Is University for Me?

Growin Up. A very lovely song by Bruce Springsteen, but also the thought we all have as first years once we arrive at University and realize that maybe this part of life may not be for us. It’s scary, isn’t it? Regretting your choice of course or picking that one optional with statistics thinking you can figure out what that’s all about.
How did we get here anyway? Oh. Yeah. We wanted to be here. Remember that on-going conversation with your parents and your teachers in your last year of high school.

  • What do you want to study at university?
  • History, I think. But I’m also torn between Modern History or just the usual degree. Or maybe adding Politics or International Relations in the mix and doing a joint degree? I just don’t know yet which of these, if any, are worth over 9,000 pounds a year.
  • And which universities have you looked at so far?
  • A lot really. But Essex is my top choice. It just has everything I need as far as I can tell. Once I will go to an Open Day I will be able to make a final decision. Although it’s got my full attention so far, you never know what else I can find out then.

A conversation all of us have at some point right? But how do we make sure it will lead us where we want to be at the end of 3 or 4 years of higher education?

  • Be at least 90% sure that university is for you!

If you start the application process, there is no going back really. But be certain when you start applying that university is for you! When you’re picking your course, when you’re writing down your 5 universities, when you’re applying for accommodation. And talk to people, to everyone really, your teachers, your parents, your siblings, current students, alumni, anyone you can think of. Ask them questions. Once you arrive here you can really start trusting the phrase “No questions is too stupid” The more you talk the more confident you’ll be about your choice of course and everything that comes along with it. Try to calm your anxiety the best you can and most importantly make sure that the final choice is your own!

  • Think of the course not the university!

Top universities are nice, sure, okay. But you’d be surprised at how many of them are rubbish at teaching certain subjects. Look into how good they are at your course not at how high they stand on the annual review. After all, you’ll be studying your subject not just walking about the university all day every day. I knew that Essex is one of few universities in the country who takes a unique approach to History and offers so many joint degrees with it, best known for their excellence in independent research projects. Don’t forget to also look up where they stand on the student satisfaction survey. Essex prides itself in this department, with 90% of students saying they are satisfied with their course – well above the national average of 86%.

  • A researcher or a lecturer?

Personally, this was the toughest. Most universities focus only on one between the two: research or teaching. Research universities tend to be better perceived because of the prestige that comes along with that title. They involve themselves in projects, activities, international conferences, and by association their students as well. But this way you will spend less time in lectures, seminars, classes and maybe that’s your best way of learning new information. If you don’t find yourself attracted by group projects, internships or different employment schemes opt for a teaching university. All in all, both types are hard to make a schedule around, but as long as you enjoy it, you’ll be graduating in no time!

  • Make sure that those 5 universities fit you!

I knew from the moment I started reading the prospectus that University of Essex was for me. The message they sent out to applicants: “rebels with a cause”, “challenge the status quo” and the international community they grow each year is what motivated me to have the best personal statement and best academic results possible. Although 50 years may not seem like much, it was enough for this university to make a name for itself which I am sure students, alumni and anyone who has ever had the opportunity to get to know this campus and our family along with it, will never forget. If you choose University of Essex you will be far from disappointed in your degree and experience here.

 

Tackling Gender Inequality in the History Department

Before Christmas, the History Department here at the University of Essex submitted an application for a Bronze Award from the Equality Challenge Unit’s Athena SWAN programme. We’ll find out at the end of April if we are successful, but I thought I’d provide some thoughts as to why we applied and give some background to the award we are applying for.

Athena SWAN began a programme to increase women’s participation in the STEMM subjects: Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths and Medicine. These subjects were traditionally male dominated at every level, but research showed that women were less likely than men to reach to the level of academic members of staff and even less likely to get to the top of their profession and become a Professor. The Athena SWAN programme was designed to help those subjects overcome such gender inequality. Since its launch in 2005, academic Departments in STEMM subjects have been able to apply for an award that proves their commitment to ensuring women have an equal chance of succeeding as men. Athena SWAN is not concerned with favouring women over men, but rather understanding the cultural and workplace factors that have traditionally benefited men and discriminated against women. You can read more about the principles behind Athena Swan here. Since 2013, Athena SWAN has been expanded to cover the Arts, Humanities, Social Sciences, Business and Law (AHSSBL) disciplines, and in 2014 the University of Essex was one of only five Universities to receive an award for work expanding the aims of Athena SWAN into all subject areas. Two staff members from the History Department were involved in the Self-Assessment Process.

