‘Know thyself’

Confession time: Up until the age of about seventeen, I saw revision as fairly optional.

I’ve always been one of those prats who is content to rest on their laurels until about three weeks before the exam and then frantically work to catch up. Unfortunately for me this largely worked, and it wasn’t until Year 12 results day that I got the kick in the teeth which had been a long time coming.

University, however, is a whole new ball game.

Even on modules which are 100% assessed at the end of the term, it is very difficult to coast. If you don’t do the required reading then you won’t really understand the lecture in full and seminars become a tedious task when you have nothing to bring to the table. So figuring out where and when you work best is very important.

#TheWhen

Personally, I work best between about 11 am and 2 pm. I realise this probably sounds like a very dull thing to have spent time working out, but when you have a stack of reading to do it’s important to take into account the chances that you will fall asleep at your desk if you try to keep going until midnight. There’s also a significant difference between reading something and actually processing it. Any reading done after eleven at night has a tendency to go in one ear and out the other with me.

#TheWhere

I’ve tried studying in the library. I really have – but for some reason it just doesn’t appeal to me. I usually only study in the library if I want to eliminate all distractions and power through a piece of work, but as you might have guessed, that’s not really my style. For me, my essays come together best when I give myself adequate dithering time. I type two hundred words or so then go and make some toast or make a cup of tea, then I come back and tap away a few more hundred words, etc. This dithering time lets me organise my ideas better, but it’s a bit annoying for the person sitting next you in the library, so I do most of my work in my room.

(I have also tried studying in Unio, the union run café, but other people’s conversations are often more exciting than essays on literary realism, however hard you try to concentrate.)

#TheMotivators

Beyond the obvious (getting a good degree), it’s important to have small motivators to keep you working when you’d much rather be in the union bar. This can range from allowing yourself to take a break every hour to watch funny cat vines, to finding that 80’s playlist that gets you pumped. Each to their own.

This probably all sounds rather dull, I know that 17 year old me didn’t care about such things. But once you get to university it’s vital to understand how you work if you want to keep on top of all your work. And because frankly, it makes your life a lot easier, which is what all students want right?

So, to steal one of the Delphic oracles maxims; ‘Know thyself’.

Derby Day 2K15

Two universities, both alike in dignity,
In fair UEA, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.

There are many famous university rivalries, Oxford and Cambridge, King’s College and UCL, but none match the fervency and passion of that between UEA and the University of Essex. (Although King’s did once steal and hold to ransom a mummified head that belongs to UCL…)

If you did not know of the enmity which exists between these two institutions you would perhaps be surprised by how seriously it is sometimes taken – it is not only students but staff who perpetuate it, this year Essex Uni parked a van outside our campus during one of our open days to advertise theirs. Shocking behaviour indeed.

But this usually theoretical rivalry breaks out again each year on what is known as Derby Day, a day of sporting competitions hosted alternately by the universities. Just about every sporting society takes part and each victory scores a point for the team’s university.

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UEA hosted this year and I am happy to report that for the third year running UEA have won the trophy, and not by a small margin (42.5-19.5!).

Generally the day was one of good sportsmanship, although towards the end tensions were running high and Concrete (the UEA paper) seemed to be reporting a lot of yellow cards.

The calm before the storm...

The calm before the storm…

Throughout the day, the campus square was given over to festivities and general merrymaking (e.g. slightly inebriated students attempting to do the bungee run) and by the evening, with victory in the air, things were pretty wild – as one of my friends put it, ‘It looked like the last days of Rome’.

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If, like me, you are not of a generally sporting disposition, then Derby Day is a strange experience. University pride dictates that you cheer along and maybe join in with the odd bit of singing but, what with the weather still being very cold, doesn’t extend to actually watching a full hockey game…

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As Essex are hosting next year I probably won’t have to worry about it for another two years, so until then all that remains to be said is congratulations to all who took part, rather you than me.

Student Elections and International Women’s Day

I walked into a class at eleven last week, with everything apparently as normal, and when I walked out… this had happened.

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In case you hadn’t guessed voting has opened for Student Union reps, and campus is currently flooded with manifestos and posters, people are handing out leaflets on the Street (a guy just walked past my window with a ‘Vote…’ banner on his back).

But even with all this propaganda in your face, it can be quite tempting to let it slide by. To be honest a lot of the manifestos sound the same, and whilst I’m sure that I do profit from the hard work of our union reps, it’s hard to put your finger on what effect they really have on your uni experience – a lot of them sound the same, so does it really matter to me who wins?

