Millie whole interview
Chapter details: Millie describes her experiences as an English Literature student, including overcoming her self-doubt about her academic capabilities, struggling with an Art History module and getting work experience in magazine journalism
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Millie
Subject: English Literature
Student status: Home, Finalist
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Transcript:

Could we just start off with you just telling me why you decided to go to university, what the major influences were on that decision?

 

To be perfectly honest I've always enjoyed my subjects but both of my parents are teachers so they've had a lot of knowledge, obviously, about higher education and the steps to go after that. So I think I was very lucky because I had a lot, a very clear idea, about what university would be like. My sister's two years older than me and she went to university as well and it just sounded absolutely amazing. I've always wanted to go since probably about Year Ten I'd say and like I said I've just really, really loved my subject. When I got here I just loved developing it and feeling more confident about writing about it as well, so it's been really, really good.

 

Excellent so can you tell me about your subject and you know what it is that you love about it, why you wanted to study it further?

 

I think at A Level I just, I really enjoy reading obviously cos that's something you have to do quite a lot of when you get to university but I think I just was always able to write essays on books, I think it's just something that I was just lucky, it just came to me quite naturally but then when I came to university it just gave me a lot more confidence to be able to write. I know that sounds strange but I think in A Level the leap from AS to A Level I found really, really difficult and I think it knocked my confidence a little bit. But then when I got to university everyone was really, really supportive and you could just sort of go into quite a specific area that you were interested in rather than every single book since you know the beginning of time so it was, I found it a lot, not easier but a lot more reassuring when I got to university to do the subject so it was good.

 

OK so can you tell me a bit more about that difference that you found between studying for your A levels and you know I find that particularly interesting that you know you had that confidence knock you found that transition difficult, so can you tell me sort of how that then changed when you came to uni exactly what that transition was like?

 

Well like I said I did find the leap really difficult and I was completely shocked when I got my A Level results I really didn't think that I'd get the grades to come and do English. But then yes when I got here I think aside from the confidence as well I enjoyed just homing in on one particular area because I think at A level you don't have much choice about what text you can do.

Perhaps in the first year it's quite generic with the different areas of study but then once you get past all the first year and go into your second year of study I really, really enjoyed it because I got to decide what to do and then I got to decide how to expand what I had studied and what I read. I think if you're interested in an area of study then it makes it, your writing better because you're more involved with it whereas at A Level there's probably a few texts that I wouldn't have chosen to do. When I got to university there was a slight repetition you know with areas such as Shakespeare which we did in first year which I enjoy but I wouldn't choose to take it any further I'd probably just want to do children's literature which I found the most interesting and literary theory and areas like that rather than Shakespeare and older English so.

 

OK so when you came up to uni did you find that was it the case that you could choose what you did straight away or were there still modules that everybody had to do?


When I got here I had to do two other subjects aside from English as well and with English you had to do three modules which was good because they were all different but yet all blended in at the same time. I think it was good because I worked out quite early on what I didn't want to do and I didn't mind studying it because it's obviously very good to have a broad overview of different times and different writing styles.

 

Yeah I worked out quite early on some of the areas that I didn't want to do and also I found it interesting to do other subjects because I worked out that I definitely wanted to do English as well. So I found them very interesting but I also knew then 'Right I definitely want to do this sort of time period, I definitely want to do this style of writing, I definitely want to do English' so it was quite reassuring to do different things in the area. 

 

OK so then once you'd then worked out what you wanted to do could you then go off and do exactly what you wanted to do or were there still any restrictions?

 

There is restrictions obviously because on a module there'll be a range of books still so even if it's a specific time period you might still be doing books that you've never heard of or that you're not really sure what to expect from that but from my experience I've, I think I've been lucky that I chose modules like children's literature that I really didn't know what would be involved with it.

 

When I got there I was really pleasantly surprised, on the other hand I've taken modules and thought it would be a specifically tailored to an area and then when I've done it I haven't enjoyed it as much as I thought I would. But like I said I don't mind doing that because I thinks it's good to have a broader knowledge and to sort of rule out which areas you don't want to do. I think I in honesty was still doing that in second year just going for different areas and then thinking 'What do I really want to do next year?'

 

But then it is quite difficult to pick modules to do in the third year because obviously you have to exclude something to write your dissertation on and you can't have overlap so I knew that I wanted to do some kind of literary theory. I knew that I wanted to do some kind of novelistic module but then I also knew that I wanted to write on modern literature for my dissertation so it was quite difficult to find another area to do as well. But then like I said I was lucky and I enjoyed the other areas so I think I was lucky on that front cos some people might go into it and think 'Oh this isn't what I want to do' and then you have to do a final paper on it and I think if you're not that heavily interested in it it can be difficult to write at your best.

 

Ok so was it the case that when you were making your choices about what modules to study and what subject to do your dissertation on, was it the case that that interest, that level of interest and enjoyment were the important factors for you or was there anything else that you had to consider?

