Rambles, rants and raves

A lot of opinions spilling out of my brain


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What I thought university would be and what it was: from a graduate

A generic university image. Because my brain exploded when it tried to think of a suitable, yet entertaining/creative, image to match this post.

University degrees have changed. This is the first year that fees have been increased to a staggering £9,000 a year and the old argument is university is worth it. I put in my two cents to the debate a while ago (it’s here in case you’re interested) but I’ve been thinking about university in general lately. Partly because the boy is still at university so it’s not quite out of my life yet.

Looking back on my overall university experience, I would definitely recommend university as a thing to do if you’re passionate and enjoy a particular subject.

My degree, because that is what university is about – though it may be lost in translation for some, was enjoyable, challenging and interesting. It was hard work but fulfilling and I did enjoy my time studying English Language and Literature. It wasn’t what I expected however.

Before I went to university I had a certain expectation of what it would be like. I imagined brilliant debates ignited by the lecturer or a particular passage in the novel that would challenge and stimulate the students. I envisioned students being forced to consistently question their ideas and be made to think about things different, study things in great depth during independent study all to come up with a different point of view, a new angle, an altered insight.

I guess I expected the universities depicted in great stories or films where smart people are forced to not only look at the superficial and just under it but actually get their hands dirty learning, adapting, evolving.

It wasn’t like this.

Without including the dissertation and big projects, university was a lot like school and college. You are expected to answer exam questions in a particular way so that an examiner can tick off certain boxes on a marking sheet. You need to regurgitate information in a particular way to be able to get the marks that allow you to get the degree. It isn’t as much about original thought as learning what other have done. There’s no development after that.

Obviously it is important to know the background and the ‘pillars’ of the subject. Having a foundation to then form something new and to be able to make you an individual academic that contributes to the subject rather than just learning about it. Becoming an active student rather than a passive one.

However, that isn’t fully encouraged until it’s time for your dissertation or project in your final years. There isn’t discussion though or bouncing off each other, at least in individual projects. You miss that and although the final year project/dissertations are fun in a strange way and hard work; they are closer to my imaginings of university.

It is still an individual thing however. Long, long before I was born, university was more about the learning of the foundations (like we do now) and then discussing, debating and trying to form new ideas. This is what makes innovators.

People weren’t afraid to question things, challenge them and actually attempt to do something better. This is what creates great people. The ability to challenge, argue and learn from others to do something yourself – not regurgitating information like a helpless baby bird.

University has become too caught up in league tables and getting as many students as possible through the door to up potential grants given to them. Universities were forced to adhere to guidelines that higher education can’t really match if it is to be fulfilling and rewarding enough to create brilliant thinkers and do-ers, people that could make ripples, or waves, in the world.

I understand that this type of learning would not suit everyone. That many would be put off by the amount of independent learning, lack of spoon feeding and necessary opinions based on research and background knowledge.

But I don’t think this would be a bad thing.

It would mean that people would be going to university not based on their household income (although this isn’t as big of an issue in the UK) but for those that wanted to do something brilliant through, or with, their degree. It would mean that open-mindedness would be a necessity, rather than something you’d hopefully learn (you’d be surprised at the ignorance people still leave university with).

University should be a place to grow, be challenged and be happy for it and the learning it gives you. It should not be a memory test, or the ability to write a certain answer in a certain way to please a certain teacher.


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What’s a human to do?

I’m out of ideas guys. My brain has been consumed with pointless essays that I am essentially paying people to give me by choosing a university degree. If it isn’t ridiculously lengthy essay questions then it’s mountains of revision or having my money taken from me because I work too many hours for a student. It’s getting an essay back and told that my ideas are so good that I don’t need to use fancy language. What if I like fancy language? What if I want to work all those long hours? What if I have an amazing answer to a far simpler, but just as meaningful, essay question that doesn’t exisit?

What’s a human to do?

I have two more essays before my final deadlines and then a few more exams before the end of term and graduation. Before then I will continue to work my butt off for a piece of paper and some recognition that yes, I can survive university. Not necessarily that I can survive in the real world, but university? Yep got that covered.

I have reached a point where I cannot help but question what I am to do when people tell me to do one thing then tell me I’m wrong for listening to their advice. What confuses me most about this conundrum is that I am taking advice and feedback from people that are wiser, smarter and have been playing the university game for longer than anyone would wish to be a part of it. The government encourages people to work, they want unemployment to decrease, they want students to study and yet if you try to do both things: work and study, then you can’t without having something taken away. If you work too many hours, there’s a tax for that. If you study at a certain place or want certain books, then there’s a price for that. Yes, we pay because it benefits the country: free healthcare (or cheaper), transport, blah, blah, blah. But at the same time, I’m just a student. I barely count as a human at all, apart from as someone to milk money from. My rent is huge, my books make me research how much I can sell a liver for on the black market and the cost of my education alone means that I will be forever in debt and if I’m lucky, at age 95 will see the debt cleared.