At first glance, the History Department might not seem to have the same issues as STEMM areas. After all, there are many more women working in history than in the sciences. In fact, History here at Essex has had three female Heads of Department since 1993 – very few Departments across the country could equal that figure. There are also a lot more female history students than in many of the STEMM subjects. Yet many workplace cultures have the same problems: structures that seem to benefit those with characteristics usually associated with men (such as ‘self-assertiveness’ and ‘confidence’).

So for gender equality to come in the workplace we need a system which encourages and rewards all the activities of all staff and which seeks to both eliminate the barriers to women’s careers and provides a supportive atmosphere that allows people to flourish. This is where Athena SWAN comes in. Since 2014, the University of Essex has worked hard as part of its Institutional Bronze Award to change the structures and practices that entrench gender bias. For example, an analysis of the pay of Professorial staff led the University to announce in 2015-16 that it would remove the gender pay gap at Professorial level by raising female professors’ pay rise – the first University to do this.  These actions can be attributed directly to the University’s desire to tackle inequality on campus and outside it: and it is these values that underpin the University’s support for Departments applying for Athena SWAN recognition.

So when the History Department thought about Athena SWAN we were aware that traditional working cultures have been inherently discriminatory against women. We also knew that of the senior Professors in the Department, nearly all of them are men. But we wanted to find out if there any barriers to women succeeding in our Department, and to tear them down if there were. Quite simply, we must be able to honestly state that men and women have genuinely equal chances of promotion, and that the excellent staff in the Department are properly rewarded for the work they did.

We also wanted to be absolutely confident that we were providing our students with a learning environment that was supportive of everyone. So the process of applying for our award involved us investigating if there were any barriers to the success of our students. This started with the realisation that of the students studying History at Essex, rather fewer of them were women than might be expected by looking at both the subject nationally and at other Departments in the University. Across the country, around 55% of History students are women. At Essex, that figure is around 45%. Not a vast difference perhaps, but one that made us think: was there more we could do to ensure women wanted to apply to study here?

So, we seemed to be confronted by some key facts, or rather one basic fact – we didn’t have as many women as men either teaching modules or taking them. So we thought we should try to understand why this was the case and to think about ways of dealing with it. For the historians here at Essex, it was an affront to our core values that inequality might exist in a Department that prides itself in researching the history of ‘ordinary’ people and their struggles in the world. In a future post, I’ll describe how we did this, but I’ll finish here at the point when we had taken the first and most important step: understanding that there was a problem and taking the responsibility both for the fact that the problem existed and for dealing with it – because nothing changes unless people are prepared to work together in order to bring that change about. As of March 2017, no History Department in England holds an Athena SWAN award. We hope that changes very soon.

Matthew Grant, convener of the History Department Athena SWAN self-assessment team.

Why you should be a Frontrunner

While the Frontrunners initiative is a highly successful and beneficial programme that has been in place at the University of Essex for a number of years, few humanities students are reaping the benefits.  I’m going to tell you why you should consider going after a position.

  • Experience

The amount of training that is available to Frontrunners is  highly beneficial to anyone wanting to add a little more depth to their CV. The role you choose varies which training you get, however every Frontrunner attends workshops to improve their skills. These include social media workshops. Being proficient in social networking is becoming increasingly important for finding information/ advertisement/ and spreading messages and is an added bonus to any potential employer. Training also involves building on your communication skills and your confidence in a work environment, including how to showcase your values in interviews and job applications. Had it not been for my Frontrunners role, I would never have gained this experience.

  •  Getting involved with your University Community

A departmental Frontrunners position is a sure way to integrate yourself into your university. With this comes a better knowledge of all of the opportunities available to you to make the most of your time at university, and a greater sense of belonging in the University community. Furthermore, the staff become much more familiar and after realise they are actually very approachable people, talking to them will feel much less daunting. S1030007

  • Improving Yourself

Along with the skills you gain in this position through training are others you gain through practice. If you don’t feel too confident with public speaking, or wish you could manage your time a little better, this is the position for you. I myself have gained huge amounts of confidence with communication and public speaking through working on University open days where I speak to potential students and their families. This has given me skills that I can carry forward into any job role, (and life in general) and is my most valued achievement from my Frontrunners position.

