Where I am Now

It has happened – I have finally got to the point where I can say that I have finished university and my time in education (unless I’ve failed my final exam and messed up all my coursework so will have to do retakes in August, but hopefully that won’t be the case). Finishing university has always been a huge milestone for me, and tied up with the fact that I have never not been in education, it’s a big one. When you’re in school, you dream of the day that you won’t have to be in school any longer. No more exams, no more essays, no more petty childish drama – and pretty much all three happen still in university. I say ‘you’, which realistically is a big assumption to make on behalf of everyone reading this, but what I’m trying to grasp at is that feeling of anticipating the next stage of your life. I, for one, had big expectations of what I would be like once I’d finished in education. I had hopes, dreams, and plenty of those pesky assumptions which I’m now having to reflect on.

The first big thing is independence, which in essence I have achieved in terms of living away from home during university months, doing my own washing, cooking etc etc. Yet when I was younger independence did not look like going down to tesco just before it shuts because you needed to put a wash on and have run out of tablets. It did not look like eating the same meal for three nights in a row because you want to save money. It did not like forgetting simple things every now and then because you’re tired, such as hot ceramic dishes do not mix with cold water. I know, I know, it’s all about living and learning and growing and bettering yourself, but that mantra does no good at 1am drying your bed sheets with a hairdryer because you forgot about the wash you put on.

One big thing I always thought about was what job I would have – and the dream job has changed many, many times. Becoming an author (and by that I mean a good author who has people who like their books so much that they can making a living out of it) has always been a dream job, but there are always others that pop in and out of my mind. First I wanted to be a professional horse rider, then a pop star, and then deciding I wasn’t a good enough singer so a songwriter. Recently, the dream is to be in publishing, and I certainly expected to have a job lined up and ready once university was finished. Yet, here I am, and all those hopeful publishing applications I sent out have been returned with a ‘thanks, but no’. You’re always told that you go to school, then to university, then you’ll get a job – but nobody really talks that much about the in-between. When applying for universities, no one told me about how, even if I do well and get a great degree, a job won’t be there waiting for me. They didn’t tell me that even if you work your arse off not only at your degree but at applying for jobs, it won’t necessarily mean you’ll get one either.

With the job dreams also come the social life dreams, and I always assumed that by the time university was over I would be in a committed, happy relationship with someone who could celebrate with me over all those job offers I had coming in. Again, Little Miss Assumption over here, but when I was younger that was what I thought was the most important. It was like a list of items to take the Life Goals Supermarket, and you would tick each one as you went along. Job? Tick. Relationship? Tick. What else was needed?

I knew I was going to forget a big one, and that is the dream I’ve had for a long long time, probably starting at about 10 years old – and perhaps the saddest one when I look back at it. What I wanted all through secondary school was beauty. And isn’t that just awful? Sure, sure, we can just argue and brush it off by saying that society makes us try to value what we’re born with (looks, parent’s wealth, lack of both) over what we earn for ourselves (perseverance, patience, kindness). And sure, we can all stand around and say that no society, we will not be partaking in that thank you very much. But at the end of the day, when I would go home at 12 years old and look in the mirror, all I would see was acne, a big nose, un-styled hair, and chubby patches all over. I’ve spoken a lot about acne and appearances in the past and how I now feel more confident, but I’m still filled with the memories of standing in front of a mirror and wishing that there were no mirrors in the world so I wouldn’t have to look at myself. Wishing that there was some way to exchange your face for a new one. Wishing that there was a way that meant I could live my life without anyone looking at me. And I wished for that day in the future, the day when I finished school for good, when puberty should have been and gone and left me unblemished, with clear smooth skin, great hair, and a body I was happy with. That was what was going to be my biggest marker of how far I had come.

But, as is the way of life, things didn’t exactly go to plan. Here I am, university finished, but just after the days of stress with my emotions all over the place and a few days of very hot weather, I’ve had another skin breakout. I have red spots dotted around my face like some flicked paint at me with a toothbrush. I’ve got black heads on my chin and nose, and something resembling Mount Etna on my neck. You stare in that pesky mirror and it’s pretty hard to think that you haven’t come that far at all.

Then I have to slap myself for being so melodramatic. Because I am not that twelve year old girl thinking that people won’t like me just because I have a spot on my chin. Like, jesus christ Eleanor, it’s not the end of the world. Yes, it sucks. Yes, it kinda hurts when you poke it, but it’s just a spot. There’s the magic of makeup if you’re feeling super downhearted but other than that, your face and your looks do not define you. Twelve-year-old me hardly knew how to write paragraphs, and here I am having just written a 10,000 word dissertation on a topic I love on top of my various other coursework and exam revision. On top of that I have worked every single weekend for almost two years now so that I can keep living in London and support myself. On top of that I have been going to different opportunities to make contacts and get work experience. And on top of that I’ve surrounded myself with friends who I love (and who assure me they love me back when I’m not being so ridiculously melodramatic).