 

I think personally it was the level of interest and enjoyment for me because if I get really involved in a text and if I really enjoy sort of the seminars and all the different ideas that come out I think I write a lot better because again it all comes down to confidence. I think, when I'm revising, 'Oh I really know this one I really like it I can't sort of wait to get in there and write something' whereas I've done modules in my second year and I've dreaded revising them to be honest because I just didn't enjoy them. I couldn't bring myself to have any flare and write anything that wasn't quite generic about them because I just, I'd just sort of be reading them and it would be quite flat rather than with subjects I enjoyed, I'd sort of have different things firing off in different directions and I'd be able to come up with a lot of ideas. So personally yeah it was mostly about enjoyment for me.

 

OK so when you were doing those modules that were slightly less interesting, how did you manage to get through them, were there ever times when you just really struggled with anything and then did you have ways of getting through it?

 

To be honest yes I did struggle I think particularly with Shakespeare which I really, really enjoy but I can never write my best on it. I don't know what happens when I get into the exam but I think I overcame that because I took it in, obviously, we did it in first year and then we did, I opted to take it again in second year mainly because I wanted to work out why I wasn't getting along with it. I really wanted to prove to myself that I could do it and by the end of second year I was pretty happy with how the exam went and so I thought 'I'm going to do it again.'

 

I just wanted to persevere with it which was a lot different to the modules that I enjoyed because in honesty I found the modules that I enjoyed easier to write on. I did enjoy the challenge of trying to overcome something that I found really difficult. I think I did OK in my exam for it this year so it was, again, for me just boosting my confidence because I thought 'Well, even though I didn't really connect with it that, well, I tried my hardest and I think I came out with a pretty good grade' so yeah.

 

OK so it sounds like you've kind of set yourself a goal there to understand something better?

 

Yes.

 

Because you felt it was important even if you weren't enjoying it that much?

 

Yes.

 

And were there ever any sort of things that you used to tell yourself or particular ways that you had to kind of push on through with the things that were less enjoyable?

 

Well when revising Shakespeare in honesty I did the most revision on Shakespeare because I knew that with the others it would probably stay in my brain for longer because I'd be thinking about it even when I wasn't revising because I genuinely enjoyed it but with Shakespeare I put a lot of time into it and tried really, really hard to come to grips with the vast amounts of material that's on him. I think it worked well, I mean, it wasn't to the detriment of my other subjects because I enjoyed them, when I had a flare for writing on them, but it was difficult. But then I think when you get to a certain level at university everything is going to be difficult it's not going to be a walk in the park so I'm glad I did it that way, I've got no regrets. 

 

So that sounds like one of your harder times studying; are there any other kind of low points or worst times studying for your course that you can remember?

 

I would say in first year I took art history which I had this very strange idea of what it would be and when I went to the first lecture it was massively interesting but I hadn't done art history at A Level. I had no idea what it would be on, I went into it very naively and I remember being in the first lecture and everyone was furiously writing and I had no idea what was going on which was funny for about ten seconds and then I was like 'Oh my goodness I'm never going to be able to do this.'

 

But again I just had to really sort of throw myself into it and I did enjoy it but it was very, very difficult. I think I have all praises for people who do it because I find it very, very difficult to write so articulately on a piece of art and know all the history and the backgrounds and everything. But again I'm glad I did it because it was, like I said it reassured me that I definitely should do English and stick with the English rather than swap to a different subject which in first year was an option.

 

So you still stuck with it and managed to pass that module?

 

Yes but I think I did find it difficult but then I, yep I stuck with it, it's just the type of my sort of work ethic, even if I find something really hard I will try my best. Thankfully it worked out for me but yeah I don't really know what to say. I mean if I went back I don't know if I'd do it differently or not because it was really interesting and I do still remember bits of it but I think it was my fault because I didn't know enough about the course before I went into it. Like I said I had a very idealistic view about it and when I got there actually found it really hard, so yeah I think if I went back in time I would do more research into the course just to know what was actually coming rather than sitting in my first lecture thinking what's going on here, so yeah. 

 

Were there any other sort of expectations that you'd had before coming to uni which then turned out to be completely different like that?

 

Course-wise I think I knew what would happen with English, I knew sort of the modules that I'd be taking in the first year and I think that worked out quite smoothly apart from obviously that Shakespeare fiasco. But I think module-wise everything worked out OK, there was a slight shock about the art history. I did, I came to university doing English and European Literature and I thought that I'd be taking that on as a joint honours degree and I dropped that after my first year because it just wasn't for me as it turns out.

 

I think that was a good thing about the university is that you had the option after one year sort of a tester year if you may to just drop the subject and concentrate on one area because I think again I underestimated how difficult it is to concentrate on two very specific areas and try and make them connect and be able to have such wide knowledge on them both. I find it very difficult so I'm glad I just went with the single honours degree in the end because I'm much better focussing on one area and perfecting it and developing it. 

 

OK so over time you've realised what areas of the subjects you really love and to study but are there any other ways that your feelings about the subjects changed over time while you were studying the course?

