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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The Eternal Anxiety of Being Liked

I’ve always liked having friends, and for a long time I thought that my happy buzz when it seemed people enjoyed spending time with me was just that. It’s nice to be surrounded by other people who you like and who like you. It didn’t really hit me that I had this anxiety of being liked by everyone until my latter years of secondary school, even though I know that I am not alone in this feeling.

If I find out that someone doesn’t like me, or if I’m around someone and get the feeling that they don’t really like me, I obsess over it. For hours and days and maybe even weeks I’m thinking about what I did wrong, what it was that made me unlikeable, whether I should have acted differently – and it goes on. Of course you are never going to go through life being liked by everyone, and that’s something that I’ve come to terms with over the past few years, especially in university, but I’ve spent the majority of my life trying to avoid coming to this realisation.

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I think back to my first year in secondary school when I talk about this anxiety of mine. I think of how I didn’t really have a specific group of friends, and instead I flitted from one to another – which, for a while, I enjoyed. I liked having the ability to strike up a conversation with anyone and everyone, and the fact that at lunchtime it didn’t matter who was in the form room because I could just sit with whoever was there. I liked being friends with everyone, because in my head it meant everyone was friends with me. Then, one of my most embarrassing memories comes to mind – and this in particular really shows off that crippling anxiety of not being liked.

In my class, when I was about 11, we were given a seating arrangement for our form time, which was just at the beginning and end of the day for maybe 10 minutes. I was sat next to a girl who was incredibly popular, and she was one of those types who was good at everything; she was sporty and on the hockey team, musically inclined and could play the piano, was cast in all the school plays and musicals because she was a great actor with a great voice, was incredibly intelligent and aced every test, and, what was sometimes the most frustrating quality, she was also infuriatingly nice. Seriously, she was so nice you couldn’t get angry that she was brilliant at everything, and that just made you even angrier. Anyway, we were placed next to each other for the first term and we got on well – or, rather, we were both nice and friendly and acted that way with each other. We never really hung out that much outside the classroom, just did the usual of inviting each other to our birthday parties and things like that. But then, lo and behold, the following term we were told we could sit next to whoever. And what does 11 year old me do? She sits there and says something along the lines of “I wonder if anyone will want to sit with me. I think I’ll probably end up sitting on my own” and, although I don’t remember exactly, I’m pretty sure I even went on to say how much I liked sitting next to this girl and may have even dramatically sighed. So, this girl being the nice girl she is, plonks her arse back down and sits next to me for the following term.

Mortifyingis the only word that comes to mind when I think back on this. I’m pretty certain this girl doesn’t even remember this incident, but dear lord do I remember it. I knew what I was doing, sitting there acting all dramatic and sullen and ridiculous, hoping that she would sit next to me again. Yet, I also think how upsetting it is to think that, even though 11-year-old me knew she was manipulating a situation, 11-year-old me thought that that was her only good chance of sitting next to someone because there was a voice in her head saying “No one actually likes you. No one actually wants to sit next to you.” Of course this wasn’t helped when the popular pretty girl kept sitting next to me, because it meant that this voice told me she was only sitting there to be nice, that she didn’t actually like me but sat there because I acted like a drama queen.

Then I think of the following years, up until the age of about 16, and how I acted with my friends. Even though they chose to hang out with me and be around me, there was still a part of me that felt that I needed to prove myself, be that extra bit likeable. I would change depending on who I was around – with one I would talk about music I knew she liked, another I would talk about completely different music and claimed I only liked that music too, or with some friends I would just try to be the goofy one, the funny one, the one that everyone likes. It wasn’t until I was in sixth form and developed a very bad relationship with another girl who was one day a bully and one day a friend depending on what suited her, that I realised that there was no point. Why should I change depending on who I was with? Why did I crave being liked?

