As part of my Between the Pages book blog series, I blogged about the lives, historical periods and creative works of two great authors: Jane Austen and Thomas Hardy. I’d planned to continue the series until the end of the year as it was great fun to research these authors and write posts for you all to enjoy.
Last year, I was walking to class one day and another student was talking on his phone in front of me. Snippets of his conversation floated back to me and one of them was:
“Can you believe it? I’m actually getting a degree!”
I smiled when I heard this because I understood the feeling. As students, we know that we will get our degrees, as long as we study and work hard — well, even the students who don’t work hard can get degrees, but their degree classification will most likely suffer! — but it still feels slightly surreal.
When I walked out of the exam room for the last time, having spent the past two hours intensely focused on writing exam answers, I felt a strange mix of happiness and wistfulness. Graduation is a time of change and transition, which can bring mixed emotions with it. As I reflect on the past few years, I can see how far I have come and how much I have changed from day one to the last day of my undergraduate degree studies. I have developed increased self-assuredness and strength, as well as confidence in my own abilities and determination to reach my goals and push through challenges.
I completed my degree at the end of May and I received my official result in June: I am graduating with a First Class Honours degree! As most of my readers are from North America, achieving a First in your degree is equivalent to a 4.0 GPA. Needless to say, I am very happy with my degree classification! I’ll share some photos after my graduation ceremony in a few weeks.
On the whole, my undergrad experience wasn’t the stereotypical student life; my mother developed a serious illness in my first year of studying and it culminated in a year’s leave of absence from my studies while I coped with being her caregiver and all the responsibilities which it entailed. However, I returned to academic life after my leave of absence and the experience gave me a greater sense of perspective.
Meanwhile, although it is exciting to graduate, I am already busy formulating a plan for the next step: working while studying part-time for a Masters by Research.
I have a research proposal for a linguistics project which is ready to go ahead and I will be sharing more about this in the coming weeks. The only obstacle is that the project needs funding. Earlier this year, I applied for funding from an academic research council, but unfortunately I didn’t get it. There are no scholarships available; I have written to educational trusts in the hope of obtaining a small grant, but many of them only fund undergraduates or PhD students.
Academic funding budgets are small and have been cut in recent years. As a result, more and more graduates are turning to alternative and entrepreneurial ways of funding academic projects, including crowdfunding. As a student said in a Financial Times article,
“It’s really hard to find funding for postgraduate courses in the UK, in the same way that it’s really hard to afford the fees for undergraduate courses in the US”
I plan to work to fund living expenses and I will conduct my linguistics research part-time, which will take two years. Although I have mixed feelings about it, I am investigating crowdfunding as a funding method; my university has its own crowdfunding platform and other postgraduates have successfully raised funds.
Cultural Life is strictly non-commercial and is a space for me to share posts and connect with other bloggers. However, I decided to join Amazon Associates a few days ago after seeing that a few blogging acquaintances use it. If you click through to Amazon and make purchase anything via my Associates link, I get a tiny percentage as a reward for referring you to Amazon. Anything that I receive from being an Amazon affiliate is going to fund my project. Thank you very much!
As always, I welcome feedback and discussion in the comments section. What advice would you offer to graduates who are transitioning to the next phase in their career?
Also, I am aware that crowdfunding can elicit negative responses — what do you think about the growing trend for postgraduate researchers to seek support via crowdfunding platforms? Please be honest! I’d love to hear what my readers think!
Time waits for no woman…the clock is ticking and my deadlines are calling (Public domain image source)
I haven’t blogged in a while. Where you can find me? Down the rabbit warren that is Google Scholar, getting (enjoyably) lost and immersed in a sea of interesting research. If you’ll excuse the use of another animal-related metaphor, I’m busy beavering away in preparation for my final undergraduate exams.
As much as I love blogging and reading your blogs, I am taking a blogging break until the end of May. As I have exams starting on May 11 through May 18, I have little time to spare for blogging right now.
Meanwhile, happy May Day and see you at the end of May. I hope you have a wonderful month. Do you have plans for this month? If you’re a student like me, are your exams looming on the horizon?