And so, like most of these blog posts go, this has turned from reflection to being a self-affirmation that whilst all my hopes and dreams haven’t exactly come to pass, I’ve realised that they’re allowed to change a bit. And who knows, maybe one day I’ll be a bestselling author telling the story of how she almost let a pimple keep her from chasing her dream, and everyone will say, “Man, she was a melodramatic child”.

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Guide to University: The Dissertation

So you’ve finally made it to (what is most likely) your final year of university. You’re struck with a mixture of excitement, panic, awe, fear, anxiety, pure terror, and just a general feeling of being overwhelmed. If you’re in a career-guided degree, like Medicine or Engineering, then you won’t have to deal with one of the more larger pressures that everyone else goes through (aka what the hell am I going to do when I get out of here, how do I find jobs, how do I get interviews, someone please just help me etc), so enjoy that. However, what most people will have to suffer through, most of the time out of choice, is The Dissertation.

No one really knows what The Dissertation actually is – even halfway through writing it some people still don’t understand what it is – but essentially, or rather ‘for the most part’, it is a large essay which is seen as the main project of your final year. Although for most of us The Dissertation counts for just as much as some of our other modules, employers often ask about your mark for The Dissertation as it’s one of the only essays you’ll write which is entirely dependent on your own work. Sure, no one writes your essays for you (unless you are a cheat in which case you’re not welcome here), but there is a lot of work done for you and usually other people writing on the same thing. When it comes to The Dissertation, not only do you have to think of your own niche subject to write about (no vague or broad titles allowed), you have to do 100% of the research. Your title will likely change two, three, or even five times over the whole course of The Dissertation – sometimes just a few mere weeks before the deadline.

As someone who has only just handed in their Dissertation, I think I can safely say, now that it’s over, I’m glad I ended up writing one. A Dissertation allows you to write about what you find interesting, and sometimes is more enjoyable than your other subjects as you choose which bits to focus on, again, because it’s all your choice and preference. However, that does not mean that it’s not one giant ball of stress that weighs you down over the whole course of your year. So here are a few tips from one student to another on how to survive The Dissertation.

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First of all, once your penultimate year is over, you’ll have the whole Summer free ahead of you, and you’ll probably be planning a nice long break – and you deserve it. However, make Future You grateful by doing some reading in this break. I know, I know, it sucks, but just do a bit. Even if it’s just one or two books, or a few articles, that’s one or two books/articles less that Future You will have to do later. What truly helped me was actually figuring out exactly what I wanted to write about over the summer. I did my Dissertation on the presentation of Ancient Heroes by Modern Female Writers, and it was over the course of the Summer that I found out which books I did, and most definitely did not, want to focus on. A lot of people entered their final year having no clue what to write about, so it’s helpful to get that out of the way. And, above all, make sure you pick something that you like. Yeah, maybe you’ll lose some love for it over the course of the year, but you don’t want to be stuck working on something that bores you out of your mind.

Secondly, organise your time. Yeah, sounds simple, but do people always do it? Nope. If I could go back, I would definitely do things differently. At the start of the year, the April/May deadline seems like a long, long way away, so it’s easy to not think about The Dissertation that much. And then you start working and doing other essays, so it takes a backseat. I had the general plan of writing three chapters overall with an introduction and conclusion, so the first chapter was aimed to be finished by Christmas, the second after February Reading Week/Half Term, and the third by the end of term (which was two or three weeks before the deadline). However, what you don’t take into account is the simple fact that the first draft will not be your final draft. Sure, if you’re like me, you can finish a chapter by Christmas, but not actually finish it. I lucked out with a great supervisor, and when he sent back my first draft with a gazillion annotations and corrections, I came to the realisation that – even though I felt organised – I was already behind. In February I was still trying to redo the first chapter whilst doing the second, and when the second was sent back to me I was rewriting two chapters whilst trying to start my initial research for the third. So please, to save yourself, think ahead and organise your time. This is why employers like The Dissertation – it’s physical proof of your own proactivity and self-motivation.

