Justin whole interview
Chapter details: Justin describes his experiences as a History student, including his enthuasiasm for his dissertation, feeling disconnected from his course and uni life in first year and feeling afraid to ask 'silly questions'
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Subject: History
Student status: Home, Graduate
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Could you tell me a bit about what you've been doing since graduating and how you feel about it?


As soon as I finished graduating I managed to secure a job, a kind of temp job working for the university in their accommodation department doing general admin work and that sort of thing over the summer period. I had already organised that I would be starting my Masters. And so after I graduated I got my result and knew I was going to be doing that.  The aim was basically to raise the money to pay for the Masters course because I'm self-funding and I'm doing History and so there's not much funding. 


So I started working full time over the summer and then the Masters started in September. I continued to work part-time as well to keep funding it.  And so now I've done half the work for Masters I've just got a dissertation left and I will be starting a PhD in History in September.


Okay and so how do you feel about everything you've done since graduating?


It's been a very productive year and I wasn't really expecting to… I was very fortunate to get a job because it's opened lots of other different opportunities up and obviously it's enabled me to continue doing the Masters. The course itself has been really interesting and has kind of furthered my research interests. When I graduated I wasn't sure I wanted to do a PhD but the course and doing research really kind of encouraged me and put in my mind I definitely want to do a PhD. So it's definitely kind of equipped me with better research skills and an idea of what I want to do as well.


And so when you look back now as your time as an undergraduate how do you feel about your undergraduate degree and your time at university then?


I look at that quite fondly, I mean especially the first year it wasn't particularly a great amount of work and even the second year there wasn't that much work and so there was a lot of free time which was fun. I've got some good memories of kind of the social aspects of university and making friends and that sort of thing. But also the

course allowed me to develop my research interests and it introduced me to a subject that I was really passionate and interested about, a very specific area of History that I've been able to develop from. So without the course and a particular lecturer and a particular module I wouldn't be where I am now and so I am very grateful to the undergraduate experience because it's really introduced me to research and what I want to do in the future.


Have there been any changes in the way you feel about your degree over time?


To start of with the first year I was very demotivated by the course and the degree, it wasn't very interesting it was very prescribed, it was very boring. You didn't really have any choice of what you wanted to do, what kind of areas you wanted to do in the course and that sort of thing.  But in my second year when I kind of got the choice to do different modules that I wanted to do specifically I was a lot happier.


I wasn't considering dropping out in the first year but I wasn't very happy by the end of the first year. I just kind of wanted to power through university and get it out of the way and see what happened afterwards. But it was only in my second and third years that I really started to value my degree and value the skills that it's given me and actually enjoy it. And so it definitely changed in the second and third year.


And so you said in the first year you had a slightly different attitude towards it you wanted to power through.  Can you tell me about why you first decided to go to university and what your main influences were on that decision?


I guess in some ways it was kind of inspected kind of in my 6th Form you know it came round to the time where 'Oh this is the time where you now have to fill out UCAS forms, you know this is how its going to go.  This is what everyone does, you just go to university.'  I don't know if it was just a case of being in a middle class area in a school and it was just assumed that you would go to university.  Not everyone went to university but a large proportion did.  And so I kind of just filled out the forms like everyone else. 


I guess it was expected of me of my family and my friends as well, because I was quite good at History, that of course I went onto study.  My teachers were a great motivation and you know they always talked fondly about their time at university. At the same time I just kind of did it, I just applied because that's what everyone else was doing and that's what was expected. 


I mean when I chose my choice of universities I didn't look around a single university I looked on the UCAS website and typed in History and almost randomly picked five universities and put them down, 5 or 6 universities and put them down on the form and sent it off.  I wasn't particularly committed to it or done my research.  It was almost like 'Oh this is what I have to do and so get on and do it' more than a plan.


So you sort of powered through and you would just see what happened at the end of it; was that all quite open for you in terms of where it would lead you at the time?


Yeah I mean I always knew that I wanted to study History because it was something I was very interested in and I was good at. Yeah I mean it was quite open. I mean I remember going to a career session that was obligatory and it was what do you want to do, oh I don't know I want to study History. Maybe you can become a History teacher, well maybe I don't know I just kind of want to make the most of the opportunity in a way as well.  It was very open I didn't have a clue what I wanted to do really.


