the UK, and financially that may never become reality, but I now what’s available now. I’ve always been told to work hard to be able to open doors and take every opportunity that comes my way, that’s how I got to Montreal and that’s how I’ll approach life after university.

I suppose the whole point of this post was to detail my realisation that everybody lives their lives differently, and as long as you are getting the most out of yours then it is never ‘wrong’. Which is something I’ll need to come back and read undoubtedly more than once as this year passes. What happens next year, the year after or even the year after that doesn’t matter, as long as I am making choices that allow my life to progress the way I want it to, and that keep me happy a long the way.

Yeah, so maybe in was a quarter life crisis bordering on existential crisis…..

P.S Thank you to all my lovely friends in Montreal who helped me celebrate my birthday! You’re like my second family now, so good luck with that! 😀