I’m only fully able to say with certainty that I don’t do this anymore. In my first year of university I definitely adapted with the different groups I was with, trying to fit in and act cool and be likeable. Now? I really don’t have the energy to be anything other than myself, and have found, to my great relief, that it didn’t really make much of a difference. It seems people like to surround themselves with people who they like for being themselves, which is a terrible way of trying to say that others don’t give a shit. If you don’t like their music, so what? It’s something to discuss and talk about. It ties in with having the confidence to be yourself and not be self-conscious about every little thing.

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I’ve always been a ‘worrier’, and this anxiety of being liked is one of the many things that have plagued my mind daily for years. I’ve talked previously on this blog about my anxiety over my weight, my skin, my looks, my talents – and it all boils down to having the self-confidence and self-worth to know that none of it matters. It comes to remembering to think of yourself, and not of other people, when you’re looking at your skin/face/clothes/body. If you’re happy with yourself, then why worry about anyone else? You shouldn’t have to change for someone else, from styling your hair a certain way to saying you like a certain kind of music. I obsessed over my acne because I thought it made me look ugly, and part of that was because I obsessed over what other people saw when they looked at me. She just looked at me, and I bet she saw my spot on my chin. I bet that when she smiled at me she was laughing at how awful I look. Etc, etc. I could go on.

So the reason I’m trying to get to amongst all these ramblings is that not everyone is going to like you, and that’s ok. What’s important is your own happiness, and that happiness will never come from making sure everyone else likes you. I learned the hard way that you just can’t keep up all the various personas you put on to please everyone else. Be yourself, be healthy, be happy, and try not to worry about everyone else, because they’re probably worrying about the same things.

We Need to Talk. Period.

It’s safe to say that women are far better off today than 50 years ago, but there’s nothing that reminds me more of how much further there is to go than the stigma around the time of the month when Satan – I mean, ‘mother nature’ – comes to visit. It’s amazing how many people are ‘grossed out’ and pull a face whenever someone mentions anything to do with periods. A tampon falls out of your bag and suddenly everyone is looking at it in horror. I mean I could understand if it was a used one, but when has anyone ever had a used tampon in their bag? That’s not what happens.

I went to an all-girls secondary school, so luckily was in an environment during the dreaded teen years where everyone was pretty accepting about periods. The times girls used to bring it up to male teachers to see what would happen occurred fairly often, and nine times out of ten the male teacher would pale, panic, and send the girl to matron. The only negative experience I’ve had about periods in school was when one teacher literally yelled at the class about how girls just needed to ‘man up’ (great use of language there) and stop asking to leave the class because you felt ill from your period, which was then repeated in an assembly. This was only made up by the fact that another teacher completely disagreed, explaining that when she had her period as a teenager she would often have to call in sick. It seems to me that not many people understand that, like bodies, everyone’s period is different. Some girls have light periods, some girls get heavy periods, and some girls have different kinds every cycle. Some throw up, some get cramps, some get excruciating headaches, and some barely notice their period come and go.

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So why don’t people know these sort of things? Well, despite the fact that are society is improving, the ‘period’ is still a taboo topic – and when you really think about it, it’s difficult to understand why. Those who have periods, whether they identify as women or not, are made to feel ashamed for bleeding each month like it’s disgusting, as if we can just choose not to. Is it just not common knowledge that periods are 100% natural, aren’t unhygienic, and literally happen to everyone who has a vagina? Hell, it’s still front page news when someone posts a photo of themselves with blood spotting through their jeans. There are protests and campaigns with women free bleeding that make people lose their minds. I didn’t know that everyone experiences something different when they have periods until my late teens, simply because we just don’t talk about it. It’s like we have to act like having our period is some dirty little secret, despite the fact that everyone knows about it anyway.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this topic recently due to the campaigning about the moon cup, known in some places as the diva cup depending on which brand you use. Typically there are two main ways to handle your period, which are using tampons or sanitary towels or both. Both of these aren’t good for the environment with a lot of packaging, but it’s all that was on offer. There are some other options like some birth control that stops your period all together, but who knows the long term effects that has on someone’s body – you’re literally using drugs to stop a natural cycle the body goes through.