And so you said you really enjoyed History and were good at it; can you tell me a bit more about your subject and the precise reasons why you decided to study that subject in particular?


I decided to study History mainly because I enjoyed it you know I enjoyed learning about the past and I enjoyed finding out about things that I had no idea about that were so important.  Especially kind of social History how people lived in the past and how life was different.  So I kind of developed this interest from starting secondary school and by the time I was doing A Levels I was really interested in political History.  The skills that I had acquired from studying history for years you know looking at source material, writing essays, you know the creative aspect as well I was quite good at it and I knew I was good at it. 


Throughout the whole time I was studying History I really wanted to be able to make the choice of what exactly I wanted to study. I am still quite close minded about certain types of History.  If I'm not interested in this I don't want to study it. So as my education progressed in studying History it culminated in A Level and writing almost a mini dissertation on whatever you wanted to do. That was the complete highlight for me. So I knew when I was going to come to university there would be a lot more choice, a lot more opportunity to do what you want to do.  Be a lot more creative and just kind of concentrate on what I wanted to do.  And I did think it would be kind of quite liberating and interesting to kind of develop my own research interests.


And so did you sort of start choosing modules as the course went on according to what you were interested in?


In the first year you basically got no choice of modules at all and then by the end of the first year you could choose three different modules. So I was quite demotivated by the course at that point and so I just picked ones, I wasn't particularly enthused about any of them particularly. I just picked one that I thought 'Oh I've done that at A Level' or 'It's vaguely interesting' and so I just picked them. It wasn't until I actually started them in the second year that I thought wow this is really interesting and then kind of developed on from there.


So in my third year I knew exactly what I wanted to do. But there still was a limited choice of what you could so depending on there research interests of the staff.  And so the dissertation in the third year was a big kind of 'This is what I want to do, this is the epitome of what I've wanted to do for the past 10 or whatever years from being at school.'  And so I really kind of … onto that situation.


And what was it like to do a dissertation?


It was amazing, without sounding like a geek. It was so nice just to kind of have a year, not a year, ten months or whatever to write it and to research it and to be responsible for your question and what authors you're looking, where you're going to go and find them, how are you going to structure it and just writing it. It was the best feeling in the world when you got it bound and handed it in, it was just fantastic.


And so how did you go about choosing what subject to do for the dissertation?


That was from my, I did a second year module which I picked and I was really interested in it and I kind of developed my own kind of specific interest that related to that type of History. I built upon that but I really want to look at this and so I went off to the archives and started looking at things related to that specific area. Then I knew I wanted to do my dissertation on something I had kind of researched a little bit but I wanted to find out a lot more about it and look at kind of the wider picture what other historians have written about it and how I can bring some angle that is new and exciting into a topic.


Was there anything you found quite difficult about doing a dissertation?


I guess in a way the supervision is very different especially at dissertation level.  You know you're expected to come up with your own question and your own structure.  And especially because my supervisor was on research leave and I had a stand in person who didn't know anything about the subject really. It was kind of completely left up to me.  And so when I did complete it and did quite well it was a much greater feeling of satisfaction than I would have had than if I had been kind of coached all the way and given pointers. But the fact that it was an independent piece of work it was hard and it was kind of all me. The accomplishment I felt afterwards was greater than it would have been if it was not just me.


Are there any other high points that you can remember from studying your subject?


I guess it would be in the third year and all my friends were kind of doing fairly similar modern history topics and we had all gone to the archives together and a great lot of day trips. We would all kind of disperse into different parts and do research and come out and talk about it and you would share your ideas and what you were doing. 


Then also kind of talking about my dissertation and what I was doing to lecturers and things and getting a presentation, I put my dissertation to some lecturers.  Just kind of talking about what I was doing and what I was interested in and what angle I was taking on an already quite studied topic was quite exciting and new.  Just kind of that community of students was really interesting and something I really kind of wanted more of.


And then you've mentioned that the first year was possibly one of the low points for you you weren't quite as engaged and interested at that stage; can you tell me a bit about how you coped with that and how you carried on with the course?


I guess it was a sense of you know I didn't want to drop out because it would just seem like a wasted opportunity, I wanted to make the most of it. And I did know to some extent that the course would get better in the second and third year and that I would be able to develop my interests and you know do something that I wanted to do a lot more.  I was just very cynical I mean I didn't spend a lot of time at university I had a job at home and so I kind of just went back most weekends. 


