Tag Archives: University

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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Graduate Chronicles: first five months of my internship.

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Below is account of my first five months as Project Assistant for a widening participation programme. The first few weeks were a steep learning curve, which I chronicled at the time, the rest of the post is a reflection of the five months so far. Every day presents a new opportunity to learn something about myself, my technical abilities, and the world of widening participation in higher education. (Long post warning: bonus points if you make it to the end!)

Week One 

My first week as a graduate intern has been completed and I have not made a single cup of tea! One week on the job and I can already tell that this is going to be such an invaluable experience in so many respects. We’re still in handover at the moment so it’s been lovely to have my predecessor around to show me the ropes and answer any questions I may have. Within this first week I have had a catch up with each member of the team, compiled and sorted data, managed communications, and begun to take control of the social media accounts. Looking to the next coming weeks, I will expand these duties and begin project planning, which I am really looking forward to!

Week Two

Settling in to my new role well, and I’m looking forward to the challenges the job will bring. It’s the last week of handover, and I’m kind of sad to see Michelle go because we get on really well! I’m working with spreadsheets a lot, and although I’m not a whizz-kid-genius, I am getting the hang of excel (which is something past me would never believe). Also this week, I moved into my official desk. Facing into the office is much better than facing the wall, and after adding a few pictures and photos it looks pretty cool.

Week Three

Busy is the word of the week! I really feel like an integrated part of the team, and like I’m putting my mark on the role. My latest project has been the launch of the Snapchat account, which I believe will improve student engagement with the programme. To mark the occasion I hosted two giveaways using the Snapchat account, both of which were successful (although one campus did greatly outperform the other!) Also in the social media side of my job, I proposed a solution to the lack of engagement on the programme’s Facebook page, which I will continue to work on behind the scenes into next semester. Away from social media, we’re taking thirty students away on an Adventure Weekend this week and not only will it be a fun experience for students and staff alike, but it also coincides with my birthday!

Five Month Reflection 

Wow. The months are passing quickly. Social media and comms remain a crucial part of the role, and I am learning the best way to connect and engage students via different platforms. What works for our Facebook content doesn’t necessarily work for our Twitter or Instagram profiles, and another approach is needed again for Snapchat and newsletters. There’s also a difference between our public Facebook page, and private groups were we communicate only with the students we work with, the key to this being understanding the audience. Different students engage with different communication platforms, and the platforms themselves require different approaches.

Away from social media and comms, I have been developing skills in the project assistant side of the role by developing and promoting a series of events and opportunities for mature students and student parents. This section of the student body has different priorities and needs to the ‘typical’ student (18 y/o straight from school), and it is important to recognise this when attempting to engage this demographic of widening participation students. So far we have made pantomime tickets available for student parents who wish to take the their children to panto over the Christmas and New Year period, rebooted a previous attempt at a Mature Student Cafe (where students can meet others in a similar position) and ran a trip to Bayfordbury Observatory for mature students, student parents and their children. This demographic of students has their own targeted comms, and ‘priority booking’ for events which may be more difficult for them to attend due to factors outside of their university lives. This allows arrangements to be made in respect to those factors, giving these students more of a chance to attend the events, due to advance notice.

Data analysis continues to be part of my role, and I am feeling much more confident with the tasks I am given and take on through initiative. This includes things such as identifying new students for the programme, and maintaining and updating databases with student information and event attendance. I have also been involved in creating reports from data from events for the outreach team in our department, and reformatting previous reports using an online report and infographic software, to create an annual report for the team for the year 15/16. Use of this software is something that I helped to research, and has been a benefit in many ways. As well as reports I am able to use my skills (which I first developed for my blog graphics!) to create infographics for our students and for the public. Examples of this include a recap of first semester events, and graphics for the launch of the international opportunities and mature student programme. This has really improved the look of our social media pages, and I am taking on the task of putting forward a re-branding of the programme to foster a unity and identity among the students.

I initiated the programme’s first mini ‘social media campaign’ to get students involved, excited and engaged in our international opportunities. The mini campaign across social media (snapchat, Facebook and instagram) encouraged students to like/screenshot the photo of the opportunity they are most excited for, raising awareness of the opportunities and encouraging them to apply. We also streamed the launch event on Facebook for the first time, allowing students to follow along at home or catch up on the information later if they were unable to attend. This was particularly successful with around 60 students tuning in at the time, and over 220 students viewing the video in the week following the event. For our communications I created a specific graphic to use with all email communications and some social media posts. Although the graphic itself is very simple, it helps student to identify which posts/emails/newsletters contain information about international opportunities at a glance, which improves engagement on social media and read/open rates of emails and newsletters.

On another note, another part of the first five months of my internship has been office experience. It sounds really unimportant, but I have been rejected from a few jobs in the past because I lacked experience in an office environment (my previous jobs having all been in retail or service/hospitality). I really enjoy going to work, and I am learning so much from being in this environment and from working alongside, and with, members of the department, who all bring their own skills and knowledge from various sectors and experiences. I love this internship and don’t want it to end!

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.

 

 

Study Abroad Wrap Up

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Seeing as I have been back in the UK now for nearly a month and haven’t updated anything in terms of my Canadian experience since March, I thought that a general overview was needed to tie off any loose ends.

I absolutely loved my time in Montreal and I’m certainly starting to miss it more now I’ve been home for a while. By far the thing I miss most about my year abroad is the people, I made friends for life during my two semesters at Concordia and it feels very strange to go from seeing them every day to not at all. However in this wonderful technological world that we live in I’m fortunate in that these friends are never more than a Snapchat or FaceTime away whether they are in Canada, France or Australia.

51-IMG_3530     Alice and I

 

Another element of post-study-abroad syndrome/reverse culture shock that I’m experiencing is the sudden change from immense freedom to the monotonous routine. While I experience a very similar thing when returning home from university in Hertfordshire, the fact that Montreal was a vibrant city with never a dull moment, and that this year contained a lot of travelling to places I had never been before, means that I am feeling the suffocation of a rural town a lot more than before.
I’m sure this restlessness will either be enhanced or disappear once I begin summer work and dissertation research (let’s hope it’s the latter), but it  is important to accept that I am not the same person who left my mum and brother at Heathrow Airport on August 23rd 2014. Study abroad has made me grow in confidence, assured me of my ability to live independently and adapt to whatever situation the universe deals me. In addition to these personal victories, I feel like my academic skills have improved with this extra year of study and I feel much more confident with asserting my voice and argument in historical writing. It also has become apparent that spending a year surrounded by French has actually worked! Only after returning home did I realise that I know much more than I thought, my bilingual envy of Montrealers obviously masked my own improvement which I am determined to not lose now I have three French-less months ahead of me.

Overall, I am so grateful of this experience and cannot wait to watch how the positive repercussions of this year abroad effect the rest of my life.
Thank you for having me Montreal, until we meet again.  

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Don’t you just love the seasons?

 

 

It’s That Time Again…

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As is the norm in the world of academics, all of my midterms have come at once (next week). Then comes the barrage of essays and assignments, but before I drown in work, I wanted to post this to explain any sort of blog absence. I have a trip to Ottawa coming up in a couple of weekends so that is something to look forward to, a light in the tunnel of studying. 🙂