Attending academic events with lecturers – Kiran Singh

#chooseDerby, #DerbyStudent, English, Kiran

During one of my third year modules, I was given the opportunity to attend ‘The East Midland’s Writer’s Conference 2015’ with my lecturer, Dr Paul Whickman. I would be in the student ambassador role for the majority of the day, so answering queries about doing English Lit at Derby for most of the time, but I was also able to attend the panel at which my lecturer was a speaker.

The day started with me and another ambassador, George, driving to Nottingham to set up the Derby University stall. Once we were set up, we got ready for any questions, and most of the queries were to do with people wanting to do an MA. Then I left George to man the stall on his own whilst I went to Paul’s panel. The panel was about the freedom to write; essentially a writer being able to write whatever you want without thinking that it may cause someone offence.

The panel was great and as well as Paul, there was the director of Writing East Midlands, a Chinese novelist and an Iranian poet. Paul gave a fantastic introduction, he contextualised censorship and offence. The introduction was a good mix of historical context and current issues. The Iranian poet was brilliant because he was a ‘real life’ example of someone who had faced extreme censorship and gave an insight to his first-hand experience at having to leave his country because of what he wrote. He also set a very good idea in motion and that was that censorship occurred at different levels and could be external or internal. The Chinese novelist was very clever because she talked about how the biggest censor was actually commercialisation because a writer is ultimately censored by what readers want. She also made very good points about how freedom was an illusion and the writer’s job is to work within this illusion by making the points that they want to make but staying within limits that will not offend anyone.

Attending the panel was very helpful for my third year module; ‘Taking and Making Offence; Blasphemy, Obscenity and Censorship from Milton to Rushdie’. The panel explored many issues which are central to the module, for example, is offence made or taken? I recorded my visit to conference, and in particular, to the panel in my seminar participation form which is one part of the assessment on this module. I also used some of the debate at the panel to help me answer my major assignment question.  Apart from using the information I gained from the panel for both my course works (seminar participation and assignment), it was also extremely useful seeing Paul in his academic field. Sometimes, it is difficult to see the purpose (or even use- although I do not agree with this but unfortunately lots of people do see English lit as a bit of a ‘useless’ subject) of your subject when in a classroom/lecture hall setting but seeing the academic that taught on my programme in practice was a great way to consolidate my learning and in fact it helped me to see that what we learn or debate in lectures are actually issues which effect everyday living.

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What’s it like studying with two kids???? – Kiran

#chooseDerby, #DerbyStudent, English, Kiran

The first thought that came into my head when I initially decided to resign from my job to come to university was: how will I manage with the kids? Two boys (4 and 6 years old) and an English Literature degree don’t quite go hand in hand. Well, it’s not exactly easy reading Homer’s Odyssey whilst the kids are acting out ninja turtle fight scenes.

There are so many vital issues to consider when you are a parent and considering university, for example, financial issues, how will you manage the workload, will you still be able to give them enough attention, what about the school run, is this really the best thing for you and your family? The easiest way, I find, is to tackle all these issues as if your degree is a job because you would have the same issues if you were working.  Although, doing a degree is much more than doing a job.  With a job, at least you can come home and to some extent forget about it, there is no forgetting about your degree.

But there is one secret formula, and I swear by it (!), which will ensure you stay on top of your degree and manage a wonderfully smooth running family life too (okay ‘ wonderfully smooth’ is a bit extreme),  and that is staying super organised. You feel and perform so much better when you feel like you have everything in hand. Lists are a good way of staying organised, even a weekly dinner menu helps.  And invest in a good quality diary or use your phone to set reminders, things like setting yourself deadlines  to do your assignments well before they are actually due  means that if anything comes up the week before you have to submit your assignments , at least you have got yourself a head start because it’s bound to happen, somebody comes down with chicken pox  when your assignments are due, staying organised and getting work done ahead of schedule means you can worry that little bit less than if you had to start from scratch.

I have also found that a good routine helps with staying focussed and then everything (and everyone) gets adequate time. For example, your kids know when you spend time with them and you know when you will be doing your university work. If you can, it is also a really good idea to try to build a support network around yourself. Your partner, family and friends can all help with the kids. Even at university, there is The Student Parent Group, who run events and offer support for students and their children.  Using the support and help available means you won’t feel like you are on your own.

The most important thing to remember, though, is that kids are haphazard things (as are most things in life – it’s just that they can speak (or cry on demand) and have feelings which makes them more awkward than most things) so the routine may sometimes have to be given a miss and you might have a day when you don’t get anything done – but one day won’t make a difference. In fact, sometimes you need a well- deserved break and at times (especially when you have presentations or assignments are due) you will be at the other end of the scale, so,  it may well be that you can only give your family very little attention but it won’t be forever so don’t beat yourself up about it.

And finally, use your family life as inspiration and motivation. The university’s motto is ‘Experience is the best teacher’ and there is no experience more embarrassing, intimate and challenging than family!