 

It's confidence with me, it always has been since day one and I think even with the areas that I didn't get on with so well. I think I've just been quite straight through the whole of uni I've just sort of tried to keep my head down and get on it as you say so I think my feelings have stayed pretty much the same throughout the course but this final year in particular I think was obviously the most stressful. But I think it's probably the most rewarding thing that I've done is do this degree because that feeling on results days when you finally you know that it's all been worth it and you've got something it's just unbeatable so.

 

OK so your feelings have been consistent over the time of your course?

 

I would say so it has been hard but there's also been times where I've thought 'Oh yes come on you can do that, well done, keep going with it.' So yeah I think I would say that my feelings have been quite consistent throughout the course.

 

OK you've already talked about hard times doing that art history and sometimes struggling with Shakespeare and obviously your real high point has been finishing and getting the results but are there any other sort of high points, best times that you can remember from doing the course?

 

The social side of the course has been quite good and it surprised me because I had no idea about sort of societies before I came to university and the English society has been quite active and I've done various things with them and I think with English as well because you're in lectures with, in your first year lectures you're in with loads of people and I went in and sat next to someone I've never met before. We've been friends ever since so I think that's a nice development to have alongside the work side of it as well and I have made quite a lot of friends off my course so I think I'm very lucky.

 

OK so can you tell me a little more about all the different things you did outside studying?

 

I've never been the most athletic so I've never joined a sports fraternity even though I would have loved to but aside from that I was in a hall that was a very close knit and in my first week of uni I'd made quite a lot of friends and there was loads and loads of social things to do especially in Freshers' week.

 

Aside from that I've done various things like you know travelling to London like seeing different parts of England that I probably wouldn't have ventured to before. I've written for the university newspaper which I never thought I would do and it was really nice to write something, it was only five hundred words long and it was on Desperate Housewives but it was really good to be able to just write something and have it printed. Again, that was a confidence boost because you know that your writing's at a certain standard to be able to have it published so yeah that's been good as well.

 

OK and then just picking up on something that you said earlier it's something that you never thought you would do, so it seems like you've ended up changing from coming to university, so can you tell me a bit more about how you feel it's changed you, who you were before and why you never felt that you'd never do things like that and then how you came to do those things?

 

I'm from quite a small town so I think before I came to university I had a very sort of, not idealistic but very contained sort of upbringing and I had a small group of friends and we never went anywhere like London or anything because it was just too far away and when I came to uni I met so many different people and we just, I don't know I think everything's sort of attainable once you get to uni because people are like 'Oh let's go off and do this' and you think 'Oh OK.'

 

It again gives you the confidence to be able to go off and do things like silly things like going into London for the day which I never would have done when I was at home and be able to just sort of travel around whenever. I know some of my friends went to Prague with the university as well and I never would have done that if I had stayed at home, I never would have had the confidence and probably the skill to be able to organise it and do something like that so yeah.

 

So it's kind of boosted your confidence and sort of widened your horizons?

 

No  definitely, as cheesy as it sounds I really, really think if I hadn't have gone to university I wouldn't be as confident as I am now and that's not saying that I'm over-confident but I just have more belief in myself. A couple of the modules I've done even enabled me to go and do work experience in London for two weeks in a big publishing house and that's not something that I would have done without a little encouragement and without a bit more of a confidence boost.

 

It was a really, really rewarding two weeks, I was absolutely shattered but it was really, really nice to do it again go into London and help be part of a really, really big publishing team. I was even able to edit some of a magazine so when it was printed I was like 'Oh I did that.' It's really nice to know that I can do things like that and it is attainable whereas like I said if I was at home I wouldn't have even gone down that road, I wouldn't have thought I'd ever be able to do that. 

 

OK so was that something that you did sort of two weeks in the holidays or was that during term time?

 

Yeah I did it in the first two weeks of the Easter holiday in my second year.  Once you get into third year there's just no time, it just flies by so I'm really, really glad I did it and I think it's really helped my CV and my chances of getting a job hopefully so.

 

OK so what was it like just suddenly going into the workplace in the middle of doing a degree?

 

To be honest it was so surreal because even the commute into London for me was a big, a big thing because I mean I'm a lazy student as well so getting up so early in the morning, being there for a certain time and being able to work throughout the day and try and prove something to the people, there that you're not totally useless, that you are confident and you can call people that you've never spoken to before.

 

It was scary but looking back I'm so pleased that I did it because now I think if I applied for a job, I kind of know what to expect and I kind of know the pressures and demands but then I'm not completely unaware of it. So I'm not as scared as I probably would have been and I'm looking forward to getting a job definitely because it was such a buzz just working in London, coming out of work and walking down Oxford Street or whatever it's something I never would have done so.

 

So did that help you to become clear about the sort of work you want to do and where you want to be and that sort of thing?

 

Yes I mean it was a magazine publisher and I always thought before I did the work experience 'Oh yeah I really want to do magazine publishing' that's definitely what I want to wind up doing and after a week I knew it wasn't what I wanted to do. That's not because the work experience wasn't very good or the people weren't friendly I had the best time in the world and everyone was lovely and encouraging but it's just I couldn't, when I was writing or helping to edit something for an article, it was on health and beauty. I just wasn't interested and that sounds so ungrateful but I think at the same time I was just like 'I wouldn't be able to do this as a job I just would not be able to think of anything to write.'