Despite this, there have been some new products being introduced. The two that I’m aware of are the THINX underwear, which are underwear that you can wear on your period that you can just stick in the wash after wearing them for a few hours, holding as much as two tampon’s worth of blood. Reusable, completely hygienic, and far less hassle. The second is the moon cup, something that’s recently taken a real spike on social media and has won plenty of awards. Essentially it’s a cup that sits slightly lower down than a tampon does and it collects the blood. Again, it’s reusable as you can easily clean it out, and overall better for the environment. I decided to give one a try and, when I had some positive results, I talked to a few friends and family members about it. I was mildly surprised to find that some just didn’t want to know about it, the very mention of the word ‘period’ striking such horror in their hearts that they couldn’t bear to go on. The mere idea of blood leaving someone’s vagina just as bad and disgusting as discussing explosive diarrhoea. And it’s simply mad.

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Why is society still enforcing this stigma around periods? Why are we still teaching young kids that this is something you don’t discuss or talk about, that it should be kept ‘hush hush’ because people just don’t want to hear about it? Why must those who have periods have to suffer because of everyone else’s unwarranted distaste? Again, a period is 100% natural, and trust me – it is far worse for the person who actually has to have the period. When I was a young teen I became physically sick each month, and still get excruciating cramps that I have to pretend aren’t happening and just breathe through, feeling sick for a good couple of days. Why should I have to keep quiet about it? Why shouldn’t I be talking about it? Why can’t I discuss something natural about my body without worrying that someone else will be uncomfortable?

This is why we need campaigns like the moon cup and THINX. We need to normalise periods and stop tolerating those who punish us when it’s mentioned. I was going to talk about these campaigns in an application for a job answering a question about important campaigns, but was advised not to because it might put off any men looking over the application. This is not what we should have to be concerned about, and it is not a precaution I should have to take just to protect someone’s sensitive ears from talking about what so many of us have to experience. We should be making a move to stop this kind of behaviour. We need to march up to them, sit them down and say:

“We need to talk. Period”.

Guide to University: Discussion

Not much of a guide, but rather an encouragement to people who are at university or people thinking about going to university. What I want to talk about is talking itself, which isn’t particularly articulate, but bear with me. (On a side note, it definitely is ‘bear with me’ and not ‘bare with me’, as one is asking for patience whilst the other is an invitation to undress. You’re welcome)

One of the things I loved about school, in terms of learning, were the moments in class where we had those huge discussions and debates. Now I’m not talking about a classroom of 15 year olds shouting over each other whilst the teacher lets out a sigh of defeat that the ‘friendly debate’ has descended into an all out war. No, I’m talking about those moments in class – usually they were in my later years, when I was doing A levels at 17/18 years old – where a topic would begin and we would all throw in our own ideas. As a humanities student especially, there’s nothing better than having a group of people explaining their own interpretations (because we all know that ‘the curtains were blue’ can mean several different things, not all of which we think of ourselves). Even having a group of people to help your own idea, as you throw it into the middle and watch as they all add bits to it, helping it grow – it’s literally like the metaphor of planting a seed in someone’s mind, only here it’s your other classmates that water it and add different fertilisers and whatever else you like.

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When I first started university, my lectures tried to bring in this element of discussion but, more often than not, it would fizzle out. Seminars were better, but again to start with I didn’t really throw myself into them. The thing I found really difficult about it was the fact that I no longer felt like an equal. In school I had been with the same group of people for seven years, besides the occasional people who joined the school later on. I knew them, felt comfortable around them and, most importantly, felt equal to them. Yes we were all from different backgrounds with varied privileges and different stories to tell, but we all took the same class, were all at the same level in our education. University was a completely different ball game. Here were people who had studied different things in school, some who went to private school or were several years older with another degree, having a head start that I couldn’t even process. It’s far easier to sit back and let those who knew, or thought they knew, better battle out their ideas.

