Throwback Thursday: A Level Results

If there was ever an occasion I did not like it was results day. Whether it’s a blood test or my exams, there’s that overwhelming anxiety that you did not do well enough. And the irony in that you have not been able to do anything for days, weeks or even months because they always make you wait so long!

By now most people will have their results. But you’ll probably remember the day for a few years yet– even four years on I still cringe at mine.

I had just broken up with my boyfriend so my university choices were between Liverpool (my dream university, completely unattainable according to my predicted results, all of my teachers and even the little voice in the back of my head. And yet they had given me an offer) and UCLan– where I knew he would be attending.

So I was up at 6am in anticipation for UCAS to be updated. I think it was around 8am (or was it 7am?) when the website crashed. Obviously the entire sixth form population in the UK was currently trying to log on in a mad panic hoping, like me, that there would be good news on the next page.

Instead of several error messages every time you refreshed.

I think it took me about half an hour to successfully make it through and to be confronted with the message: congratulations, you have successfully gotten into the University of Central Lancashire.

Or something to that effect.

I nearly cried. Not because of my ex boyfriend, or because UCLan was a terrible university because it wasn’t. But I’d proven my teachers right, I’d aimed too high… In fact, even they had aimed too high with my predicted grades so I guess in a way I also let them down. Within the space of thirty minutes I had gone from organising freshers plans with a potential Liverpool friend to having no idea what the future held for me in Preston.

It got even worse when I arrived at my school to collect my results. I realised that I hadn’t even made the grades to get into my second course, but instead they had accepted me at their own discretion. I had been so close to going through Clearing or not going to university at all… And by some crazy bit of luck I had scraped through (especially crazy since the following year, the Isle of Man Government raised the grade requirements to gain funding to study at a UK university, requirements which I would have missed.)

The friend that I had gone with kept telling me that I turned white as I read that piece of paper.

But here I am, four years later: a successful undergraduate degree and a masters degree under my belt and I even gained full time employment (in a job that I actually enjoy) less than a month after my degree finished.

I think if university, and my A Levels, taught me anything it was that nothing ever turns out the way you expect. That doesn’t matter. It’s up to you to make the best of whatever gets thrown at you– because trust me, there is no way 16 year old me would ever believe that I could explain how a car engine works!

A Month On: the life of a swamped master’s student

Library selfies: the ultimate procrasination

Library selfies: the ultimate procrasination

So I’ve not been writing much recently… And by much, I mean at all.

I’m quickly realising that being a postgraduate student was a far bigger leap than I expected. This time last year I was finishing up with my third year and I thought that was a huge leap in comparison to my first and second years.

Last year I was getting out of my depth but I could keep my head above water. This year? Well, I feel like I’m drowning and the lifeboat is just a bit too far away.

I mean, I know I’m capable of getting the work done. It just involves a lot more independent learning than I’m used to– which is ironic since I loved researching different areas last year. But put it this way, a friend came in to the library the other week and spotted the book that is compulsory reading for my degree. His first comment?

I never knew you were studying economics.

I’m not.

I chose Business Studies for my A Levels because that was ‘easier’ than Economics (well, that was the rumour though I’ve come to university to find out the opposite is true). I had never heard of ‘social democracy’, ‘Hayek’ or ‘marketisation’ before studying my masters degree. Only then to find out that I’m essentially studying exactly the same as my friends doing a BSc/BA Economics degree– except I’m doing it at post graduate level and with Social Policy lecturers not economics experts.

So, here I am at half 9 on a Tuesday morning. I’ve been in the library since 9pm last night (though I did have a break between 12am – 3am for some food). I’ve not slept yet and am surviving off several cans of coke and Pro Plus.

I will get my head around Anthony Crosland and his take on social democracy. Then I will finish this 4,000 word essay.

Or I’ll pass out in the library.

That shows dedication right?

x

PS. I willbe posting more regularly now– I mean, my Twitter and Facebook friends must be fed up of my obsessive updates now so I need a new form of procrasination.

I’m going to aim for once a week (most likely every Monday) though I’ll probably do it a bit more often in the beginning (I have plenty to say).

Taking Chances (cliché I know)

image

So, this weekend I took the GRE exam. Now if you don’t know what the GRE test is then here you go:

The Graduate Record Examination is, obviously, for those applying for graduate school (a university’s postgraduate programme for us British). They use all the British kind of things on their application scheme- references, a personal state, a research proposal for those going onto a research degree as well as a small fee; but they throw in an exam.

Why?

Well that’s what I wondered too- I mean, we’ve survived three years (four years for some) of coursework and exams, why add some more?

The way I had it explained was that it offers more equal grounds for comparison.

Americans apparently enjoy being over enthusiastic with their references so that’s obviously bias and everyone is coming from different universities and different degrees. Your lecturers could have been very helpful or left you on your own. You might have just had a lucky day.

