Tag Archives: Higher Education

My Failed New Year’s Resolutions

8 Jan

Image by elycefeliz, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

I love New Year. I love the fireworks, the celebrations and the sense of optimism that comes with the dawning of each new calendar year.

But I absolutely suck at sticking to my New Year’s resolutions.

That’s not to say I haven’t tried; for a while my only resolution was to not make a resolution, and I stuck to that for a while. I’m also lucky in that I don’t fall into the usual resolutions of stopping smoking or drinking, because I don’t smoke and I very rarely drink.

But when I look back at the resolutions I’ve neglected to achieve over the last few years, I’ve come to the conclusion that they failed, not because I didn’t try, but because they weren’t the right resolutions for me at the time.

Resolution One: Lose Some Weight, Fatty

I was quite skinny when I was younger. In fact, I was so skinny that I never realised just how skinny I was until I wasn’t that skinny any more. Your body, like your personality, changes over time, and while I’m not a size 8, I’m still a healthy weight for my size.

In fact, I’m happier now in my body than I ever was before, and while some bits could do with firming up, and I fantasise about having Linda Hamilton Terminator 2-esque biceps, it won’t happen overnight, and that’s ok. I’ll continue eating healthily and working at my physical day job, that’ll do for now.

Resolution Two: Stop Procrastinating…Tomorrow….No, Today

“Procrastination,” my mother once declared, “’tis the thief of time!” and she was right. I procrastinate too much, I live in my head too much, I think about doing something for too long when I should just do it. Case in point: I thought about blogging for four years before I actually did anything about it.

I know I’m not alone in procrastinating, which is reassuring, but whilst I have looked at other ways of working, such as the Pomodoro Technique and blocking access to Facebook and Twitter while working, my mind needs to wander.

While I may not be able to stop procrastinating altogether, I can deal with it in better ways; such as allowing myself breaks, getting into a better work at home routine and changing my attitude towards tasks that have to be done. As someone once said to me, “You have to stop thinking that you should do something, and instead start thinking that you need, want or wish to do something.” This advice has made a big difference to just about every aspect of my life.

Resolution Three: Go Back to University

Around this time last year, I blogged about my quest to get back into higher education after graduating nearly four years previously. This year marks five years since that fateful day when I put on a big, silly gown, got all nervous, shook Sir Tom Farmer’s hand and got my degree, and I’m still no closer to going back to university.

In fact, if anything, I’m a little more conflicted about the whole thing; it’s expensive, you’re not guaranteed a job, and there are lots of journalists that say that postgraduate degrees aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on. All the advice I’ve had about getting into the media has been pretty contradictory, and while some still insist that experience, not qualifications, matter, I’ve noticed that an alarming number of media job adverts begin with the terrifying statement: “You will have a journalism qualification.”

So, what next? In the next few months, I aim to find out more about funding and bursaries and see if there’s anything that I would be suitable for. I can also do a much less expensive, but very respected NCTJ Course in my own time, which would give me that elusive journalism qualification without the £6,000+ price tag.

Resolution Four: Learn to Drive

I’ve been meaning to learn to drive since I was 17. I’m now 28, and although I have a provisional driving license and I once owned a car with my former partner (it was a purple VW Golf MK3, affectionately referred to as Reggie, I loved that car) I’ve never had a driving lesson.

There are many reasons for this; procrastination, sheer laziness, expense and the fact that Edinburgh’s bus service is really very good, so, logically, when would I actually drive? Still, I need to learn to drive because it’s an important skill to have on my CV, it would allow me greater freedom to travel around the country and beyond, and at nearly 30, sitting behind the wheel of a parked car going “Vroom! Vroom!” Just doesn’t do it for me any more.

Resolution Five: Read More

I used to love reading. I’d read into the early hours of the morning and then read again the next day. My parents would buy me a small pile of books every Christmas, thinking they would last me until March and then despair when they realised that I’d read them all by New Year.