I’m in my final year now, and it feels like I’ve only just rediscovered the joy of discussion. There are moments where I feel brilliant, having long discussions with my dissertation supervisor as we build up ideas, each of us throwing in new thoughts and material to use. Despite the vast gap in our knowledge (I do not have a PHD or a masters or even a degree yet, nor have I written countless papers and am a professor of my subject), it doesn’t feel like I am inferior. There are ideas and thoughts that I have, interpretations and links that I’ve made that they have not. And that is what I love about humanities – the creativity, the perspectives, the idea that it is unlikely to have the exact same conclusion as someone else.

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Equally, there are moments where I feel pretty inferior but just push that aside and jump in regardless. In my English classes especially, I’m at the point where I specialise more in Classical Studies and the knowledge and skill set that goes with it. This term I’m taking a class on sonnets, picked because I’ve never studied poetry at university and I wanted to. Everyone else knows the fancy language and the special ways in which to write about poetry in a formal, intelligent way. My first seminar, I joked about a point which in my Classics class would have been laughed at and accepted, whereas in English everyone just looked at me with a sort of blankness. Still, once I can get past the people who use a thesaurus for every word they use, I can contribute in a way they cannot. When we hit that sweet spot and are having a discussion of what certain words mean or how a certain sonnet can be interpreted a certain way, I’m reminded why I’m there.

At university, you’re there for the people as much as the learning. Yes, the lecturers are brilliant and learning new things from them is fantastic, but you need those classmates, those other people from different backgrounds who have different outlooks and perspectives to help you grow, and you just try to do the same for them. At the end of the day, it isn’t about who knows the most or can write the best essay in the world; it’s about those moments where everyone comes together, swap ideas, and just simply talk.

Guide to University/Life: Put yourself out there

I wasn’t sure whether to make this a general post or Guide To University, but as the inspiration came from experiences at University, I decided to go with the latter.

It’s bloody difficult getting your life together, as I’m sure everyone can relate to. From getting into good schools, to doing well in exams, deciding if university is for you, picking your career path, making steps towards said path – I mean, come on, that’s not even including your social life, your housing, bills, taxes, food, relationships, and everything else on top. Instead of trying to tackle all of these today though, for now I’m going to focus primarily on the career aspect.

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I’ve been told all through my life – by parents, friends, adults that actually have their lives together – that if you want something, you have to work for it. That you can’t just sit on your arse with your hands open, waiting for something to fall into them. That it’s not all down to luck and chance, that you actually have to work for it. It’s about perseverance, determination, and a bit of guts on top of that.

In the career paths I’ve looked into (journalism, writing, and publishing), networking is a large part of them. That means that whenever I’m in a setting where a contact could help me greatly in the future, I have to suck it up, go up to them, and get their details. I was crap to start off with, when I was on the Young Journalist Academy and seeing all these amazing people walk through the door and thinking ‘damn, wish I got their email’. Honestly, you have to just put yourself out there and shove some of those nerves, and maybe a little dignity, aside. You can’t be insecure, you just have to toughen up and walk on and, if they don’t give you that email, they don’t give it to you. You won’t get it without trying, and that’s the mantra I try to keep on repeat in my mind.

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Next step? Actually email them. I’ve only just started to make sure that I actually do that as soon as I can, rather than wait until a lot later when I think ‘oh, maybe so-and-so could help me out with this problem’. I suppose I’ve been lucky enough to have had the opportunities that I’ve had, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t worked for them. I only received work experience at The Sun by talking to someone at an event and asking for their card so I could email, which is when they asked if I’d be interested in experience. I’m currently on an internship for publishing now, which I managed to get after sending out email after email to as many publishing houses as I could asking for any experience in the industry they could offer.