I didn't really make the most of the university experience in the first year and so I was quite disconnected from it. You know I socialised a lot with my friends from home rather than friends from university. I did socialise with friends from university but I was always connected to the home life as well which meant I was always disconnected to the university life in some way as well. I don't know, I guess I kind of as I said before I just wanted to power through it. I didn't want to give up because it would be a waste of money and a waste of time. I wanted to do the degree I just wasn't particularly enjoying it and I just hoped that it would get better in the coming years, which fortunately it did.


And so you've talked about how things did change over time.  Can you talk a bit more about how your approach to study changed and the way you studied over the course of the degree?


I mean in the first year it was all kind of lectures, hundreds of people in the room. My attendance wasn't complete and it was mostly a case of blagging it to be honest kind of you didn't have to go to the lectures. By the second term you realised you didn't have to go to the lectures you could just kind of wait for the question to come out and then do your own research on it. I work a lot better that way rather than going to lectures and hearing about the topic. I don't know, it was very contrived, it was like you have to go to all of them but you don't have to go to all of them you just have to go to the one that's relevant to the essay title.  In the first year I was very much doing the minimum amount of work that I could do I wasn't really striving to do the best.  But that changed when I got passionate about a particular subject.


The second year is obviously worth something where the first year is worth nothing.  So by the time I got to my second year I had realised that this was counting towards my degree and because I was interested in it as well I was able to motivate myself to do the best I possibly could.  You know I wasn't just doing the minimum work to get it out of the way I was genuinely interested in something and so I wanted to put all my effort into it.


You've already talked a bit about the way you ended up specialising in certain types of History but could you tell me a bit more about the way in which your attitude to the subject and the way you felt about it changed over the course of the degree?


I'd always thought History was … it's quite a kind of traditional subject to study; it's quite a good subject to study. I knew it wasn't kind of one of the doss subjects or anything like that which I had experienced doing AS Level in Media Studies. So I had always kind of valued it as a degree and I knew that you know historians get a lot of transferable skills and things. In the first year I didn't particularly think that much of it, I thought it was almost like an extension of school in a way because it was just going to classes and doing a few essays. 


But by the time I was in kind of second and third year I valued the degree a lot because I was working a lot harder I wasn't just doing the minimum amount of work.  I was really working really hard and you know if anyone was to say 'Oh you know History is not a real degree, it's not Science' I would say 'You know actually it's a really decent degree, I work really hard and I get a lot from it.'  So from that respect it did change my attitude towards my degree because I kind of worked a lot harder and I believed in it a lot more as I was developing my interests and kind of immersing myself more in the academic life.


You just mentioned there that when you first started it was a bit like school; can you tell me a bit more about what that transition was like from studying at school or college to studying at university level?


It was a big shock kind of coming to start off with because I lived at home quite a sheltered life perhaps you know in the middle of the countryside.  I wasn't used to that many people; I wasn't particularly fantastic at meeting new people. So when I went into halls especially when I went into a hall of residence which was very social, you know there were 20 people on the corridor or whatever and you're sharing a bathroom and eating with all these people. That was the biggest kind of transitional shock rather than the study.

I mean to this day I've not found that I've struggled academically with the work you know it was a very easy transition to make because in the first year it was lectures and a couple of essays. You know you noticed it was a bit different in the way you were being taught you weren't spoon fed as much but it wasn't that significant that it was like 'Wow this is really strange, I'm not used to this at all.' As the course progressed you kind of just adapt to the ways of teaching. So the shock wasn't really academic it was more kind of social and it was more living away from home and what that was like. 


Also it's etiquette as well I remember my first day you know going to meet my personal tutor with about five other people and just this bizarre muddling professor type man in his office with piles of paper and books in a world of his own not knowing what the hell was going on.  And just kind of being a bit scared and you know looking at lecturers and professors in a different way that you look at your teachers because I don't know it's almost that they're a bigger figure of authority, they're very well respected. I don't know to some extent you would have to change your attitude and the attitude was very different as well and so that as well was a big change.


How long did that feeling of shock last for?


I would say the first term probably especially living in halls of residence and away from home. I guess kind of the academic and etiquette side of things that lasted even in the second year, even last year, still to this day it's a bit bizarre, like lecturers are just bizarre. It's not until I've done my Masters that I've really kind of… I guess you're treated differently if you're a postgraduate student. But I remember even as an undergraduate you feel very disconnected from the lecturers. I don't know it's a very weird relationship between a lecturer and a student like especially the older lecturers and professors that are really well respected. 