 

That was the turning point because when I came back to university I thought I need to work out actually what I want to do now. When I took the course this year I thought 'No I want to go into, still into publishing because I really enjoy the aspects of the industry but probably into children's publishing if I can' even though that's the most competitive thing in the world I'll try my hardest to get into that because that's really what I want to do. 

 

OK so then you said that you did the children's literature module in the final year?

 

Yeah.

 

Did that also help you to realise?

 

Yes because as soon as I got into the seminars a couple of weeks went by and I thought 'This is definitely what I want to do' because just it's not a different level of writing it's just a different style of writing and it's much more critical whereas I think from the work experience what I did, it wasn't about critical writing it was about clever writing. It was about sort of marketing and selling a product whereas although children's literature is I think very much like looking at a text in depth and examining it critically rather than looking at a brand like, I don't know, a beauty cream or something and trying to come up with a marketing idea for that because I was awful at it, so yeah.

 

So you then decided to go on to study further in children's literature?

 

Yes.

 

So was that something you knew you wanted to do straight away when you were doing the module or was there a big process that you had to go through to decide what to do next?

 

I'm trying to think what happened, it all seems so long ago now but I really didn't decide to do my Masters until the second term of my last year which I think the deadline was probably three weeks later but I spoke to the course convener before. The idea had sort of been going round my head and I thought I'd really, really enjoyed this I could easily stay on another year and had the Christmas holidays to think about it and talk through it with my parents. When I came back and properly started getting into the course I knew it was what I wanted to do and I applied for it and I think I heard probably only a few weeks later that I had a conditional offer.

 

So I was really pleased then because it was nice to know what I was going to do past uni whereas a lot of my friends are sort of in the position where they just simply don't have any idea and I think if I was too, which I am graduating now but to go straight into something, I wouldn't know what to go straight into because something like a children's publishing, where do you start really now? I'm sure I'd probably be able to get into an area of publishing but perhaps not children's publishing. So I thought that if I did the MA then maybe it would give me a bit of an edge and if I was to say 'Look I've done a Masters in Children's Literature and I really want to do children's publishing' I might stand out from other competitors.

 

So how do you feel now being on the precipice of having just finished as a graduate and you're now going to go onto another transition of study and go on another level?  How does that feel?

 

It is scary but I'm happy because I'm confident about my subject and I know that I'm going to enjoy it next year and what to expect.  I think it's not the work or the module that scares me I think it's coming back and the social side not being the same. I live in a house with six girls now and this year in September when I move back I'm going back into Halls, so that's not so much scary it's just weird because obviously I was in Halls two years ago.

 

It feels like maybe I'm taking a step backwards even though I'm not, it's a very weird feeling to be coming back even though it is what I want to do. I think I'll be OK in halls it'll just take a bit of adjusting and I think it'll probably finally hit me when I'm in Halls that actually I've graduated and all my friends have moved on. I think maybe it'll be what I need to be, to realise that right next year I need to start applying for jobs, I need to do things because all my other friends are doing whatever else. 

 

And you've already mentioned that the third year you know time flew by so there's always so many things to consider at the same time because you've got your studying, the more social thing and then work, where you're going to go next and making your applications; how have you found having to balance your time and your priorities?

 

I think with final exams to be honest it was really, really hard but I think that's because I stressed myself out, I'm not the type of person who can look at things and feel like 'Right I can do this then and this then', I just panic and think it all has to be done at the same time. But I think once I did all my course work in the third year and I'd been doing my dissertation as well and once I could just concentrate on my exams it was fine and I started to calm down a bit and be able just to concentrate on one thing but that's always been the case with me. I can't juggle too many things because I need to focus on one thing and get it done well instead of trying to get little bits of everything done.  I like to have something finished and just forget about it so.

 

So did you find when you had important things you had to, you just had to cut everything else out?

 

It's difficult to say because I've managed to balance the social side and my work side quite well but, say, for example, over the Easter break this year, I think is when I found the most difficult because once you're back home, I knew I had to revise for my exams, I knew I had to finish my dissertation. That's when it really started to feel quite stressful because writing a dissertation and trying to take in other information as well is sometimes just … oh you think you're not going to be able to do it. That's quite simply because I didn't tell myself that when I got back to university I could hand my dissertation in and I would still have two or three weeks to revise.

 

But I think during term time I, thanks to my friends as well, I made myself go out and be sociable because I think if you concentrate too much on the work side of things it is going to seem a lot worse than it is. I think you definitely need a bit of down time from you know stressing out and being at the library at all hours but I think again I was lucky because the friends I had were always very encouraging and very supportive and would always sort of make me come out and make me relax as well I was very lucky.

 

OK so you had them to help you?

 

Yeah.

 

Were there particular things that you had to do as well for yourself to cope with that stress?