But then, I went to university, and I wasn’t allowed to read for fun. My degree, while a drama course, was more academic than practical, and we had to read at least three plays a week, combined with several dull critical theory texts. Have you ever read Roland Barthes’ Death of the Author? It makes an interesting point, but it’s turgid; it’s worse than Sunset Song and Highland River, both of which I had to read in High School, and both of which keep popping up on Scotland’s greatest books lists, much to my utter disgust.

And if you think about it, reading a play is a very different experience to watching a play. Just as reading a book because someone in authority says you must read it takes all the fun out of the experience.

So, I got bored with reading, and all these years later, I still struggle to finish a book, because I get distracted. I have got better; last year, I read the entire Stieg Larsson Millennium Trilogy, and I’m halfway through Mark Kermode’s latest, and really very good tome, Hatchet Job. After that, I’m going to read all the A Song of Ice and Fire books by George R.R. Martin, so I’m getting there.

Resolution Six: Go to the Theatre/Cinema For Fun!

For years, going to the theatre and the cinema has been work for me – I’m there to review after all – and so, I go there in full critic mode, complete with notebook and eagerness to ‘read’ the work.

Sometimes it’s hard to get out of this mindset, and I have to re-learn how to enjoy going to the theatre or the cinema as a regular audience member, not some poor arts hack with a bashed notebook. The experience needs be an escape again for me, as it should be for everyone else, and I need to stop getting so annoyed by badly behaved audiences.

Resolution Seven: Stop Getting Annoyed by Badly Behaved Audiences

Hey, I’ll stop getting annoyed when they learn how to behave.

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21 Things I Wish University Had Taught Me

29 Apr

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Graduation Cake by CarbonNYC - image used under a Creative Commons Licence.

Graduation Cake by CarbonNYC – image used under a Creative Commons Licence.

I learned a lot during my time in higher education; some of which I realised fairly quickly, however, other lessons took a little longer to work out.

Here are just some of them.

1. The nervous first year student at matriculation and the new graduate receiving their degree four years later will not be the same person.

2. You will have doubts about your course/life/direction/goals.

3. If you get through university and are able to look after yourself through cooking, general hygiene and handling money responsibly, then you will know more than a great number of people in the UK, and indeed, the world.

4. Your Student Loan will take a while to pay off, but you WILL pay it off.

5. You will make post-university plans that you won’t stick to, and this is ok.

6. You will not walk into your perfect job after graduating, this will take time.

7. It’s never too late to change your mind.

8. Don’t listen to other people when they tell you that you can’t do something, such as travelling or moving away. This is your life, live it your way.

9. You will have to take a job for the money, and not for the thrill of the job.

10. You will lose touch with friends from university; this is natural.

11. Find a good hobby; it will keep you occupied.

12. Change is normal, don’t fear it.

13. Find your comfort zone and destroy it. Comforts can only hold you back.

14. You might have to start all over again.

15. People change and outgrow each other, it’s painful, but it happens.

16. Never lose sight of your goals.

17. Do not be afraid to ask for help if you need it.

18. Take a risk, because failing at something is not the end of the world.

19. Jealousy does awful things to people; rise above it.

20. Know your worth; never undermine yourself or undervalue what you mean to others.

21. Don’t drink too much. Save your money and spend it on something more useful than a hangover.

Trash and The Quest for Higher Education

3 Feb
Journalism Postgraduate

Postgraduate Prospectuses

I graduated in 2009, after spending four years at a pretty chaotic university in Scotland. At the time, I was glad to escape and happy to get away from the university’s inability to return essays on time, their refusal to listen to student feedback, and most importantly, their desire to shut down the drama department of which I was a student. A department which had, at one point, been one of the leading drama departments in the country, and had helped the university gain conservatoire status. But that’s another story.