So it wasn't more of a shock it was just more you know by the second and third year you were just kind of distanced. Still to this day it's a very weird relationship. But the kind of immediate shock and you know the change of being at university probably the first term but because I was going home quite a lot and working at home the shock wasn't that great because I was going home and seeing my friends from home and seeing my family quite a lot.


But then did you stop doing that so much after the first term?


No I kept doing that because I had a job at home and so I had to go home every weekend anyway and so it wasn't until my second year that I barely went home at all.  By that point it wasn't really a shock it was just kind of, 'Oh yeah I don't home so much anymore.' It was kind of more of a revelation than a shock.


And so what sort of things did you do to adjust to life at university?


I guess it was immersing myself more with other people living in a house.  Once you get to know people a lot more and you kind of get used to your environment and just stay there and immerse yourself in it more you kind of adjust to it automatically. I wasn't going home as much and you don't kind of want to go home as much. I didn't have a job by the second year as well I had severed all the ties with home anyway.  You know I guess it was just immersing myself in university life living at university.


Can you tell me a bit more about your social life and what you did outside the degree?


I didn't really get involved in any societies as such but you know especially in first and second year I did go out quite a lot and meet lots of different people and things.  But I kind of didn't really like them.  I mean it took me a while to kind of find people that I liked and were the same sort of people to me.  Like everyone on my floor at hall were completely different to me, very different people.  You know in the first year I would always go out with them and you know make an effort and then by the end of the first year I was like 'Well I don't really like these people and I don't have anything in common with them.  And so I will just try and stop fitting in and just kind of see how things go and try to find people that are more like me.' 


And so you know in the second year I moved in with people from my Halls but I didn't really… I was socialising with them but I didn't put as much effort in as I was with people on my floor. I moved in with them and really kind of developed friendships that way. I had a very different social life in my second year much more kind of going to the pub, staying in and watching films and stuff like that.  I'm not really a kind of clubbing person. I made the effort in the first year because you know you make friends but by the second year I had resigned myself to the fact that I'm a boring old man. Not a boring old man but you know I wanted to do what I wanted to do. You know it wasn't school you didn't have to fit in you could kind of be who you are and so what you want to do.


I guess I kind of felt that more as I went on in the university experience 'I don't want to do that and so I'm not going to do it I'm only going to do what I want to do.'  I know that sounds a little bit selfish but I just kind of realised that I just don't need to seek other people's approval or fit in or anything like that. That's the biggest change really that's occurred throughout the university experience for me.


Were there any other changes to you socially do you feel throughout your time?


I got a lot more confident and a lot happier as well like a feel a lot more fulfilled.  But definitely a lot more confident in meeting new people. It's completely changed me for the better you know I'm very grateful for that. Especially from the second year when I was immersing myself more in university life you didn't realise it at first but you change so much like you become a much more rounded person and more confident and a lot more kind of clear what you want to do and that sort of thing.


And so can you think of any of the high points the best times socially at university?


I guess it was just going out with my course mates and my friends. I don't know just having a group of friends, a large group of friends and different groups of friends that share your intellectual interest as well as kind of social interests. You know nothing specific stands out but that's just because you know there was a lot of social activity.  It wasn't really contrived it was more kind of very relaxed. I guess in Halls only just realising at the start kind of 'These people are very different to me I'm kind of like wanting to fit in and just kind of forcing myself to make the effort and talk to people and get to know them and go out a lot more.' Like I wasn't used to going out as much as I did go out and so that was definitely the hardest living with people that weren't particularly like me or you know my sort of people really.


And so what was it like to then live in a house with friends after having lived in Halls?


It was much better. I think living in a house is a much better experience generally.  You know I think every first year should go into halls, you know I've realised this from working in the accommodation office as well, I think every first year should go into Halls because its an important learning curve in itself. But going into a house I think is one of the best things that you can do because you take so much responsibility.


Things aren't done for you its you and you know your friends out there on your own sorting out agreements with the landlord, bills its one of the best things I think you can do. Especially being in a house with people you become a lot closer to people because you see them all the time and you make more effort with them. It's not so contrived it's much more relaxed and I find it much more enjoyable than living in Halls.