What I haven’t manged to do well yet, and I imagine won’t be able to deal with perfectly for a while, is rejection. I am bloody terrible with rejection, feeling as if it’s a personal attack and agonising over wording in emails, whereas they were probably written within minutes. Finding the strength to not let yourself be upset when you’re not picked is so hard, but I’ve found the real challenge is picking up the pieces and getting on with it.

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Take a couple months ago for example, where I had an offer for an internship for two weeks that I already had set plans. I replied, angry at myself, only to find out I could shift my plans. Another email hurriedly sent, only to find out that they’d found someone else. (This all happened in about 15/20 minutes) Then comes the anger, the tears, the irritation, the cursing, and copious amounts of chocolate and tea.

So it’s safe to say that when you do put yourself out there, you’re also very likely to be rejected a few (a lot) of times. But when you finally get that ‘yes’? All worth it. 100%. (Well, maybe not the many calories you’ve put on, but you can deal with that later)

The One When I Used to Play Golf

I used to play golf. There were times I loved it and there were times I hated it – let’s just say it was a complicated relationship. Part of that just had to do with my ‘compatibility’ with the sport, I suppose. Four hours is a long time, especially to a 14 year old – which is around the age I started to play.

I mainly picked up the sport because my parents played, and still do, a lot. On a Saturday we would go, usually early, most of the time in cold temperatures, and always with my groaning about said things. I would play with the ladies, because playing with the juniors wasn’t so great (more on that in a bit). The thing with golf is that it’s very difficult to be consistent. One day you could be brilliant, and the next your swing just isn’t working and you get caught up in your head and the next minute you’re throwing your clubs at the ground.

Maybe if all I had to worry about was myself and just playing golf I’d still be playing today. There were times when I loved it, especially when I managed to somehow get a hole in one. The last golf coach I had told me that I had a great swing, and it was nice to find something that I could be good at. Unfortunately, there are many other factors that I had to deal with.

Like with several other sports, you don’t see a lot of female golf players. On the TV it’s the male competitions that get the most attention, just like with football and rugby. For me, it was very similar at the golf club I played at. There were no other girls my age, so in the juniors it was myself and boys of all ages up to eighteen. There was a ladies team, but most of them were over forty.

The first coach I met was called Mike, or Mark, but we’ll go with Mike for now. He was an all-around arse anyway, but he clearly believed that women didn’t really belong in the golfing world. His comments to me were far from encouraging, and I remember him telling me not to compare myself with the others as I’d never be able to hit as far as them because I’m a girl. The first time I went out on the course, Mike announced that I would go around with two 8/9 year olds instead of those my age because I had to go off the women’s tee, as if that made me less worthy. The two boys immediately complained about having to play off that tee with me and I remember quitting halfway through the round because of how awful it was. The embarrassment of not being able to putt well, especially it being my first time playing on the course, was only made worse by the two boys already having finished and telling me to hurry up.

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Luckily I didn’t have to deal with Mike for long, and a different coach came to the club, the exact opposite of Mike in every way. Despite this, it was now the other players I had to deal with. I remember a lot of staring and laughing. On a Monday night the coach offered a training session for juniors for £5 which I attended, only to be avoided by the boys who refused to instigate any conversation with me. When we were partnered up, they were wary of answering me or just trying to even speak to me. The coach once set up something to help us concentrate, where each of us would try to make a putt whilst everyone else jeered and shouted and tried to distract the player. Each boy stepped up, each boy received the same shouting. Yet when I went to putt, everyone was silent. In my embarrassment, I tried to quickly make the shot to get it over with and still missed it. It was very apparent that I didn’t quite belong there, or at least that’s how they saw it.

My experience of playing golf is usually the first thing I bring up when people try to downplay sexism. But my tales of woe and melodrama don’t end there.