 

To be honest if it all got too much I'd just go home for the weekend and when I came back I'd be fine and I think there's different things that are stressful I mean living in a house you've got to sort out bills. It all sounds very trivial but when you've got so much else going on it can just seem like 'Oh it's too much, I can't be doing it all.'

 

But for me yeah the one, if it really got too much like when my dissertation was on I'd just go home for the weekend. I'd just relax, be away from uni just for a couple of days and by the Sunday I'd be ready to come and ready for the challenge again. So yeah I just I mean I think when you're doing a degree you just need to balance it. Honestly, I don't know how people work so hard all the time, they don't have any down time, I'd go crazy to be honest. 

 

Do you think there ever were times when you over did it or under did it or you just really?

 

The writing of the dissertation at Easter I think is was the worst point but again it was it's difficult to say because it was really once you got into writing something and you're thinking 'This is my time to be able to say what I want to say and prove something', that was good. But I think because I was at home and I wasn't with my friends and my parents were working, because it was just me I just, I'd wind myself up to be honest.

 

I think I just panic about everything so I think I was probably quite dependent on my friends when I was back at university. I think living with people is helpful because you're all in the same position, you can just talk at them even if they don't know what your module's about you just talk at them for a bit and then you feel better and it's fine. You know everyone's doing the same amount of work.

 

OK so when you were panicking what sort of things were you thinking, were you thinking that you just couldn't get it done, was it a kind of crisis of confidence at that time?

 

With the dissertation I couldn't believe it on results day that I'd actually done well in it because I think with that in particular you don't have, you have their support obviously but it's not like you go to seminars and a lecturer gives you a basic overview and stuff. It's all on you and I think I did enjoy writing it and obviously I enjoy that kind of study because I'm staying on this year and doing independent study as well.

 

But it's difficult for me because it's confidence because I just couldn't I just didn't believe that what I was writing would be any good or that I'd take it to my tutor and he'd be like 'Oh this is awful you're going to have to do it all again' when in fact when I took in my work he was just like 'Just be confident you can do it, it's fine.' So yes I think it's very important to have that level of support when you're here because without it I wouldn't have been able to do my best.

 

So you kind of did have moments of self doubt and you needed other people?

 

Yes.

 

To show you that that unfounded in a way.

 

Yes and it's strange because it's been such a journey through university and like I said I went on that work experience and my confidence was through the roof because I'd actually done it by myself. It's strange, even in third year I was having a crisis of confidence but I think it's just for me it works in my favour as well because it means that I wasn't slack with my work.

 

I was trying my best but obviously at the same time it's stressful but then I think the way I reasoned it was that you know you are doing a degree this is your final year it's not going to be a walk in the park, it is going to be hard work. Eventually I think after my dissertation was handed in I knew I only had three weeks left of revising or doing any work possibly ever again and I just went for it and I was actually OK in the last few weeks of uni up to exams.

 

So did it tend to be a doubt that you weren't doing enough or that even if you did enough you still weren't going to quite get it right if you see what I mean?

 

I think it wasn't that I wasn't doing enough because I think I did work quite consistently, there were probably points in first year where I wasn't doing as much as I probably should have but then when it came to revising I always made sure that I did a heck of a lot of work. But for me it was just the lack of confidence and thinking even if I revised for a whole year that I still wouldn't get it right because it wasn't clear sailing the whole way through there. I have had papers back and not done well at all but I think looking back on it now you can see it as a learning curve, whereas in first year, particularly with areas like art history, I just thought 'I'm never going to be able to do well' when actually when it came to it I was OK. 

 

So did that then change the way you perceived your abilities or did the doubt sort of come round again?

 

For me the only way to clear up the doubt for me is to have my results slip in front of me and someone would be like 'You've got this, this, this and this, well done.'  It's sounds quite immature but I need someone to tell me that actually you've passed this is the mark well done and then I'm fine but I think if I were to do it all again I'd act in exactly the same way just because that's the type of worker I am. I just need the reassurance and now for example that I've had my final marks I feel completely prepared to go and do next year whereas I think if I hadn't have done as well yet had still been accepted onto the course next year I probably would have had a complete crisis of confidence again just because I need to know that I'm working at a certain level and that actually I can do it.

 

So how, were grades quite an important things that you focused on?

 

Yes and I know that it shouldn't be and I know it is silly because you know there's a lot of factors that go into how you perform on the day of an exam for example but you know it has, to be honest. It's been all about what grade someone else gives to me because that's the way that I know that they've looked at my work and they know that I can do it and then I know that I can do it in turn. Like I said I know that I'm performing at a certain level and possibly that I deserve to be on the course whereas in first year I wasn't sure what was going to happen, you know I wasn't sure what level I'd come out with, so especially after my first year marks I thought 'Oh good I deserve to come back next year.'

 

OK so if you'd been getting grades below a certain point you'd have felt like you shouldn't have been there at all?

 

Possibly, yes I think so, and I know, I know that's a very, in a lot of ways that's quite illogical because it isn't all about the grades and I know very, very clever people that haven't possibly come up to a certain level but personally for me I just need the stamp of approval and then I can get on with it and carry on. 