So you've mentioned the things that you had to take responsibility for yourself; can you tell me a bit more about what it was like to have to live independently at university?


I guess because in Halls it was independent but there was a kind of structure there and you ate at this time. Your bills were paid for, everything was there in place for you. When you go into a house you know in a house it's very different. You've got to obviously find a house and you've got to talk to landlords and negotiate with landlords.  Move in, sort out bills, TV licences and that sort of thing and kind of make group decisions and be responsible tenants and that sort of thing.


Did you struggle with that at any point at all?


Not really but I got quite frustrated that people in the house, there was one particular person we didn't particularly like and he would never take any responsibility.  I didn't really appreciate that like I think everyone should take responsibility and this guy wasn't particularly taking responsibility and he was thinking it was more like a hotel and everything was done for him because we were taking the initiative and I just didn't really appreciate that. But no I personally didn't find it a struggle at all.


And so how did you deal with that guy?


We confronted him a few times but he didn't really kind of… because we had sorted things out already he kind of didn't really… I don't know he just carried on the same.  We didn't particularly spend a lot of time with him anyway and we didn't really like him that much anyway.  We did tell him about it and got into a few arguments saying you've got to actually do something rather than just kind of living in here like its halls of residence.  And we never spoke to him after he left basically.  It wasn't something you could really resolve because he didn't want to change.  He went into halls the next year.


So on this topic of taking responsibility and you mentioned having to look after bills and things; can you tell me a bit more about how you managed your money and how your attitude to money changed over time?


Quite significantly I mean the rent itself wasn't that much different to living in halls but then you realised that electricity is expensive as is water and gas and that sort of thing. You know, you would turn off the heating when you don't need it on. You know you don't take as many showers even though one particular housemate decided to take two 40 minute showers a day and it was like do you know how much that's costing. 


So you kind of have a more realistic view of how much things cost and that's why it's also important, I think, to go into a house and kind of live independently at university because you gain a real kind of insight into what life actually is like you know. That's what independent living is because you understand the value of money and you think 'God I feel really sorry for my parents and what they've had to put up with.' They explained to you as a kid electricity is expensive and kind of money doesn't grow in trees and all those clichés and then you realise that actually they're all true and you just kind of feel a bit bad. 


But yeah that's why I think moving into a house is kind of the best thing you can do at university because it gives you so many experiences and changes you it opens your eyes to things.


Okay and so you just mentioned your parents there and you've said that you were at home quite a lot in the first year but not so much later on; could you tell me a bit about how your relationship with family and friends at home changed over the course of your time at university?


I guess you see something I've realised living at university with friends the less you see of them the better. Now that sounds a bit wrong but I don't know the less you see someone the less intense it is. So with my parents towards the end of my degree I didn't see them that much I saw them you know maybe once a month or whatever.  It's a lot more of healthy relationship and now you know I would never even conceive going back home and living with them because it would drive me absolutely crazy.  It's a lot healthier relationship.


You realise that living in a house with someone its 24/7 and then after you leave university when you don't see your friends very much you have a lot better friendship and you kind of value the time you spend together a lot more. It's the same with your parents and family as well that's what I've found.


How did your friendships with friends at uni compare to your friendships with friends at home?


Obviously if you're living with someone 24/7 you get to know them a lot better, you feel a lot closer to them. It's a very different friendship; living with someone is a very different friendship to not living with someone and just being good friends with them.  I often found a lot of my friends as well as myself would always talk about their friends from uni blah blah blah and you just don't really care when you're at home and you know it's the Easter break and whatever it's like 'Great great great.' 


Then of course there are friends at home that didn't go to university and don't have a clue about what university is like. They don't like it when you come back and you talk about university and are like 'I don't care, I've not gone to university, I don't want to go.' A lot of my friends who didn't go to university just aren't interested in university, don't want to hear about it.  I don't know there is almost a bit of a resentment towards the fact that you've got billions, not billions lots of new friends. 


The thing about university friends is that they're from all over the country you know and even the ones that are not living at university you can just phone someone up and say lets go to a drink and you just walk down to the pub because you wouldn't be living very far from each other. Whereas at home in my case we often live in different towns and so it's a lot harder to organise. It's much more relaxed and less contrived.  Often when I go home now it feels very contrived 'Let's go out here' and people will be driving places and they won't drink.  It's almost boring at home compared to Uni in some ways I don't know if it's age people have started to mellow up a little bit.  It's just nice to be university in the respect that everyone is in the same boat you know they're all doing the same sort of thing and so it's different.


