I’m fairly certain I’m not alone when I say the pressure is on to walk out of this Bubble with a first class degree and a head fit to explode with academic knowledge. It’s just expected. Parents, other family, and friends at home all think I can just breeze through four years here, and walk out triumphantly with a first. I will then land a first-rate job of my dreams where I’m earning a starting salary of at least £25k, if not £30k, and I will of course be a superior asset to any pub quiz team.
The reality is very different.
That first I’m expected to get is going to be a real fight to obtain. I have no idea what job I’m going to get, but I will be lucky if I start higher than £18k, and the only round I am going to unfailingly excel at in a pub quiz is one that questions me on the Kardashians or Geordie Shore. And, almost about to enter my final year here, I’m now totally fine with this.
This is a relatively new revelation, however. It’s taken three years of beating myself up over why my grades stagnate, of listening to the question “Why wasn’t the mark higher?” and of reading hundreds and hundreds of pages to the point where, when summer finally rolls around, the mere sight of a book, that thing I love so much and made me want to do my degree in the first place, repulses me.
So, why the change?
I guess I realised that there’s more to life than marks out of 20. Finishing my degree in the highest percentile doesn’t matter if all I have to my name are “booksmarts.” What about interpersonal skills? What about the ability to write in forms and styles outside of essays? Or construct reports more in line with what a future employer will actually be looking for? And most importantly, what about health? There have been points in the past three years where I’ve been so stressed I’ve made myself ill, and I know many others who have had to take whole semesters or years out of uni, or drop out altogether.
My plea here goes out to lecturers and module coordinators. While I know St Andrews is a symbol of academic excellence, and you all want to push us to be the best we can be, how about readdressing some of your assessment criteria? Or how you deliver lectures and seminars? In one semester of an English module that is about 80% practical drama, I have gone from being terrified of speaking in front of a class to feeling totally confident about performing in front of one. I’m certain I don’t have a career on the stage, but this module wasn’t about that, at least not for me. Rather it’s about gaining confidence, about understanding how to stand up in front of a group of people and perform, whether it’s in a university seminar or a presentation you give somewhere in your future career outside of education.
So, lecturers of this University, take note. Sure, some of your students will go on to be leading academics and researchers in their field, where being overloaded with data, reading and tasks are part and parcel and something they totally love. The rest of us, however, are looking to different pastures, and we’d appreciate a little more help in getting there with our sanity and health intact.