 

Are there things that you feel that you picked up that you've gained, things that you can do now, things that you know now and ways that it's changed you which perhaps you couldn't demonstrate just through saying 'I got this grade?'

 

Yes.

 

But which you feel you gained from doing the course?

 

Yes definitely I think my level of articulation and my style of writing went from possibly not very strong in first year and has developed to a standard that I know that will come out with a reasonably good mark. I know now when I look at a text for example how I'm going to approach it which may sound like the most basic thing in the world and probably a skill that you'll know at A Level but at A Level I'd still be looking at a book and it would all still be a bit hazy. I'd come out with ideas, if I was lucky I'd come out with very articulate ideas but I came to university, it shaped that and it gave a very specific style which I obviously still use now and I'll use right up until next year.

 

But I think as well with other people that I know a lot of … such as seminar work, people have been so amazingly articulate, I mean have come out with ideas that I never would have thought of in a million years and yet in exams just cannot write, cannot get it down in such a way that is going to score them the marks. I know a lot of it is about jumping through the hoops and is about having a strong style but I've just been lucky to be able to develop my style in a way that obviously the examiners can think is to a certain standard, whereas like I said I know people who are probably much more clever than me but just struggle to get things down in a highly articulate and structured way, which is unfortunate because I think probably if it was all judged on seminar participation as well things might be different.

 

So when you say jumping through the hoops, what sort of things do you feel that are expected of you?

 

Just a really highly structured answer and it's difficult to say because obviously every question is different and provokes a different response but just articulation and being able to link every paragraph into each other in a sort of intelligent and critical way, which I don't do all the time because obviously I have good days and bad days. But I try just to focus on the text but to be able to discuss things confidently and critically, whereas a lot of other people probably have a different style to me and may go about things in such a way that a lecturer may not think is as strong as a different way of writing.

 

So it is really difficult and it's difficult to know what examiners want to a degree because it all comes down to your own style of writing and your confidence and how you respond to the question on the day quite simply. I know that I went into some of my exams this year and I've come out and thought 'Oh my goodness what have I just written?' and other ones I've come out and thought 'Yeah I think I've done OK in that one, I think I argued quite well' so it was a really, really difficult one at times, to know how to be able to get the grades and score the points because the examiners are obviously looking for something in particular. I think, like I said, I was just lucky to be able to have developed my style and be able to respond to a question with my style and for that to have impressed someone.

 

OK and then do you feel the things you've learnt to do for the exams and for the assessment are things that you value yourself and that you want to be able to do or are they things that you felt you had to do to get through those hoops?

 

Yeah I think in the first year we had three different modules and they were all quite different styles of writing but then all the same as well they were all very useful and I think probably to be honest in first year it is about jumping through the hoops, it is about recognising different ways of approaching a text and being able to translate them into your own style whereas in third year I very much felt that it was my style. It was me responding to it in my particular way with confidence whereas in the first year I just simply didn't have that skill entirely because I was in a way mimicking what had been discussed instead of asking what was the best way to approach a question quite honestly.

 

OK so that was what you were doing in the first year but then in the second and third did it seem like you took control of it a bit more you were doing things that had value to yourself or were you still trying to second guess what examiner's wanted, how did it work after first year?

 

I think in second year quite simply it just clicked with me and I thought right like I said I just had the confidence to respond to a question. It wasn't so much about I wasn't second guessing examiners, it was obviously very useful to have a lecturer say 'This is the best way, the best way to strongly argue about something' but I've always tried to follow quite a simple structure but effective at answering an essay. That meant that I would obviously take in what lecturers said but I wouldn't always use it because you know sometimes it might just not be the way that I'd want to go about answering a question.

 

It would probably seem a bit false and then I think it's better to try to put your own style out there and have someone reassure you that it's good rather then desperately try and mimic what you've been told. So yeah it definitely changed in second year and I think it was changing in the first year it's just that I wasn't as confident and I just wanted to do well, I just wanted to pass and know that I was coming here again next year whereas in the second year and definitely in the third year it had all sunk in and I was doing it I think for my own personal value.

 

So it was almost as though you'd gained the confidence from having got the building blocks together in the first year and realised you were on the right track to then find your own voice?

 

Yes.

 

And that was just as valid as any other way of sort of answering the questions.

 

Yes I think you're bound to change your style as you go along quite simply because you read more, in honesty, because I think in first year I'd obviously done a lot of reading but it did seem at times quite a lot to take in because it was three different modules and things that I'd never experienced before or even heard about before in some of them. Whereas in second year like I said I had quite a better idea of what I wanted to do and what I'd read and what type of genres I'd do and what type of style and how to respond to that in an effective way. 

 

And then you've already talked obviously about having to balance your time and there being so much to do sometimes but something I hear a lot from English Literature students is the sheer quantity of reading that they have to do seems to be so much more, even though everybody's reading in their subjects; how did you find about having to read a certain amount of novels a week and everything that you had do in the respect?

