A Degree of Difficulty

In January last year I wrote an article about my disappointment with my degree – being half way through I felt underwhelmed, and slightly let down by my university. Contact hours were incredibly low, and it wasn’t exactly the intellectual stimulation I had expected to get from a degree course, despite its 50% practical nature.

I am now nearly at the end of the degree. Yes, I stuck with it, pushed on through, and have come out the other side with what I hope will be a first class qualification and ample experience to place me in good stead for the next step. I cannot say, however, that I am now satisfied with my course – in fact, the opposite is again, sadly, the truth. That’s not to say my degree, for what it has turned out to be, isn’t a very good course – it would be unfair of me to imply that any disappointment is due to a fundamental failing within the faculty. My frustration comes from my expectations of what a degree course should be, and what was not matched from the one I inevitably chose. Changes are underway to improve the course every year, and comments I make here have been expressed (albeit slightly more sugar-coated) to my course director so things might begin to shift in the future. For the moment however, all I can do is express my experience, for better or for worse.

When entering into your final year of study at university, one could feasibly expect the work load to increase – suddenly, you’re working towards 65% of your final mark, have a dissertation to contend with, as well as the prospect of having to find a job come summer. This year has been no different to the last two, and in fact my work load dropped again in first semester. I’d begun some minimal dissertation research over the summer, so wasn’t too concerned or intimidated by the prospect, instead looking forward to three new modules in October. These modules were finally incredibly interesting, and I have found myself more engaged intellectually this year than the last – a Research class required reflection of the course, giving me a reason to look back positively, whilst studying one of the lecturer’s research areas provided me with more brain stimulation than I’d had in a long time. These all left me feeling slightly relieved, and keen to continue progressing for the rest of the year.

Now, I am half way through my dissertation – around 5,000 words written of a possible 8,000 – tackling more material that completely baffles me, although this all of my own choosing due to the nature of my study topic, and am looking forward to my final acting performance coming up in June. That class in particular, staging Caryl Churchill’s Fen, has proved to be the most obvious progression in my  learning that I’ve had during this degree. In one rehearsal, I finally managed to break out of my intellectual acting mode, which has admittedly got me through with good marks thus far, and instead related emotionally to my character, much to the joy and relief of my stoic director. Despite not being an academic class, I did enter into a Theatre degree due to a passion for performing, and to see myself visibly improve in such a way has given me a great deal of satisfaction.

This article, you may have noticed, is rather more positive than my last. I still feel underwhelmed by the degree itself and long for something more – to the extent that I am seriously considering an MA in a few years’ time, whereas last year I swore off any more education due to frustration. But instead, I am seeing the benefits of having time. My CV is bursting with experience; with a 9-5 degree, I just wouldn’t have had the chance to try out such a variety of jobs and opportunities. I am applying for job after job with the confidence that I do have the ability to fit in somewhere, and that these three years have indeed enhanced me as a person, taught me new skills both theatre-related and other, and therefore might not have been all that bad. So my suggestion is this – if you find yourself on a course that leaves you feeling lack-lustre, and if you can think of no alternative to change to, then just embrace it. Take each class as it comes, strive to achieve the best results possible, and utilise the time you are given. With 8 hours a week in lectures, I’d have been a fool to not make use of the extra days.

A degree of any kind is still preferable to no degree at all – and if you manage to couple that with jobs, opportunities, and self-teaching, all the better. And after all, three years isn’t all that long…

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4 thoughts on “A Degree of Difficulty

  1. Hello again!

    Great to hear that you’re feeling more positive. I wonder whether degrees these days should include a certain amount of signposting towards different progression routes. It’s great that a degree like yours (and like mine was) allow you to have the time to explore the industry in other areas. However, if no one tells you where to look, it does leave some undergraduates feeling a little out of their depth in looking for more experience or the next step in their career.

    The university I went to did have quite a huge careers department, but it was very Engineering orientated. I remember going to them in my third year and was greeted by a very enthusiastic adviser who said something along the lines of “That’s amazing, but I’m not sure there’s anyone here that could help you.” My friends studying Maths, Physics, Theatre and Psychology had similar experiences. I think it’s important now for universities to think about the next steps for students. If anything, it helps them get those fab statistics that say “90% of our graduates go straight into further employment or study!”

    I know that a lot of universities/arts courses expect a great deal of self study, which is fine… as well as self management. It’s not that students can’t be bothered to find those extra things, for me, it’s just that they need a little help in knowing where to start looking!

    Keep up the fab blogs!

    1. It’s true that I probably benefit from being pro-active in myself, and get easily bored – I think if I was less so I wouldn’t have taken hold of the opportunities as much, and possibly would have just coasted through with no idea of what was going to happen next. I agree that degrees should not only focus on the present course, but enable students to explore what they’ll do post-graduation. My university has a similar ‘90% employment’ statement, but that’s mostly due to their Engineering faculty I believe.

      Thanks for sparking my writing though – it’s given me reason to reflect more positively and really examine what my time’s been like.

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