At this time of year, the pressure builds up for most college students. Spring break is over for many students, there are multiple deadlines for papers to be turned in and preparation for exams is in full-swing. But perhaps this pressure could be reduced if more students took a deeper interest in their classes. Arguably, students who are driven solely by grades come away from their college experience with a lot less knowledge than students who are motivated by interest.
Exploring my intellectual interests is something that motivates me. I have posted before about how inspired I am by studying linguistics and how it is my aspiration to teach linguistics. In February, I applied for grant funding for graduate study and writing my research proposal felt great, chiefly because it involved my own original ideas, informed by the literature I read. All questions have to come from somewhere and in academia, you have to know what has been said already to generate new research.
However, I recently found myself losing sight, just a little, of the bigger picture and having to be particularly intentional in reminding myself what it is. Of course, grant funding is highly competitive. I am awaiting the decision, which I will hear in the next few weeks, and in the mean time my work is keeping me busy (hence, the sparsity of recent posts on my blog). To get funding, I need to get excellent results in my undergraduate degree and even then, it may not be awarded to me. Naturally, this has been on my mind quite a lot and I have been working solidly during Spring break: writing, writing, researching, and writing some more.
The idea for this post arose when I realized that I have been working so hard, focusing on getting the grades so I can continue my academic career, that my enthusiasm kept dipping. Personally, I find the more I fixate on pursuing grades, the less creative I become in exploring ideas. Grades are important, yes, because they are a measure of academic excellence. But I would argue that there are two versions of doing ‘well’: a materialistic version where you check all the boxes, such as being at the top of the class, a straight-A student, achieving a 4.0 GPA….etc. We hear a lot about the “straight-A student” as the benchmark for academic excellence, perhaps more so in high school contexts than in college. To me, this implies that the system prizes material scores over the other version of doing well: exploring ideas, learning because you want to learn, and not simply because you want a good transcript.
While traditional grading systems, such as the letter grade, are deeply rooted in the education system, my personal opinion is that academic institutions should place less emphasis on students getting a perfect test score and, instead, focus more on intellectual interest.
Being engaged with what you are learning results in better work. Yes, it feels great to do well in an exam, but scoring perfect grades should be merely a byproduct of study that is motivated by wanting to know more, by curiosity and absorption. As I wrote above, I found that placing too much focus on the endpoint spoils the journey and results in work that is less creative and less intellectually engaged. I’d rather focus on the second version of doing well, and then the first comes much easier!
The past few weeks were strenuous in terms of my workload, enjoyable but strenuous! Regular readers of Cultural Life might remember that I hit a low point for a week or so when I started the final year of my BA in October, but I think that was simply due to adjusting back into the pace of the academic year. I was also feeling somewhat daunted by the first piece of fieldwork that I had to do for one of my modules. As I wrote in that October post, the class assignment was “the most advanced and demanding project I have done so far”.
However, flash forward a few months later: the project is finished, I turned it in last Monday and I feel happy with my work. When I printed out the project, MS Word told me the total editing time was 1906 minutes — 31.8 hours! That doesn’t include the time I spent finding people to interview, which entailed making lots of phone calls and utilizing social media, making several 2-hour round trips to interview people, transcribing the interviews and reading background literature on my subject. Overall, I estimate that I spent at least 60 hours on the project, but it was worth it! Whereas I felt somewhat downcast initially, the experience I had of carrying out this project has made me even more sure that the academic life is the life for me. I am intent on pursuing my goal of becoming a university lecturer. While I know there will be low points along the way, it’s good to reflect on the high points too because sometimes, when there are setbacks, it can be difficult to remember how the highs feel.
This weekend is a brief respite before the Spring/Summer semester begins and I am making the most of doing nothing study-related! As Caitlin Kelly from Broadside Blog tweeted recently, “We all run ourselves at an industrial pace”, which is so true!
It does feel good being unproductive. I am taking this weekend out to relax; last night I went out for dinner with friends and today I went for a 3 mile walk, followed by too much time on my laptop, catching up on blogs and browsing online newspapers. This evening, I’m going to curl up in front of the fire with Hillary Clinton’s memoir of her time as Secretary of State. It feels deliciously unproductive and yes, I could be doing preliminary reading for the new classes which I start this week, but sometimes it’s good to just give ourselves a break.
How do you relax?