Third, and I think three tips will probably be enough for you to start digesting, try not to forget about everything else. To the outside world, The Dissertation, although sounding scary, is just that – a dissertation. But in actuality, you’re not only writing a Dissertation, but are also working for several different modules, juggling various essays, and trying to keep on top of revision for your upcoming exams – not to mention trying to have a social life. So, do yourself a favour, and try to manage your time – basically a reputation of point two. Make sure you don’t let The Dissertation take over, and it will try to on multiple occasions. Set aside some time each week to work at it, and if you’ve done the first thing right and actually picked something you enjoy working on, you won’t mind researching your Dissertation instead of something else. You just have to keep chipping away at it, and sooner or later it will be a week before your deadline and, if you’ve done as I’ve recommended, you can sit back and relax whilst sipping a martini whilst everyone arounds you panics.

Then I recommend dropping that martini because, final point to make, even though your Dissertation is over, that doesn’t always mark the end of your university career. If you’re like me, you’ll still have other essays to deal with and exams to think about. So go forth, conquer your fears of The Dissertation, and good luck my friends (you’re gonna need it).

And enjoy the unending hunt for jobs, those of you who aren’t in career-focused degrees. The fun just never ends.

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perezhilton

Living with Medics

Medical students are an odd breed. Right now they are smart but often stupid, drinking nineteen pints and taking knock-out pills then running to see how far they get before they fall. Soon enough, after five, six, seven years (depending on year outs, failed years – you get the drift), they’ll be junior doctors. The righteous junior doctors who we should be supporting in their long hours and dedications. Then they’ll be fully-fledged doctors, in charge of our health and the ones that sign the notes that get us out of work.

Yet I am no medical student. I’m not even in the sciences. I am a humanities student. I do not understand how the mind of a medic works, and they don’t understand how my mind works, but we somehow exist together in an odd little jumble of ‘I’m almost a doctor’ speech, debates over whose essays are harder, and varying opinions on almost every subject. Somehow the three of us, two medics and a humanities student, manage to live in a kind-of harmony, and that may just because I’m related to one of them. Still, it makes for some fantastic anecdotes.

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Our ‘bedside manner’, as they might call it, varies greatly. A medical student clearly learns to be confident (hell, you don’t want your doctor um-ing and ah-ing over whether to give you this drug or that one), and be assertive. In a medical situation, they need to be able to take charge if need be and make quick decisions, declaring what they can do and how they’re useful. This all makes perfectly good sense, but this is ‘interesting’ to deal with in a normal daily atmosphere. Perhaps it’s because there’re two of them in the flat, but the competitiveness is overwhelming. Conversations that would normally go like this:

“Hey, how was your day?”

“Yeah not bad. You?”

“Yeah, alright, thanks.”

End up being vastly different….

“Hey, how was your day?”

“Well I’ve been on a ward since nine and managed to impress one of the doctors on call which was good, and I managed to put in a cannula first try, and had to tell a few people they had cancer which was really trying, but managed to also contribute to saving someone’s life. How about you?”

“Uh, yeah. It was alright.”

Suddenly, finishing a book within a day or managing to write a 3000 word essay in record time, or even both at the same time, isn’t all that impressive anymore. Hell, it was only ever really impressive to myself and my humanities mates to begin with.

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There are conflicts, of course – as is with every flat and it’s occupants. Roommates will argue at some point; it’s practically law. There are tensions over contact hours at university (eight hours a week compared to eight hours a day causes a dangerous cocktail of jealousy, despair, and utter turmoil – see my earlier blog if you need more on this), the amount of work that’s been set, and even the level of stress you’re at.

But there are also some great moments. For them, it’s when I knock on the door because yet another one of my friends has messaged to see if I can ask my brother if the lump on their leg needs to be medically treated. Or it’s when other humanities friends come round and they get to lament over their long hours and their abilities to save lives and have an audience that can’t say ‘well, yeah, we all do that’.

For me, it’s the moments when they try to help me with my degree. Now don’t get me wrong, they aren’t helpful in the slightest, but they say such fantastic comments that I get to write down and tell my friends about and even write a blog about. (See what I did there?)

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It’s when I’m writing an essay that I seem to get the best comments. All I have to do is sigh loudly and cry out ‘Oh cruel world, why must you make me write an essay of 4000 words on a concept featured in eighteenth century travel writing?’, and immediately my ever-so-helpful-and-assertive-in-their-abilities medical student roommates will pitch in with their thoughts.

Warning: these quotes are from real life medical students.

They most likely haven’t written an english essay since they were 16.

“Just put in loads of semi-colons. That’s what I did in GCSE English.”

“Use the word juxtaposition. That sounds like a word that would get an A grade.”

“I used enjambment all the time because it’s long and sounds French.”