 

I think in first year to be honest it was a shock because what, well not a shock it was difficult to adapt to because at A Level, for example, you'd study a book for a month you know you'd spend a lot of time on one book whereas in first year it was a very quick turn round which I'm used to now and I'm perfectly happy to do that now but there were times where I hadn't read the book in detail as I would have liked. I did feel a bit sort of 'Oh my goodness!' and trying to keep up with it.

 

I think by the second term when you've, when you go back after Christmas you know what to expect and you know what's expected of you and it's all, it's not like it's your first couple of weeks of uni and everyone's being like 'Oh don't worry you'll get used to it.' You know that you have to really knuckle down and get on with it and so far as the quantity of reading went by the end of second year it was fine.

 

I was just used to it, it was really compared to a lot of other subjects where people are just doing different projects and stuff I really like just having the time to read, I really appreciated just being able to sit down quietly and absorb a book. It didn't seem that ridiculously much like hard work because I obviously enjoy reading so it was fine by the time I got to second year. After that first term of uni I'd managed to catch up over Christmas and everything was fine I just got on with it then.

 

And in those moments when you were struggling and thinking how can I do this were there ever any times when you questioned your decision to study that subject? Did you ever think 'Maybe this is the wrong thing to do?'

 

Honestly I'd say no but that isn't to say that there weren't times when I wasn't sure if I could do it. I know I wanted to do English but I did find it difficult at times and especially in first year because you're not entirely sure of what's going on at the beginning. I just, I think that as time went on it was fine, like I said, but there were times where I thought not so much I don't want to do this but can I do it. But I think once I got on board and once I was more confident and able to voice my opinions then it was fine and I grew more confident and reassured.

 

Just picking up on what you were talking about earlier with the examiners you felt like you wanted someone else to kind of validate what you were doing; can you tell me about the way you feel your subject is perceived by other people and the sort of reactions you've had from people when you tell them what you're studying, and how you feel about that?

 

I think to be perfectly honest I have had a bit of aggro with my friends at home, for example, when I went back after first year and they've been talking about I don't know doing Chemistry or whatever at university which is obviously a very difficult discipline and I've said 'Oh you know I've just been reading books', they've taken that as I was sitting around all year just pleasantly reading books by a fire. I don't think it is entirely appreciated by people who don't do arts subjects because it's just completely different to be honest and I think it can be undermined and undervalued because yes it is sitting around reading. But it is very difficult to be able take in so much information and be able to talk about then to be able to turn it into a very effective piece of writing.

 

It takes skill obviously and I think especially with the children's literature course this year I had, I've had a lot of interesting comments about that. But I know that the course is fantastic because what people don't realise is that it is about literary theory, it's about critically examining text, it's such a difficult skill to be able to do. I think it's undervalued because when people think of children's literature they think of lovely, you know, short books with a few words on each page which may be the case for certain texts but that doesn't mean that they're not worth studying and that doesn't mean that you can't produce very effective writing.

 

I do find it very strange that people seem to think that it's just a really easy course because I think if they went on it they'd have a bit of a shock. I find it strange as well that people seem to think that it's a discipline that doesn't matter because it's such a bit market and there is so much money tied up in it. There's so many different interests and different angles you can go into it that I just think it is undervalued to be honest but I don't mind people you know taking the mick or whatever because I know it's one of the hardest, if the hardest, modules that I've done since I've been here and I've got so much out of it, I value it completely.  

 

And I suppose one of the things you might come up against is 'What are you going to do with that?'

 

Yeah.

 

You've got your very clear plan of what you're going to do with it so is that something that you know you feel really certain, you're confident about that, you know it's there and you enjoy it in itself and it's also got this end in sight and that you'll go on and do that?  How do you feel about the future in that respect?

 

To be honest I know it may not work out as crystal clear as I want it to but I did like really well in it this year so I think if I was, and hopefully I'll do well in it next year, and I think if I am going to apply for a very specific job I think to do a very specific Masters can only help me. I've spoken to a lot of people about it and you know they've said to do an MA in this area it can only help you. I mean it's not a Masters in, I don't know, nineteenth century fiction, it's so specific and only a few universities do it so I think that might also be recognised by an employer who maybe has quite a lot of English graduates who've probably done amazingly well.

 

But then to have someone who's got an MA in children's literature who's applying to do children's publishing is probably going to be a bit different or at least I hope it will be. But just regardless of the job front it's definitely something that I want to do even if it means that it doesn't necessarily mean that I get the clear cut job at the end because I do appreciate how difficult it will be to get into such a well prestigious area of publishing where there probably aren't that many jobs available. But I still know that I want to do the masters so even if the future isn't that clear cut I'm not worried about that at the moment I'm sure I will be this time next year but I want to stay on and enjoy doing the MA.

 

And then you said that you know before you developed this plan that you'd considered publishing magazines, were there any other possible futures that you'd imagined while you were studying and doing your course?