  • Convenience

Every Frontrunners position is run by the University. That means the people who are in charge of what you do realise that your education is your first priority, and no job can get in the way of that. As a result, despite the position only being for a manageable 8 hours a week, should you need any time to study or if your deadlines are mounting up, a quick talk with your overseer will sort out your workload and allow you to work on your degree to the best of your ability. Furthermore you are not limited to a role in your department. Want to gain experience in advertising, organisation or communication outside your department? No problem. There are many different positions that you can apply for.

Frontrunners positions are a great opportunity for improving yourself and enjoying the experience in the meantime. My Frontrunners role has really made my year stand out, as well as being an addition to my work experience. I have thoroughly enjoyed it and believe that it is the best decision I have made involving my time at the University of Essex.

For more information about the Frontrunners positions available to you, visit the Frontrunners page on the University of Essex website.

Good Luck to all of you that apply for a position!

Stress Management

Exams are nearly upon us and everyone is feeling the pressure. Months of lessons, coursework and revision have built up and this is the final push before the summer. I’m going to provide you with a few ways to help you to retain your sanity.

If you are a student you are most likely familiar with all of the following worries, but if you’re not then before you read this post and get the impression that university is terrifying let me clarify; it isn’t. 99% of the time it is the most fun and enjoyable time of your life, but like anything worth doing, it isn’t always easy. So here’s how to make that other 1% a little easier.

Don’t Stress…

…Just kidding. It’s perfectly OK to be stressed out sometimes by coursework or exams. Just remember that even though at times it doesn’t seem like it, everyone is in the same boat. You should also keep in mind that people deal with their stress in different ways. Just because someones seems chilled to you, they could still be secretly terrified of their coming exams. But even though it’s alright to worry, it isn’t pleasant. So just remember that everyone at your university wants you to succeed and will help in any way they can, and try the following to help you keep calm and carry on revising.

S1030056Breathe 

Sounds pretty straightforward doesn’t it? But sometimes it’s not that easy. After spending six hours straight in the library and draining your fourth cup of coffee, things can start getting to you. Just stop, take a few deep breaths, and look away from the books. It’s no good trying to power through your nerves, you’re not concentrating and can’t take in any information. Give yourself some time. Take a five minute break every half hour or so to keep your composure, check facebook, grab some food… It doesn’t really matter what you do as long as you give yourself a few minutes to wind down.

Exercise

Probably one you’ve heard before, but it works. Can’t be bothered to go to the gym or for a jog? That’s fine. A walk will do. Put your headphones in and drain out your fears with your favourite songs. Or visit the ducks, they’re always happy to see you (if you bring them food). Getting some fresh air is good for you and the little bit of exercise will help tire you out so you can get to sleep easier, however worried you are. S1030075

Plan

By planning out your time for revision you can know exactly where you are and how much work is ahead of you. That way you won’t end up in a panic a few days before the exam feeling totally unprepared. Also plan out some down time around your revision so you can relax.

Eat well

Think you don’t have time for good food? Think again. It’s important to keep your body working to the best of its ability. Any lack of decent food, water or sleep will affect you badly. Even more so when you’re worried. If you’re having some revision sessions, take some lunch, or schedule time to visit a restaurant.

Think Ahead 

It’s good to remember that this is only one step in getting your degree. You’re going to put in a lot of work to reach your end goal and every piece of work you do gets you one step closer. You will get there!

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Summer Time!

It’s coming towards the end of the academic year and if you really want to make your degree stand out, doing something during the summer is a must. Whether its paid work for a little more experience (and a little spending money for your summer) or volunteering. There are so many options available to you. But how do you get organised?

wp2First, you need to decide what you want to do, paid work, volunteer, apprenticeship?

Think about your priorities. If you are going to need money this summer, paid work is necessary, but it doesn’t mean you can’t do anything else. Take a week out to do a placement that will add to your work experience in your future career. And volunteering is highly flexible, you may be able to work something into your busy schedule.

