University: Life, Literature, and Lessons Learnt

Hi! It’s definitely been a while since I sat down and wrote a blog post but unfortunately, the last semester of my degree had me super busy, as has starting my MA (a new post on that coming soon). But I kinda wanted to sit down and reflect on my three years of being an undergrad student.

The past three years have not come without struggle and doing a degree was a lot more mentally and emotionally demanding than I ever expected. I am, by nature a huuuuge perfectionist (something I’m really trying to work on) and found adapting to a new grading system, and a new way of working at university really difficult in my first year. But that’s what first year is for right? Figuring all these things out! But what I wish I’d known about first year is that it really doesn’t matter. I stressed so much about essay deadlines, got anxious about the prospect of group discussions in seminars, and wouldn’t allow myself to join societies for fear of not being any good at any them, when really what I should have done is throw myself into the new opportunities that presented themselves to me. Despite having a pretty rubbish first year of university, I passed all my assignments with high 2:1’s and was ready for a new challenge in second year.

Lessons Learnt:

  1. Everybody is worried, and even your tutors have experienced this.
  2. Everyone adjusts differently to uni life – don’t feel the pressure to go out when you don’t want to.
  3. Don’t be afraid to try something out of your comfort zone.

Second year is really the year that everything turned itself around at uni. I left all the people who weren’t positive influences in my life behind and focussed on the close friends I already had and making new ones. I felt like I suddenly had so much control over my life and my decisions for the first time in years, helped by the fact that I was able to choose all my own modules at uni and start specialising in something that truly interested me. I took modules in American literature, The Gothic, and War literature (among many others) that really helped shape my academic interests. And despite not getting the grades I was used to in first year (and giving myself a hard time about it) I realised towards the end of the year that it’s not too late to try again and try harder in third year. I also made second group of close friends on my course in my second semester who really helped make my degree worthwhile.

Lessons Learnt:

  1. You’ll get bad marks and have bad tutorials with academics, but that doesn’t mean that you are stupid.
  2. Forget about the people who don’t make you happy, they aren’t worth your energy. Focus on the people who make you a better person.
  3. Work hard, prepare for class, make lots of lecture notes, and DON’T come to class having not read the book (your tutor 100% knows you haven’t read it, take it from me).

Third year inevitably rolled around and despite having a small amount of anxiety about the prospect of having to write a dissertation – I was mostly just excited for the year ahead (albeit a little sad too, because it was coming to an end). But third year was the year I feel like I really came into my own and gained more confidence than I ever imagined. I enjoyed the process of writing a dissertation and working with my supervisor (she was v. clever and felt so privileged to be working with her!) and felt like I had so much agency which really got me feeling creative! I got involved with the literature department a little more – started writing for the department blog and eventually became one of three sub-editors for it which was amazing because I got to write in a non-academic context and really hone my writing and editing skills. I spoke on student panels, (conquering a fear of public speaking I have had for YEARS). I went to research events and just talked to my tutors about life and literature and threw myself into studying. I can honestly say I had a blast. I was enjoying my degree more than I ever had and this was reflected in the marks I was receiving for my modules, some of the highest I had ever gotten and I was so so proud. I took off my control freak, perfectionist hat for a little while and felt so much better for it.

Lessons Learnt:

  1. Get involved as much as you can! You will not regret it and it is immensely rewarding.
  2. Make the most of the help available to you – go to your dissertation meetings, talk to your module tutors about essay plans and don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. It doesn’t make you any less ‘clever’ because you need help.
  3. Don’t worry about grades. Easier said than done, and I am a massive perfectionist so I know how hard it is to let go, but trust me, when you stop worrying about it you write better.

Congratulations to my Class of 2018, my three years part of the York St. John literature department were the best of my life, and I cannot wait to graduate in a few weeks. Also, well done if you read all of this – it was v. long (I’m sorry!) but I had a lot to say!

Jenna x

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