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I talked in another post about the difference a good teacher can make and within that I briefly mention my PE teacher whose treatment of me was the final nail in the coffin of my golf-playing days. The lack of support in my chosen sport was astounding, and maybe it was just through lack of knowledge of golf on her part but it was like she didn’t even try to help me. There was definite favouritism in that AS PE class, and it seemed like those favourite pupils were the ones to always do the best. Maybe they simply blossomed under the light of favouritism and the constant remarks about how wonderful they are, whilst the rest of us were left to wilt. Every week that teacher would demand to know if my handicap had dropped yet, as if I could just simply drop by 10 in a few days. A completely demoralising experience, which just made me want to give up because how the hell was I supposed to compete? I even played a round of golf with her and won, but that didn’t help.

The whole class went to a local driving range where the professional there told myself, and the teacher, that I had great technique and a good swing. The two of them assessed me as I coached my classmates, and the professional told us that he’d give me full marks for everything. There were about five categories all marked out of five, and when I came to find out what my teacher gave me it wasn’t what the professional, let me emphasise the professional, had said at all. I was given one 4, two 3s and two 2s. She commented that she didn’t know if I’d had a ‘fluke’ that day, and she was trying to reflect that in her marking. And that was just for the coaching. For my playing, she scored me a low C – and by low I mean it was a C by a couple of marks. There was a man in my club that was a mediator for PE, so he assessed me on perhaps the worst day possible – freezing temperatures, and even some hail – so although I wasn’t playing my best, he still told me that I was a high B on that day and he would assume in better conditions I could be an A student. He called my PE teacher, and next thing I know she’s telling me that she’s decided to bump up my grade – to a middle B.

It should come as no surprise that quite PE after a year. There were other moments in that class of absolute dejection – such as being made to swim against my classmates, most of whom were talented swimmers whereas I was not. I lost, on every front, and was met with laughter, and then the classic scene of being picked last. Definitely my worst school experience by far, and I’m surprised that I managed to actually get through the year when I think back to it.

There’s not much else I feel like I can say. I decided to write about this a few weeks ago when talking with friends about bullying, and this popped up in my head. My experience with golf doesn’t even come close to the horrors some people have had to survive, but it’s still one that, looking back, I have more bad memories than good. I remember the sexist coach, the staring, the boys who refused to talk to me, feeling isolated, alone, different, unwelcome, that PE teacher, feeling worthless, and just wanting to give up. There are moments I consider trying to play again, when I think about when the nice coach told me that I had a great swing, or how that professional at the other club told me I had talent. I think about getting fantastic at golf, just so I could go back to that PE teacher and show her theream good at something.

But for today, I’m happy, and I’m not going to risk that.

Why every teenager should have a job

So many people disagree on this topic, but I feel like it’s one that needs to be brought up – then again, the best conversations to have are often the ones that many people disagree about.

I got my first job at the age of seventeen by applying online, working as a hostess at Wembley stadium. My second came in the same year during dinner out with my parents and overhearing the landlady of a pub complain about how they needed extra help, so I offered to work for a couple of days a week. I stopped working at the pub after school finished and I stopped working at Wembley last year after becoming a bookseller at my third, and current, job.

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There are a few things I want to say about the topic of teenagers having jobs, and by teenagers I mean from the age of sixteen up. It’s at this time where you actually learn about the ‘real world’ and the true meaning for working for something. I mean, sure, you can argue that working for grades at school is the same thing, but let’s be honest – nothing quite hits home like getting your first paycheck after working your arse off at a job you may or may not like. You learn about people from all walks of life, far more than at school (at least, that’s how it was for me), and, maybe more importantly, you learn how to tolerate these people. There’s nothing worse than having to serve or work with an utter arsehole, but you have to learn to keep you calm and just get on with it. You learn to appreciate people more – no longer are you going to be that awful person strutting into a store only to bark out orders to employees there like you own them, because you know from experience of being that employee that those people are the worst people.

Maybe I just want everyone to work in retail for a week so I won’t have to deal with those people. Oh well, a girl can dream.