Since I graduated, I’ve achieved a lot; my writing has improved, I’ve written for a number of publications, I’ve worked as an editor, I’ve got a good ‘day job’, I’ve bought a flat, and I’m paying off my student loan. But I am struggling to get regular paid journalism work, and I can’t afford to take time off my ‘day job’ in order to take unpaid ‘editorial work experience’ that sees me making coffee, doing menial tasks, or worse, being ignored.

Since last year, I have been considering going back to university to do a postgraduate course in journalism. I know many people who have, and all of them are doing well; they work for big publications, they are establishing themselves in their field, and some of them are even moving abroad to further their careers. For me, I’m now at the point in my career where I have to make this decision; at the moment, I am still doing a lot of unpaid work, and I have a strong portfolio, yet when I have applied for journalism jobs, I have never even managed to get feedback on my application, let alone secure an interview.

I suspect this is because my degree is, to all intents and purposes, a drama degree, although I specialised in arts journalism in my final two years, I feel that potential employers are looking at the words ‘BA (Hons) Drama and Theatre Arts’ and throwing my CV in the bin. My lack of journalism qualifications is counting against me, despite my experience in the industry, but it’s time to face facts, I need to have a journalism qualification in order to progress.

However, postgraduate degrees, lest we forget, are expensive in the UK, disproportionately so, compared to fees in Europe and the system seems to be tailored towards attracting international students, as opposed to teaching domestic ones. Support for postgraduates is also low, and a recent report has revealed that 1,000 postgraduate students turn down places at Oxford University each year, because of the ‘financial demands of study there’. It’s ridiculous how expensive it is to study in the UK; some universities will change £6,000+ for a journalism postgrad, while others will charge more than £9,000 – and that’s just for fees, if you factor in basic living expenses, such as food and rent, then the average postgrad student is paying a lot of money for the privilege of further education.

So, last week, instead of doing my usual and just thinking about doing a postgrad, I made a decision. I went to a postgraduate fair organised by Target Courses at the University of Edinburgh, to see what I could do, and spoke to various people about my options, both financial and otherwise. To my surprise, the whole afternoon was very positive. The representative I spoke to from SAAS (Student Awards Agency for Scotland) which handles fees and loans, was very helpful, and while they can only offer loans towards part of the cost of postgraduate degrees, they took me through the specifics of the loan and explained everything clearly.

I also spoke to a number of university representatives, including those from Napier, Glasgow Caledonian, University of Salford, Manchester, UCD College of Arts and Celtic Studies, Study Options, Strathclyde University and the Fulbright Commission. Some of these conversations were very helpful, very positive and friendly, whereas others, weren’t. Just a quick heads up to anyone representing a university at a fair – answering questions with “Well, if you go to our website…” isn’t helpful, it’s lazy. I’ve spent time researching your courses, I’ve spent countless hours on many university websites – which aren’t always easy to navigate – and I’ve come with a list of questions, so the very least you can do is be prepared. Although, I had to laugh when I approached the ‘Study in Germany’ stand, just out of curiosity, because I didn’t know if it was an English-language college they were representing, and asked about their courses. The woman manning the stall paused, blinked slowly, and answered, “Are you German?” Whether she meant to say, “Do you speak German?”, I’ll never know, because the conversation quickly descended into farce from there, as she told me several times that I would need to speak German in order to study in Germany, gave me a website address, and sent me on my way with the most patronising of smiles. So, it wasn’t an English language college, then.

The people who were willing to talk to me, and had answers to my questions made me feel like going back to university is something I can do; of course, I’m still trying to figure out which universities, which courses, and most importantly, how I will pay the fees, but it doesn’t feel like an impossible task any more. Yes, the fees are too much, we shouldn’t have to pay in order to better ourselves through education, and further education shouldn’t be a luxury for the rich and the well-connected, but I’ll be damned if I’ll let that stop me.

Have you done a journalism postgrad? Are you thinking about it? Or are you determined to do it, like me? Got any advice? Get in touch, let’s talk.

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