A typical English Literature lecture – Kiran

#chooseDerby, #DerbyStudent, English, Kiran, lecture, LHSS

One of the things most people want to know, apart from all the NSS facts, fees and other really important stuff about university, is what is an actual lecture like? How different is it from college or sixth form? How long is a lecture? What is the set up and how much study or work do you need to do before one? Even the simpler questions, like, do you get a break or can you use your laptop to make notes can put your mind at rest and help you slip into an academic learning environment more easily.

So ultimately, the structure of a lecture depends on the modules and year of study, but generally the English Lit lectures are four hours. The first two hours are often more lecture type, as in they mostly consist of the lecturer teaching the text in question.  So, for example, if we are studying a text such as Dracula, the lecturer may give us the context and the literary theories associated with Dracula in the first two hours.  It is really important to take notes during this part of the lecture but if you are not that fast writing, the lecturers do upload the powerpoint lecture presentations online.

The second half of the lecture is usually a seminar.  This is where the content from the first part of the lecture can really come alive. For example, we can discuss exactly how particular theories can be applied to the text or is the context really relevant to the text. This part of the lecture is the time when students can really become vocal. Sometimes the debate can progress onto prolific or current issues. It’s important to use the opportunity of a seminar to test your thinking and gain confidence. You may say something which other students disagree with but that is kind of what the seminar is about, exploring different readings of the text or theory in question.

English is an intense degree, there is lots of secondary, highly academic reading involved but it is also one of the most rewarding degrees. I have picked up so many skills through the degree proggramme, I have also really developed lots of skills. One example would be that in a seminar, you are given the chance to present a text.  It’s basically like being the lecturer for one hour and it means you can steer the debate and discussion in a seminar in the direction that you want. My presentational skills have developed as I have done more and more presentations in seminars.  Also, a presentation is graded like an assignment. So, the lecturers support you whilst you are planning and preparing for your presentation, just as they would when completing assignments. You also gain lots of communication skills because presentations are often conducted in a group.

A lecture is very different from A’level   study.  The texts studied are intellectualised much more and it is good practice to do secondary reading before lectures.  There is usually a break between the two hour lecture and the seminar.  It’s also really important to be able to adapt to different teaching styles because different lecturers have different styles and some modules require completely different approaches.

I hope I have clarified what an English lit lecture is like, and I realise I may have made it seem like it is really intense and hard work but it is honestly worth it. There are some lectures which have even changed my perspective on life! I have walked in as a different person at the beginning of the lecture and walked out with a totally different bag of ideas at the end! Lectures on ideology, subjectivity or Sadeism are just a few worth mentioning which have had that effect!

  • What’s it like studying with two kids
  • What’s it like doing a degree that isn’t vocational
  • Coursework vs exams
  • Doing work around the uni – ambassador role
  • Making good use of the library
  • Making lifelong friends/using uni as a social space
  • Using the hub-careers
  • Forming a society
  • What’s it like being a student rep for English
  • How to make most of your degree – using the skills outside of your degree
  • The extra-curricular activities on English lit, e. g. writers conference
  • Finding/working out your study method

Taking on responsibility at university – Editor role – Kiran Singh

#chooseDerby, #DerbyStudent, Kiran, LHSS

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In the second year, when I learnt that there was a student magazine at Derby; I was eager to get involved, I thought about writing articles and approached the media coordinator at the SU.  We had a great conversation about student media and I realised it was really easy to get involved, so, I set about writing my first article.

After a few weeks, the editorial roles were being advertised for the magazine. I read the advert and looked at the application form online but hesitated at taking on so much responsibility. I didn’t think that I would be able to manage, especially with all the work and reading that’s involved in an English Literature degree.  Yet, I was keen to explore what it was like working in a profession in which writing was involved.  But being in two minds; I left it at that. A few days later, I was surprised by a phone call from the media coordinator, asking if I was interested in coming in for an interview for the editor position.  She thought I was really enthusiastic when we last spoke and thought of me immediately when the position came up.  I put my hesitation aside and went for it, literally and mentally!

I had had no time to practice for the interview so I just gave really honest, simple answers. The interviewers told me they would contact me once they had interviewed all the applicants. I really didn’t think I’d got the position.  You can imagine my surprise when I got the ‘you have been successful’ phone call a few days later.  Pleased as I could be, I decided to take on the position with full force because it’s is not every day you get to be the editor of a magazine. And university is so full of these type of opportunities. The best thing about doing these kind of roles at university is that it’s kind of a safe environment to challenge yourself.

Whilst I was an editor, I took the opportunity with both hands and set about calculating content, editorial and print deadlines for the next semester.  I also called editorial meetings with the sub-editors, learnt how to proof read and edit for specific audiences. I also did something which had not been done before, I managed to release a brand new issue of the magazine at freshers’ fair which raised the profile of the magazine and gave it much needed publicity.  Looking back now, I sometimes wonder how I managed to do all that and if somebody accredited me with all that responsibility, I probably would not believe it was possible. But it is possible and the editions of the magazine prove that it was possible. I think, university is a great place to challenge our mental restraints. Restraints that we often set ourselves because we haven’t seen ourselves in that capacity, and sometimes don’t dare to see ourselves out of our comfort zone. As I said before, university is a great place to challenge yourself, not just within your degree programme but through all the things that go on around uni too, because there’s lots of support to help you get it right.