My brain has had enough. It doesn’t want me to do anymore work. But it’s the final frontier, I’m so close to the finish line I can smell it. Or taste it. Or see it. However the saying goes. Motivation is scarce right now but what’s pushing me through is that come September I’ll be doing a 6 month course (not out of academia yet! I’m crazy I know) that will set me on my chosen career path. I will continue to work hard so that one day, I am creating the game, not playing it. That’s what keeps me going. So in answer to my title question (which no-one actually asked me) just keep going. It’s worth it because when you relax you can feel satisfied of your productivity. It means in the long run you’ll have that freedom that is promised but not quite true just yet. So if you’re also suffering through countless deadlines and exam period: just breathe and focus. It’ll be worth it.

The simple things right now are keeping me going and will continue to help me through the battlefield of exam period: cheesecakes, the boy, the Stereophonics and pretty pictures online. Soon this will be done and I’ll be a free, very poor graduate! Hooray!

Okay, pep talk to myself is over. Wish me luck. Over and out.


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Happiness

It’s strange but I’ve only recently realised that many forget to be happy or at least they forget to find out if they are happy. People get caught up in the mundane of their lives, or on the amount of things that have to do or the dreams they want to achieve that they forget to be happy. They may be happy, they just don’t realise it so does that even qualify as happiness?

Happiness is different for everyone, where rainstorms practically make me jump around in glee (which I have been known to do on occasion), I know they terrify some. It’s all perspective and obviously some people are happy with not realising they are happy. Some don’t need the confirmation to be happy, they just assume they are. It’s not exactly how I’d define happy but so each to their own.

A lot of people are never asked questions like “Are you happy?” “How do you feel about it all?” “How are you?” from people that genuinely mean it and actually want to hear your answer because they care, not for the gossip or as a conversation filler. Even those that love you and care for you sometime forget to ask. I think I know why. Apart from the fact that people are busy with their own lives, I think it’s because happiness as become an assumption.

People, and this is from society’s expectations of us, are assumed to be happy; people assume that happiness is other people’s default state. Even though they know, from their own personal experience that it probably isn’t theirs. Although they probably don’t know that. They probably don’t know that because they just assume they are happy too; people are too scared to evaluate themselves and see if they are really happy. People are curious about others and everything around them, but to self reflect and ask themselves, what is in my opinion a fundamental question, is shoved to one side and ignored.

It’s important to take a step back and breathe. Otherwise before you know it, you’re not okay. You’re unhappy, you’re frustrated and you’re annoyed. These emotions may be because of whatever is happening in your life at the time when you come to the awful realisation that you’re not happy. But you’d probably be slightly better equipped to handle those negative emotions if you’d asked yourself if you’re happy long before then.

Happiness is not an assumption; happiness is not something we should be complacent about. Happiness is one of the most important things in the world, it’s what helps make life that little brighter. You may surprise yourself when you ask yourself if you’re happy. You may stop and see and you may realise that you are happier than you realised.

I think the majority of people would agree that happiness is important to a healthy mentality. Isn’t that what everyone is striving for? Happiness? Isn’t that what companies are selling us when they advertise the newest gadget, car or perfume? Happiness? So why do we forget to actually ask ourselves such a simple question? Does the potential of a no scare people too much?

You deserve to be happy. You deserve to acknowledge your happiness and not just assume that you are. If you are happy, then great; you’ll find yourself feeling happier at realising your happy. If you’re not happy then you can start working towards being happier. But I should also point out that it’s okay not to be happy. It’s alright to be sad and to not be okay. Human beings are complex creatures and we need that too. For me though happiness is crucial to living and not just surviving.

Happiness is not an assumption.


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What is brave?

“Bravery is not the absence of fear but the judgement that something else is more important than fear”

I do realise that the title of this post makes it sound like I’m about to go all deep on you dear reader and blow your mind with some philosophical, psychological bubble. I hate to disappoint but I am happy to say (a contradiction in terms, I know) to say that is not what I am going to do. I simply could not think of a better title.

These past few weeks, cowardice and bravery have been demonstrated to me in several different ways. I realised that there is no such thing as a one definitive answer for the question in the title. Like the quote says: ‘Bravery is not the absence of fear but the judgement that something else is more important than fear.’ Fear for each person is different and so, logically, the definition of bravery for each human being should be different to.

But I don’t feel this is a fair justification of brave. I’ve been debating with myself (first sign of madness I know) whether there is something that a person does be they small, tall, fat or skinny that could deem them as brave or courageous. I came up with a few ideas…

Bravery, for me, is someone that isn’t afraid to tick up for themselves, be it against strangers or best friends. It takes courage to have an opinion, stick to it and fight for it; however there is a thin line here between stubbornness. If you’re wrong and proven wrong then it’s probably worth admitting defeat. Defeat doesn’t mean you’re weak, it just means you’re smart enough to realise that you were mistaken.

Brave is being able to step away from a situation even if it’s not the easy option. Brave is being able to take the higher ground, no matter how much you think you should do something else. Brave is being able to tell yourself enough is enough. Brave is being able to know what makes you happy and not being afraid to go after it. Brave is chasing your dreams even if they don’t seem possible.

Brave is being yourself. I have no real way of closing this argument (the consequences of poor planning) but I think this quote from E.E. Cummings sums up bravery pretty damn perfectly.

“To be nobody but yourself in a world that’s doing its best to make you somebody else, is to fight the hardest battle you are ever going to fight. Never stop fighting.”