So they give you an exam.

It took a bit of persuading, especially given that I hate exams. Seriously. It’s the reason I failed my exams for A Level: I can’t memorise that much stuff in my head. Essentially I can’t learn a textbook, I love reading about everything around it instead of learning to a test.

But for the GRE there’s no learning to the test. Well… ok there’s a vocabulary section which you need to know long, complicated words. For the quantitative sections (numbers and statistics for those who might not know what that means) you need to know about triangles and algebra. For the writing section you can learn a structure.

Besides that it is pure luck on the day.

Of course they do consider everything else and it all has to round up to a good application. A bad GRE score (unless you want to go to an Ivy League school of course) can be balanced out by an excellent undergraduate degree grade. On the same thought, a great GRE score can be knocked off by an overall pathetic application.

And if you’re like me, and by that I mean average, then it might not do anything.

So a quick note about how my try at the exam went. I got the results back tonight and they’re nicely average. For someone who didn’t practice beforehand in any way I’m happy it wasn’t straight zeros– in fact I even got 100 per cent in a couple of topics. Of course,  the majority of my correct answers were in the low section (the questions are ranked in difficulty as low, medium and hard which you don’t know when you took the exam). There’s a high possibility that the topics I got 100 per cent in only had two questions in.

But at the end of the day I did it. And it hasn’t terrified me from applying for this PhD.

Just goes to prove taking chances sometimes doesn’t end in tears. That’s without me actually doing amazingly,  getting what I want or even getting a present!

Passion and Drive

credit: chomplife.wordpress.com

credit: chomplife.wordpress.com

There’s nothing quite as strange as not realising you’re passionate about something. Well, maybe that’s just me.  Now, I’m very much someone with a lot of passing fancies. I’ve been into Mixed Marital Arts, running, gym, fitness, reading, politics, creative writing, travelling… And many other things at various points in my life but one thing I really stuggle with is the commitment to one of those things. I get bored. I don’t want to do it anymore. I stumble and refuse to pull myself back up, though tell that to my face and I’ll argue my case until I’m blue in the face.  

To be honest, I pick up the majority of my ‘passions’ because someone close to me is into it. I have a copy cat personality, or maybe I simply feed off their energy about a subject. Hell, my housemates are extremely included within each of their places of work and I find myself discussing business with them!  

But today I had my first dissertation meeting for my MA. Now, I’ve had countless sleepless nights over this and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed researching it so I wasn’t that worried. However my original plan was to focus on gun crime in the US and the UK. And by that I mean that I wanted to focus on the United States, given their increasingly frequent firearm homocides targetting educational facilities. I had to include the UK on the basis that I’m doing my dissertation within a postgraduate courses which focuses on the welfare state in Great Britain. And despite all of those alnighters in the library, it wasn’t until yesterday that I realised that there was no dissertation within that area. Solely focusing on America, yeh someone could write an entire PhD on that but guncrime within the UK is essentially non existant. It makes up less than 0.2% of homocides each year and the number is falling, in comparison to it rising in the US. We, apparently, boast some of the toughest gun licensing laws in the world… There’s no dissertation in saying how amazing we are, really is there?  

So I went to my first meeting today feeling a little disheartened. I had a vague idea of sticking to the comparison idea and instead asking why the levels of crime were falling in the UK and yet rising in the US. What I came out with was a dissertation looking at how far the schools’ themselves and the education system could be blamed for classroom violence. Though still comparing the US and the UK.  Of course, the fact that my dissertation question completely changed wasn’t a surprise to me- the same thing happened when I was doing my undergraduate degree. I don’t think many people appreciate how wide a topic their question covers until they start getting questions shot at them: But who are you targeting? But who are you looking at? And where will you be looking at? And obviously, I’d accepted that my guncrime idea wasn’t quite sufficent for a 15,000 word dissertation. 

Instead, within a single hour, I had managed to cut through 100 odd different angles that she had thrown at me to one question. It’s a bonus that I can still include gun crime and I can still use the comparison of the two countries, but it also seems much more manageable when faced with 15,000 words.  But that wasn’t the most surprising part. That came when she had stopped throwing questions at me and I started talking- which generally starts happening when I feel an awkward silence building. I ramble on and on, usually going off on a huge tangent and not even answering or acknowledging the question- which I did this time too, since every time I stopped to breath she’d say “so really you want to look at…” And quickly summerise a completely different topic to what we had been discussing. At first I thought that it must be incrediably tiresome listening to me go on. Especially since I was clearly making no sense and usually finished my sentances laughing nervously. But somehow within my notes I managed to string a theme and a sort-of question together as well as a framework. I especially was shocked when she’d refer back to stuff that I had said in my nonsense and agree. I hadn’t meant to say anything clever, I just didn’t like the silence!  