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Honestly, I’ve no idea how to follow that. How can you follow that? Actually, I know – once again, you immediately text your friends so they can laugh over the medical-student-essay advice and then write down those tips because they are going to be featured in a blog real soon. (Love you guys really. And I’m sorry, but you can’t write English and/or Classics essays. Stick with saving lives.)

Guide to University: stress

Let’s talk stress.

The education system these days is built to be stressful, and my particularly secondary school excelled at creating the most stressful environment – and that was just for the end of year exams when we were 12, let along the actual GCSEs or A levels when we were 16-18. You could say that I’ve experienced a lot of stress, just as most people have, but when it comes to university it’s very different – at least, that’s what I’ve found.

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In secondary school, a lot of pressure was put on – and although I am talking from my own personal experience, from talking with people I’ve met it’s usually a guarantee that there is pressure. It was all about getting those GCSEs to get into a good sixth form, then getting good AS results to get university offers, then getting your actual A levels to get into university. There was a lot of pressure, talks about what you should be doing, and over-the-top comments about futures working at McDonalds if we didn’t revise trigonometry.

In university, I’ve found it to be very different. Instead of constant talks about exams and essays, they’re mentioned almost in passing. Oh yeah, you guys have an essay due soon, the essay titles are up online. Boom, that’s it, no more, move along, get to it. The stress isn’t put into you by others – no, instead, you are the one who will get stressed on your own. Personally, I worry about everything. Literally everything. I’m early, even when I’m late, and over-plan everything, double checking with friends about times and places and what’s happened and dress code and – god, it’s a stress just waking up sometimes (especially when I have 9ams). When it comes to exams and essays, I worry slightly in the run-up but the actual fear and anxiety doesn’t start to choke me until a month or so beforehand. It can be overwhelming, especially if you deal with anxiety on a daily basis. There isn’t any hand-holding at university, and dealing with everything on your own can be daunting. There’s no point lying and saying that really it’s all ok and you’ll be fine, because the truth is you need to work your arse off to even do average – at least, that’s how I am.

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The trick? Well, there isn’t one – and if there is a trick, then it’s different to everyone. Maybe you work better being in the library from dawn until dusk every day, or maybe you’re better at doing only half an hour every day for months upon end. I hate the library with a vengeance – even when I don’t have exams or essays coming up, just walking through the silent halls and creeping past people scribbling on paper or typing furiously at a computer freaks me out. I feel stressed whenever I try to work there, so normally I avoid it until I have to go to find books for said essays and exams.

My trick to combat stress? Take it one day at a time. I can’t work with timetables that map out my work for the next few weeks, it just makes me more stressed when I get behind schedule – and, trust me, I get behind schedule. I like to make a few lists of what I need to do for each subjects, and then each day I break them down. I pick one or two things to focus on each day. And if I don’t finish them? Not a problem, just finish it off the next day.

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Also use reward system – trust me, it’s a beautiful thing. You need restraint, yes, but if you set yourself achievable – let me just stress that again, achievable – goals that aren’t stupid like ‘write down the title’, then reward yourself at certain points. For example you could do so much as to say get halfway through an essay, or just write the introduction, yet for me I do it at the very end goal of finishing the essay. For exams it’s a more gradual process, so I of course celebrate when they’re over, but I also set mini goals throughout. Such as work through a set amount of lectures, or make all the notecards, or plan out as many practice questions as possible. Again, it’s taking one thing at a time.

I suppose university is only good for a certain mindset. If you need someone to tell you exactly what to do and when to do it, university probably isn’t for you. Hell, I’m at the end of my second year and I still haven’t been told how to write an essay. I’ve just been told not to write an ‘A level’ one, whatever that means.

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I’m not sure how helpful this guide can be, as really it’s just advice for a younger version of me as these are the tricks that work for me, but trust me when I say I can understand stress. I know how, well, stressful it is. It’s tiring just being stressed, and most days I just want to stay in bed and call in a sick day. But there’s no stopping time, no matter how hard you wish for the hands on the clock to just pause for a moment, so you just need to take it one step at a time. What’s that cliche phrase about how every marathon starts with a single step? You know the one. Think of that cliche whenever you’re stressed, and then laugh at yourself for being so cliche. Cheer yourself up with whatever cheers you up – whether that’s seeing your friends, eating copious amounts of chocolate, watching an episode of your favourite show, playing with your dog – and then tell yourself to just work a bit longer for that day. That’s all it takes. It’s a long haul, but in the end it’s worth it.

At least, I think it is. I’ll let you know next year.

Shit. Next year I finish university. Now I’m stressed. Again. Luckily I’ve just booked a trip home so I can play with my dog and take it one day at a time.