When you look back at your social life at university now is there anything you think you would do differently if you did it again?


To some extent I want to say that I would try and, I would not try and obviously socialise with people that weren't really my sort of people and make the effort. But then again I wouldn't say that because that was part of the learning experience and realising, it's almost like a life experience without sounding too dramatic. It changed things it made me realise that you didn't need to fit into university it was very different to school, and so no I probably wouldn't change anything.


And so earlier on you have already talked about your plans for the future but you also mentioned those are the sort of plans that you formed as you went along; can you tell me a bit about the different possible futures that you imagined while you were at university?


In the first year I guess I didn't really think about any particular future I just wanted to power through it. In the second year I guess I started thinking about you know maybe I should do some sort of postgraduate study but I didn't particularly want to think about it I just kind of wanted to get on with what I was doing. In the third year everyone starts talking about what they're going to do next year my supervisor was like you should probably do a Masters your know. It was almost like it was expected as well.


Then I thought 'I want to do a Masters, especially after doing my dissertation this is what I really want to do.' But then I thought 'I don't know what I want to do now.'  Because I never really thought about going into the world of work and what I want to do because I don't really have any idea job out there and what I've realised from coming to university is that you don't need to have that kind of, despite what the careers service will tell you, you don't need to have a job in mind. 


In this day and age people do different jobs they go into different areas, they don't have a set career path. I've never really had a set career path what I want to achieve after university. The path that I'm taking at the moment has only been through experiment, not experimentation that's probably not the best word, but in what I've been experiencing in life and academically I've really enjoyed something and so I've pursued it because I've enjoyed it. I think that's very important. 


There are two kind of strands I want something that I enjoy and I want to do something I want to make the most of the opportunities and so that's what I've done by kind of going to postgraduate. The opportunity is there, am I going to do it in five years if I go and get a traditional job, probably not.  I really enjoy it and so I'm going to do it. That's kind of how I'm seeing things at the moment.  And so even throughout university I've never had a kind of I want to do this it's just been a case of oh that opportunity is there and I'm really enjoying doing this and so I'm going to do that.  Its almost spur of the moment in a way.


How do you feel about the future now now that you have got a plan for the next few years and it's open after that how does that feel?


That feels good, it's good because despite having said I like doing things on the spur of the moment, it's also nice to have something set in stone and a clear path. And so for the next three years I'm going to do a PhD. But then it's also nice to not to have you know I'm going to be working in an office for the rest of my life you know. After 3 years when I've finished my PhD I can then decide what I want to do after that and nothing is set you know nothing is prescribed and so yeah it's good.


And you've you probably won't go into a traditional working role after that is that right?


Probably not but if I did I would only probably do it for a few years you know its not the 1970s anymore and kind of like 'I'm going to be an accountant for the rest of my life and so I'm going to do this job.' A lot of people, a lot of older people like my parents' generation, and people in the office that I work with, are always like 'What are you going to do?' They're very confused that you don't have this kind of career path you know 'I'm going to be a doctor' or whatever, they're very confused that you don't have that and you know things have changed I think. I think that's a good thing because you know life is not about doing one boring thing it's about making the most of opportunities and doing things that you enjoy.


And so do have different possible ideas about what you might go onto to do after the PhD?


I guess having said that in some ways it's prescribed because its like doing a PhD and I know now that my supervisor will be like 'You're doing a Ph,D are you going to be a lecturer, are you going to go into academia, are you going to do some research, do some writing you know.' I guess in some ways I have developed, not to go back on everything I've said, but in some ways I have thought about possibly what I want to do in some ways. 


But it's still open ended when I finish the PhD you know you don't have to become a doctor or a professor, you know a lecturer or a professor, you can go into research you can do lots of different things. I think that the ways things are progressing now and I think the way they will progress is that I probably will not be pushed into but naturally glide into the lecturer kind of role, possibly.


Can you tell me a little bit about what the concept of a career meant to you when you were at university doing your undergrad?