Then she asked me a question that I’ve been asked many times: who was the most influential teacher in your life?  

I already know the answer to that question. My head of sixth form, Mr Kay. I enjoy calling him the ‘shouty’ teacher who demanded respected, and who also very nearly kicked me out of sixth form for trunency, though I can’t deny that I didn’t deserve it. But it was him who sat me down and forced me to apply to university, and it was him who dragged me out of regristration to shut me in his office while he demanded to know if I was willing to commit to A Levels or if I was going to leave right then. I hated sixth form, I was no where near as smart as my peers though I managed to scrape a couple of Ds and Es. But being confronted with the concept of being expelled woke up the primary school good girl in me, the one terrified of causing trouble and getting sent to the head teacher’s office, and the one who was certainly not going to tell her mother that she had dropped out of school and therefore would lose her claim to child benefit. He’s  the reason I’m at university.  

When I finished describing him I was almost in tears, I’m not sure why though… I’ve told the story many times but I don’t think I quite understood the reality of it until now. How different my life would be if I’d followed the same path that many other children, my friends, who were in the same socio-economical position as me had followed by having children during their teens and not going to university. They’re onto their second child, many of them engaged, and I’m here struggling with my Masters. At first she was shocked that the teacher I had began describing as ‘shouty’ and scary was my main influence. Then she acknowledged that clearly my personal experience was extremely influential in my choice of dissertation area. Finally, she told me that she loved my passion, my drive. And that one day, I would be able to take it a step further and influence policies for myself and make the change that I wanted to see in the world. 

Little old me, a world changer.  Now that was the real shock!

“You’re going to be a doctor one day.”

library-3If you’re a university student, you might be lucky enough to have access to a 24 hour library. We have one right here on campus. If you ever risk travelling into one of these places, which most people prefer to ignore the existence of, then you might notice a few characters that are hanging around.

  1. The noisy people. Yes, the ones eating crisps or yapping away on their phones- generally talking about how dull the library is.
  2. Children: Now, take this as either actual children or university students who enjoy acting like children but they basically end up meaning the same thing. They’re loud and enjoy racing around on their spinney chairs. They’re the ones playing real life pack man and hide and seek.
  3. Three, two, one… The last minute lot. Yes, they have a 5,000 word assignment due in. Tomorrow. And it’s already 10pm and they’re all sat together complaining that they don’t know what they’re doing.
  4. Zzzz… It’s the nap timers. Now, I have only seen one of these in my library, but he was always asleep. Now, I know he must have woken up at certain points because his textbooks/computer screen changed every so often and I know the library has a policy on not letting people live there (despite it being 24 hours, vending machines and includes showers). But wow, he took his naps when and where he wanted!
  5. Finally, you have the regulars who simply never seem to leave. They have their own spot which they always sit in, and they like to have a pile of large text books beside them- to lay their heads on when they want to sleep of course, not to actually read. Though you don’t actually see them sleeping, in all fairness you probably never seem them move from their seat.

Now, here’s another confession of mine: I’m a library regular. And I don’t mean that lightly. It’s almost 8.30am and I’ve been in the library since 6pm last night, on a Saturday night. I was on my own, as I like it for a productive library session, and managed to read a dozen or so articles on gun crime for my dissertation, write 3,000 odd words for my novel (Woo, supressed 20k now!) and watched an episode of Atlantis- the new TV series on BBC.

But you know it’s becoming a bad habit when the security guards start asking if you’re ok, and if you ever sleep.

In fact, this security guard I’ve not seen after one of my alnighters before, though he’s worked at our library for years. He wandered past as I was reading a textbook on Crime and Human Nature, trying to analyse to what extent schools can be blamed for criminal behaviour, when he stopped and asked if I was ok. Now, he didn’t sound worried or anything, just a casual question. To which I smiled nervously and said I was ok.

Then he said something that really shocked me.

“You’re going to be a doctor one day.”

Now that really shocked me. Obviously, he had known that I’d been there most of the night since he must have come in about midnight or so (you know you’re in there too much when you have a vague idea of their shift patterns!). But it seemed a strange assumption. I laughed and just shook my head automatically.

I’ve played with the idea of doing a PhD ever since I started university, and recently I’ve been toying with the idea of doing one in America though that would almost definitely require several years of working to save up the money. But the more I do my masters dissertation, the more I feel that I’m laying the base of what I want to do at PhD level, which makes me think I may consider doing it over here. I’m relatively fortunate in the fact that my government partially funds any university degree we may take within strict guidelines, whereas UK students don’t have that privilege so it’s something I feel I should take advantage of while I have the passion to do it.

On the other hand, I’m not entirely confident in my academic ability to manage one. While I was confident at undergraduate level, it took me three years to build up to that- and going onto a masters I’ve been completely thrown! Which is why it struck me as ironic that the security guard assumed that I was smart enough to be a doctor purely on the basis that I had my head in a textbook at 6am this morning. When, in fact, to me having to do a 13 hour shift in the library indicates that I need to put in extensive effort to even reach average.