Well here’s the thing.

A lot like the General Election, if you want to know what’s going on you actually have to do some digging yourself. Take a ten minute break from Facebook and check out the Union website, find out what people are saying about their campaigns and you’ll find you get a lot more out of it. Many of the aims are generic, but some, like the fight to have gender neutral toilets, are more specific points that less candidates are focusing on.

Another way the Student Union election is like the General in May, is that it is meant to elect people to represent the population, and if you don’t bother voting then you are choosing to not be represented or to have your voice heard – which sounds like the choice of an imbecile if you ask me.

Check out what the candidates have to say at www.ueastudent.com/vote, or they can often be found hovering in Unio café, eager to answer potential voters questions.

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Other events happening on campus over the last few days include the Feminist Society’s celebration of International Women’s Day. Various speakers had a platform in the LCR, and in the evening the talented women of UEA performed music and poetry.

I got these cute pin badges from the FemSoc stall.

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I’m not sure Taylor Swift qualifies as a feminist icon yet, but Malala Yousafzai and Laverne Cox definitely deserve celebration

That’s about all until next week, in the meantime, GET VOTING!

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5 books to read when you should be studying:

The ever persistent problem of being a literature student is that you have gone to university because you love books, but consequently have no time to read books you actually want to read (not that I haven’t enjoyed the set texts, but there is something particularly enticing about reading a non-curricular book when you know there are set texts waiting to be got through).

Consequently, reading for pleasure becomes illicit, something talked about in hushed tones. Or else it becomes the treat and motivator when a particularly dense piece of theory needs to be got through, read a chapter of Judith Butler then you can read fifty pages of (insert frivolous reading material).

Bearing in mind the necessity of reading all your set texts, it’s important to keep reading things you like on the side, or else you are in danger of forgetting that there is a world outside of academia, in which people read a book and their only comment on it will be if they liked it or not – not a breath shall be breathed about how it interacts with the theory of literary realism etc.

On which note, I have compiled a short list of books that I think should be read whilst a student.

Note that I did not say, should be read by every student, such prescriptive lists often serve only to stroke the ego of the compiler, rather my list is of books which I think have a particular resonance when read as a student. These are of course only my opinions, and I would love to hear what other people would put on their list.

The Bell Jar:

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The Bell Jar is the only novel by the American poet Sylvia Plath, and whilst it is a work of fiction much of it is autobiographical. Primarily it is a novel about college student Esther Greenwood’s battle with depression, but beneath the surface it is a tale of anxieties, of feeling that you don’t ‘feel’ like you should, and of that gap between our abilities and our achievements. What most struck a chord with me was Esther’s fear of her own indecision, her desire to do and be many things but feeling she can only have one. The Bell Jar isn’t a cheerful book, but it will stay with you for a very long time.

“I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”

A Room of One’s Own

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Semi-fact and semi-fiction, Virginia Woolf’s essay on the place of women in literature is one of the key feminist texts. It discusses the historical exclusion of women from formal education and examines the reasons for the absence of writing by women. I can’t quite put my finger on what it is about this text which makes me love it, but it sits on my bookshelf over my bed, and when an essay is proving particularly trying it’s a reminder of how relatively recently women have been able to go to university (Cambridge only began letting women graduate in 1948), and helps puts things into perspective.

The Secret History

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This books kind of makes me glad we don’t have any classicists at UEA. It’s the story of a young college student, Richard Papen, who befriends a close knit group of five other classics students, but their dedication to their subject takes a dark turn, and the novel closely resembles a Greek tragedy. University is an environment in which almost everyone desperately wants to fit in, even when that sometimes compromises their morals, read The Secret History and try to resist the seduction of its characters, and take it as a sobering reminder of the dangers of the herd mentality.

This Side of Paradise

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By all accounts F. Scott Fitzgerald was an unpleasant person to know, especially if you were a woman. But that doesn’t stop his debut novel from having the kind of resonance which sticks with students. It’s about adolescence, great expectations, and ultimately what to do when you don’t seem to be meeting them. Particularly helpful to read if exams don’t go as well as you hope.

One Day

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More than anything this novel is terrifying. It is a brutal look at life after university, which will dash the dreams of literature students everywhere and leave you either sobbing into a pillow or staring listlessly into the distance. One reviewer described it as portraying, ‘the tragic gap between youthful aspiration and the compromises that we end up tolerating. Not for nothing has Nicholls said that it was inspired by Thomas Hardy.” …. Even after all that, I still think you should read it.