I guess in some ways it was that traditional view of a career is something that you do for life and you know you go to university to get a degree to enhance your employment prospects. I remember my dad used to always say to me 'You've got to work hard because you're at university to get a better job at the end of it.' He always used to say to me every time I came home 'Have you decided what you want to do yet?' 'No I've not.'  You know he was always trying to push it and I was like 'Look I don't know what I'm going to do and I don't really care at the moment.'  It wasn't until I kind of went through the university experience that I realised that you don't have to have a set path, and in fact that can be a bad thing, and that you should just kind of follow your instincts and, without sounding too philosophical, follow just to see what happens.


And so that's what the concept of a career means for you now?


It's a mixture of making the most of opportunities that arise and doing something that you enjoy.


You have already talked a lot about changes that happened to you sort of academically and socially but I was just wondering if you have anymore to say about the impact of university in general on you as a whole?


As I've said I think it's made me a much more confident person, much more well rounded and much more open to do different things and seeing where things take me, taking up opportunities. Rather than before I was quite kind of restrictive of what I wanted to do and things that I would do. But yeah the biggest thing is confidence I would say, I'm a lot more happier to talk to people, confidence is number one, I would say.


Are there skills that you feel that you've picked up from your degree that you feel like you've used since and will continue to use?


Yes I mean especially because I'm now doing postgraduate studies the obviously the obviously ones of doing a degree it gives you research skills and things like that, obvious things. But I mean it wasn't until I started doing the part-time job after I graduated I started to think to myself, not meaning to sound big headed or whatever, but it was like I've done a degree and I can really notice that I have done a degree because, I don't know, I'm quite quick, I'm quite intelligent.

I don't know, I just felt that I had definitely gained a lot from my degree and I felt that I was a good employee and that I was productive and I was efficient and those sorts of things. I thought that's because I've done a degree and because I've worked hard at something and because of the skills that I've got from the degree you do notice that I think.


You've already talked about what you might possibly have done differently or indeed not have done differently if you went back and did the social thing again; is there anything you would do differently in general if you went back and did the whole degree again?


Academically speaking?


Academically and anything else sort of attached to the whole university experience.


I would have got a lot more involved in the department and gone to a lot more department seminars and done different modules, kind of opened my horizons a bit more perhaps. Just got more involved in the academic side and the department a lot more.  I mean I did get involved but a lot more and become much more part of the student community academically speaking.


Other than that perhaps I would have moved in with some different people in my third year because by the time third year was finished I was living with four people for two years and it was too much and it was strained and it was like I don't want to see you in a long time afterwards.  And perhaps socialised more went out more probably.


How did you deal with the tension with your flatmates in the third year how did you get through that?


It was just a case of towards the end, we had been living with each other for two years and in halls, exams, stress, coursework stress etc I don't know we had arguments and stuff but we always came through it because we were quite good friends and we developed our friendship from there.  It was a case of realising that… I don't know just I came through.


Because you were friends you were able to talk about and sort it out?


Yea because you have an argument with someone and you know you don't ? with someone after you've had an argument with them, at least I don't.  You don't hold grudges.  You know it's petty annoyances living with someone, it's you know everyday things, it's not like serious kind of very different people to me don't like them, its not that, it's just the pressures of living with someone.  It's almost like having an argument with your parents, your family, that you've lived with, and you just kind of have an argument with them and come through in the end.


You've just mentioned that if you went back again you might get more involved in the department and perhaps do different modules and perhaps do a bit more socially.  What do you think it was that prevented you at the time from doing those things?


Confidence probably.  It's only now since I've gained in confidence that I would kind of get involved more.


And when you say you would choose different modules do you think that sometimes you made uninformed decisions or unwise decisions about them?


Yeah definitely.  Actually I would probably also have changed the fact that I applied for university by picking five random universities I would have been a lot more kind of… because its an important decision. I was lucky, I was lucky to get a good department, a good university, a good supervisor you know I was lucky more than anything.  I wouldn't have changed it because it worked out fine in the end but if I was to advise someone in the future I would say definitely research it and go to open days and things. Having been involved in open days kind of on the accommodation side of things helping out on the open days and things I've realised that.


What would be the specific criteria that you would be looking for if you now went back and researched universities a bit better?


I mean the course and department are important as well, you know the on paper stuff is important and I did probably give it a glance when I was applying. But definitely the campus, coming to university having a look round looking at what it's like and that's something I didn't do and I think I missed out on. I was fortunate that the university that I chose had a very nice campus. But definitely making an informed decision you know where it is in relation to home, where it is in relation to the different places you need to go that sort of thing.