I’m not going to lie, being able to put Dr. before my name is always going to be the dream. But it’ll take a lot of consideration and thought to decide whether that security guard saw something in me that I’m doubting right now.

 

Education is the Root of Everything…

Education  is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.

Nelson Mandela was the one who said that quote and I, for one, thoroughly back it up. Education has been proven to lower crime, lower blood pressure and mothers with higher educational attainment are more likely to wait to have children. Education has been linked to behaviour, health, wealth and stability- whether rightly or wrongly.

And it’s an ongoing process. My own undergraduate dissertation focused on whether an individual’s parents’ educational attainment can impact their decisions about Higher Education- or in simplier terms, if your parents’ have a degree, are you more likely to go to university. The answer that I found was yes. Honestly though, I wasn’t surprised. With a degree you’re more likely to get a well paid job, and having more money increases your child’s cultural capital and therefore lends itself to going to get a degree.

But I’m the first in my family to go to university so it’s not set in stone.

I’ve already prided myself on being working class and that I come from a working background. We might not be well off, but we were constantly pushed to earn what we wanted. Which is what struck me when I was watching BBC’s documentary: A Very English Education. It focuses on the very English tradition of sending boys off to prep school at a young age and, as is pointed out throughout the episode, it is a very upper class thing to do. If you could afford it, you push your children to get the very best education possible and that’s still very true today.

However, this documentary was a revisit of one done 30 odd years ago and they wanted to find out where the boys were now that they were grown men. I was intrigued to find the variety of paths they had taken and, without spoiling too much, how much they had learned from the experience. The main thing appeared to be that the school hadn’t granted them automatic superior status and therefore solving all of their future problems, and in fact it was very much the kind of issues you’d probably come across within any school.

If it showed me anything, it was the fact that many people sell themselves short depending on their educational background. I know I was always told that if you did badly in your GCSEs, you were essentially doomed for life- and yet one of my good friends, who scored straight Es on those exams, now owns a rather successful agriculture company. I was also told that going to university was the only route into a good career, and yet my younger sister chose against university and is now working in a full time job in what she loves with plans of opening her own business.

Then there’s me, feeling more lost and confused than the day when I first sat down and got told the importance of every decision I would make from year 11 (and the end of compulsory education) onwards.

I still strongly agree that education is key to solving the majority of the world’s problems- it’s the reason I study it and thoroughly enjoy it. But what I don’t agree on is the concept that unless you’re top of everything you will get nowhere in life. In fact, I believe it’s the curriculum which is letting people down rather than the actual education. Hopefully in a few years we’ll see that changing… Or not.

Teachers: The belief and motivation system

So right now I’m just waiting for the final few of my housemates to leave for a night out before I go to sleep. I’m taking a rain check on this one, mainly due to lack of funds and energy! So because of that I’m tucked up in bed while they’re in deep discussion.

They’re debating the smarts of people who go to private school and those who go to public school.

Half of the remaining few are from Australia which, they claim, boasts what sounds like a relatively high average of privately educated children. While the remaining few, who are British, were publically schooled- like myself. However they’re talking about the academic strengths of an individual going to either- naturally it would be assumed that privately educated kids are smarter while publically schooled children may not be so. Going along with this train of thought it’s easy to back up, the typical cultural capital a child who gets sent to private school (e.g. finance, social awareness) is much higher. This means that their parents will push upon them the importance of education, the after affects, and they will have more personal resources. Meanwhile a publically schooled individual is typically from a less well off family, which could mean less resources at home and less encouragement from their family network.

Personally I agree with this if you take it at first sight. The study I did for my dissertation supported that cultural capital is still very much one of the biggest factors in one’s education. However pushy parents can also dissuade ambition or cause rebellion. And sometimes a kid just isn’t that naturally academic, maybe they prefer sports or art.

Instead I feel it’s the teachers who have the most influence, negative or positive, as opposed to the school or the parents. Apart from their family, a child’s teacher is typically the imain regular adult they will see in their day to day lives.

Now I don’t mean throw a genius in to teach primary school maths, I highly doubt a bunch of 7/8 year olds would find Einstein amusing in the least. But while being at camp, and working in other settings, I’ve quickly come to realise there are born teachers. Individuals who walk into a classroom and bring inspiration and motivation as cliche as that sounds!

Of course the same teacher won’t work on an entire classroom of 30, or 100 or so kids in a year group. And that’s why there should be flexibility in the curriculum and delivery. This would allow for the teacher to adapt to the needs of the children for the best possible development of, hopefully, the majority.

Think back to your childhood- did you get inspired by a teacher? Are you in fact a teacher yourself?