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The main argument I hear is about how teenagers in school need to focus on their studies, not worry about having a job and earning money. In many cases, some teenagers are lucky enough – and I was one of them – to have parents  who are able to support you. Having a job was not a necessity for me, but for some it was an absolute necessity. There are so many children and teenagers and, hell, anyone, who studies for school or a degree or any kind of exam, and does bloody fantastically, as well as having a job. It can be done. In fact, having a job on top of everything else means that you’re forced to sort your life out and prioritise getting work done. Last year, before I started working every weekend all weekend, I did absolutely nothing with my weekends unless I had a shift at Wembley. Saturdays I would sleep as long as possible, shuffle to the kitchen to rummage around for food and a cuppa, go back to bed and read, maybe take a nap, then repeat. This year, however, I’m having to sort out my schedule to make sure I have time to get all of my university and journalism work done in time. No more kicking back after uni if I finish late, I need to read all of these articles and take notes and read these books (not for pleasure) and get these essays planned and written and god knows what else.

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It’s interesting, really, talking to teenagers in school who have jobs and who don’t have jobs. It’s all well and good if your child is poet laureate or if they’re the star of their school play, but after applying for university that normally means absolutely nothing to everyone else. So what? You don’t really know about proper work. Great if your parents can buy you cars for your 17th and flats for your 21st, but do you know what it’s like to work a nine-hour shift pulling pints for rowdy blokes making crass innuendoes about how to ‘give a good beer head’? (Spoiler: it’s crap) But that’s the sort of thing you have to learn to deal with. You need to work and bust a gut doing work for awful money. You need to see that nobody cares what your mummy or daddy earns or who they are. You need to try and do something for yourself and earn your own money for yourself.

One comment I get is how I’ve been ‘so lucky’ with my jobs, as if I just happened to be in the right place at the right time, standing around with my arms wide open ready to catch something falling from the sky. Many people get jobs, again, because of their parents, and they’re not jobs involving pulling pints in a grotty pub I’ll tell you that. I worked hard to get my jobs. For the hostessing, I researched online and applied for loads of different jobs. When my profile was given the thumbs up, I kept my details updated, emailed incessantly about when I was free until they gave me some work. With the pub, I put myself out there and offered to help. The temptation to just not say anything was right there, but instead I marched up, unapologetic for eavesdropping, and offered myself up like a lamb for slaughter. (Honestly, it felt like that after working there a while). I left my details, took their number, called when I didn’t hear anything. Finally, with my current job, I applied online as well as going in store to hand in my application, managed to do well in my interview and get the job. It’s going the extra mile, not sitting back like the world owes you something, waiting for that job to fall out of the sky straight into your lap.

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It’s obvious that I wasn’t too fond of my first two jobs – honestly, there aren’t many people who were fond of their first few jobs. I dealt with having my bum pinched, having crude comments flung my way, smelling like grease after work, having to massage my feet after wearing heels for nine hours, learning to not burst into tears when someone insulted me.

When you’re a teenager, you need these things – you may think you don’t need them, nor do you want them, but you do. You learn to tolerate people and, more than that, understand them. You learn what working for yourself is really like. You learn to follow rules not set by your parents and putting in the extra effort in the hopes of getting some praise and maybe a promotion.

(I’m not even joking, this gif is from a site called ‘I hate working in retail’ – COME ON NOW)

Hell, I’ve perfected my fake smile and laugh, which have come in handy many times. My favourite thing about my jobs though? The people I’ve met. The same people who will listen when you tell them about this customer who told you ‘stop being silly’ or that one customer who said ‘I bet daddy pays for everything, doesn’t he?’ (Yes, because that’s why I’m here, working, serving your pretentious arse), only for them to reply with awful customer stories of their own, of how someone snapped their fingers at them or those blokes who took a selfie with their bums.

Those people? Yeah, they’re the ones worth knowing.