And then when you were choosing modules was it a similar sort of thing that you picked them in quite a blasé way or were you a bit more focused when you chose them?


It was similar in the respect that it was the safe option almost; it was I'm going to pick this because I did it at A Level, that sort of thing. I've done it before. I didn't do something that was completely new and in some ways I do regret that. You know I've done some modules that I've not studied before you know through force but it would have been nice to have had a wider experience and done things different you know looked at different areas and maybe a bit of Medieval History dare I say it, you know a bit of early History when I'm kind of more interested in modern History.  But then in my third year to be fair it was like I chose all modern History and I chose all interlinking modules, American modern History. 


When I came to my exam revision I was absolutely sorted because it all linked together beautifully.  But in my second year you know I perhaps would have done a few more different modules and I could have found I could have enjoyed a different topic and I could have gone down that route and changed it.  But I'm very happy with the topic that I'm doing at the moment I love it to bits and so I'm not complaining about that.


And so you've sort of gained that insight in terms of researching modules and maybe doing things on a broader spectrum.




You've also said that you would pass on as advice researching the institution.  Are there any other major insights that you feel you've picked up over the course of the degree that perhaps you would pass onto someone else?


Certainly in my job at the moment I speak to people about accommodation and I speak to a lot of parents and a lot of students and anyone who says I'm doing History I will always talk to them and say oh I did History. It's really good to speak to someone who has done the course it's really good. So they always say 'Oh what would you advise?' I always say it really helps to have a focus from your second year onwards and kind of have a specialism. Find out what you really want to do because the dissertation is worth such a large proportion of the degree its so important. I always say in your second year or as early as possible try and find out what you want to specialise in and what you want to research.


I was quite fortunate and respect that it almost fell upon me like my supervisor on my course, the course that I did with my now supervisor he was like oh, he was talking about dissertations and I was like 'Actually I might talk to him about doing a dissertation.' I was lucky that I didn't have to make the effort. But I think that it's important that you try and find out what you want to do and try different things and experiment what do you want to specialise in, what do you want to research. Yeah I mean whenever I'm giving advice it's always dissertation based you know it's almost the most important thing to work towards that. 


I mean I also do some academic mentoring for some second year History students and they've always told me that it's really nice to have someone how has done the course already. I think it's good to talk to people that are either doing the course or are a bit advanced from you or they're postgraduates or whatever, getting involved in the department more and talking to people who have experienced what you're going to do because it really helps to have that insight into what's going to come. Especially on my course you weren't really told very much and what I found through academic life is very bizarre the etiquette as I talked about before is very strange, it's very formal and people don't tell you obvious things.


It's nice to have someone to talk to that's like you can ask questions to that you feel a bit silly going to a lecturer about you know.  And so I would say get involved with the department as well and get talking to different students in different years and thing.


Can you give me an example of one of those things that you felt you couldn't go to a lecturer with and seemed obvious that you weren't told?


It was stuff like modules and you know 'What do I have to do with this module or what's going to happen in my dissertation presentation, you know what do you have to do in a presentation, is it scary?'  You know, how to approach a lecturer that sort of thing.  And I remember even this year doing my Masters there was a talk from a lecturer and she was saying when she was starting her PhD she had all these questions.  They were quite sully questions like 'What do I wear to a conference do I wear a suit, do I wear a dress, what do I wear?' And she felt that she couldn't ask anyone because of the kind of etiquette and formality of the academic life. So that's why she was giving a talk so that we could ask any silly questions.


I think that's really important because it's important to have someone that you can ask and be reassured because I had a lot of questions when I was in my year about essays and things and layout you know.  You're not really taught how to reference, how to do bibliography, and so you end up trying to find out yourself.  But I think try and speak to different people in the department and not be scared to talk to lecturers and you know perhaps talk to department secretaries, talk to other people and just kind of find out don't be frightened to ask what to do.


Is that what you yourself ended up doing during your own degree or is it something that you've realised now having helped students in your job?


A bit of both like I always have questions and it was like 'Oh I don't know what to do' and so I would always worry about it and try and find out myself and find out from other people on my course, which doesn't really help because they don't know what they're talking about either, I never went to someone. But if it was really serious I could go to the department secretary and am like 'I don't know what to do and feel a bit silly.'  But not to feel silly to always ask don't be afraid because they are there to help you.