 

I think before I came to university and people obviously say 'Oh you're doing English what are you thinking of doing?' my answer was journalism but when I came to university I think I was very naïve about journalism as well I wasn't entirely sure what sector of journalism, what sort of area what, for a newspaper, for a magazine. There's so many different possibilities with that so to be honest I had no idea. I was just saying what I thought most English graduates probably say and a lot of my friends off my course are going on to the journalism courses but they know very specifically what area of journalism they want to go into and I think they know how challenging it is and how difficult it might be to get a job. So no I didn't have a clear cut idea before I came to university at all.

 

For you was it more you wanted to do a subject that you enjoyed rather than looking at where it would lead and where you'd go with it or was that a factor when you were thinking about coming?

 

Honestly I didn't even think about after university which is bad because when I got here I was quite shocked at the amount of people that were like 'Oh you have got a job lined up?' and I'd be like 'What?' Because I didn't think about it at all I mean to be honest getting through A Levels was all I could think  about and then when I actually got to university to think about after that I just, to be honest, would think 'Oh it's three years away I've got loads of time.'

 

Then the next thing you know it's your final year and I can see how a lot of people don't know what they want to do because to be honest I probably wouldn't if I didn't know that I was staying on to do an MA which might possibly lead into doing a specific job. I think if I was to apply for a job now I wouldn't I'd try to get into children's publishing but I would take anything, any sort of level of publishing because it's just so difficult.

 

Are there any other possible avenues that you've considered or do you think you might end up doing as an alternative?

 

Well like I said both of my parents are teachers and I can appreciate the job for the positive and the negatives aspects of it because I've seen the ins and outs of it over the years. I think possibly after trying to get a job in London you know in the City and living that kind of lifestyle probably I'd be really interested in teaching at primary school or teaching infant school or something like that, just for a different type of work style. But I mean this is very hypothetical because like I said I'm really bad I can't think sort of a year in advance I just, I'm seeing how it goes at the moment.

 

OK and you've mentioned London there so is it important for you to kind of end up there, or at least in a big city, is that something that you see for yourself?

 

I think it is important to me if I'm honest because initially all of my friends that I've made at university live within a few miles of London or very close to London and I know that they're all getting jobs there. As bad as that may sound that is a big factor for me wanting to live down there quite simply for the social aspect. Also when I did my work placement in London the buzz that you get just from quite simply just like walking around and there's so much happening.

 

I think it's probably something that I want to do now while I was younger and then like I said maybe if I wanted to go into a different job like primary school teaching or something like that I'd want to move out of London and just sort of slow things down a bit. I mean I can't I have no idea if I'm going to have a family or get married or whatever but for now I think the goal is to work in London definitely because if I go home it'd still mean I could work in a city but it would just mean that I can't be with my friends that I've made now and I think that's probably one of my priorities to be honest.

 

And then you've said that you kind of didn't want to think about what would happen while you're at university but did the word career mean anything to you at that stage, what did the word career mean while you were at uni?

 

Well my only experience of you know close family friends with careers is in the sort of sector of teaching so I think my perception of it when I came to university was you know nine to five job summer holidays  you know a really good career, steady career. So for all these different options that were very business-orientated really opened it up for me because I didn't really understand all the different sectors and all the different possibilities before I came to university.

 

I think experiencing  publishing first hand I can see the complete contrast between a job like that and a job like teaching for example and I know that people who are working now, who graduated, I don't know, a couple of years ago who are in jobs where you get sort of four weeks holiday a year or something I'm not entirely sure if that's accurate but it's things like that. It's the amount of holiday and working Monday to Friday every week, it's going to be very strange to adapt to but then I think that's the type of job that I want to go into, something quite competitive and something that's quite difficult but that I really enjoy.

 

OK so we've talked a lot about how going to university has changed your ideas about what you want to do and it's helped you to shape what you're really interested in and really helped you to gain that in depth knowledge in your subject and changed you socially but I don't know if you have any more to say on the whole impact on you and your life that coming to university in general has had on you?

 

I just think I would have no idea what type of person I'd be if I hadn't come and what I'd be doing.  I think it's definitely one of the best decisions I've made in my life and again that sounds massively cheesy but it's true. It's changed me for the better, I think, like I said, confidence-wise and I think it's helped me probably to eventually get into a job that I'm going to enjoy because I know so much more about it.

 

I know that I can do it whereas if I hadn't have come I possibly would go into a job being even more naïve than I am now and not being entirely sure what would come out of it or where I was heading with it. Even though I've been quite hazy about where this is going, this is good for me I mean this is confidence and this is knowing that it will probably end up somewhere, whereas if I hadn't have come I'm really not sure what I would have done with myself.

 

So are there any major insights that you feel you've gained from coming to university that perhaps you'd pass on to someone else?

 

It's difficult to say because I mean everyone's experience is different but the main thing for me that I've said all the way through this interview is just that it just gave me so much more confidence. It's really really nice to be able to come somewhere and meet so many different people, live with them and live away from home and envelop yourself socially and intellectually. I just think it's an amazing opportunity.


And if you had to do it all again is there anything that you'd do differently?

 

I might not take art history in the first year!  No honestly I would say no regrets because even when I found it really difficult it's been rewarding for me and hopefully will benefit me.