Find your placement.

Next you need to do some research. Have a look yourself for options that are available in the area you will be living in over the summer, or if you’re having trouble, visit the employability and careers centre. Alternatively, take a look at What’s On? There you can find employment opportunities and free workshops on how to make an impression on an employer.

Tips

Even though its good to get experience, don’t spread yourself too thinly. Allow yourself some time to do some Uni work, as well as relax and enjoy your summer!

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Spring Cleaning

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The sun is shining- sort of- and it’s feeling a little more like spring. So maybe now’s a good time to have a clear out. One of the major problems faced by students when it comes to organisation is a lack of space, so here’s a few tips to help you clean up and also to maximize the space in your room so you don’t end up living in a pile of laundry and books.

First, the clean-up.

-Clean together

If you and your housemates all do the cleaning at the same time it will go much quicker, and a little music on in the background will make it much less of a chore. Also it’s easy to see if someone’s slacking on their cleaning duties. You can try a cleaning rota but having learnt from experience, this doesn’t guarantee it will be followed, nevertheless it could work for you.

-Cleaning wet wipes

These are your new best friend. Instead of taking forever to clean up the surfaces, a quick wipe and you’re done; great for kitchen, bathroom and bedroom surfaces (just make sure you buy them when they’re on sale).

-preventing mess

Although it may not be top on your list of priorities when you’re at Uni, a laundry bag hung on the back of your door means your room won’t be covered in unwashed clothes and that you can easily take your stuff to be cleaned.

Collapsible boxes are also useful, not only for books but for electricals that would otherwise be laying around all tangled up. They’re easy to store when not in use and really helpful when you move too.

Organising

laundry-443505 (1).jpg-wardrobe space

Shoe organisers can be bought fairly cheaply and just hang in your wardrobe out of sight. They make it easier to find shoes and free up the space that would otherwise be used for them.

Roll instead of fold. If you roll your clothes into small bundles not only are they less likely to crease, but take up less space and can be arranged on shelf space so you can see all of your clothes.

-wall/door organisers

These are made to either hang from the wall or over the door (but could easily go over the edge of a shelf) and are particularly useful for books.

You can also get small jewelry organisers that attach to the wall on hooks with stickers that are strong but easily removed (don’t want to lose any of our deposits!) and available in most department stores and decorating shops.

-desk space

Small desk organisers to keep all of your materials together instead of scattered over your work space are useful to have.

No desk? No problem. Lap trays are cheap and great for doing your work in bed on those days when you don’t feel like moving, or for doing some late night revision. It also means desk space could have other uses (like for a place to put those used cups you really need to wash instead of ignoring).

 

What to do with your degree

It’s a common misconception that the subject of your degree will limit you in your career choice. This may be true for some subjects, but not history.

A history degree is one of the most versatile. The analytical skills that you gain in history, as well as the project management skills you learn doing your final year dissertation are sought after by employers. We’re also great at arguing (but we knew that already), which is a necessary quality in many jobs; the ability to effectively put your point across, or deal calmly with a difficult customer are what will set you apart. On top of this is the problem solving, time management, and independent research skills gained in any good degree.

So what jobs can you get?

Retail, analysis, accountancy, banking, law, publishing, writing… there are so many possibilities.

Take a look at the Prospects website to give you an idea.

And to the people who don’t know yet, no problem! Take the quiz on their website to find out the perfect career for you.

University is also the time to gain valuable work experience in the field you are interested in. Take your degree and tailor it, and your experiences at Essex to the life you want to lead.

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To take away from the stress of considering your future, here’s a picture of the campus ducks!

 

Hugo has landed

Hugo, the History Department’s new Mascot to promote Green Impact has arrived. He’s chilling above every light switch to remind you that every time you leave a room without turning the light off a polar bear dies…. just joking…. BUT Polar Bears International says that Scientists predict that as the Arctic continues to warm, two-thirds of the world’s polar bears could disappear within this century. So don’t forget to do the little things like turn the light off when you leave the room, recycle and turn the radiator off when you open a window.

HugoPolar Bears

Love Rosie x

A Guide to Societies

At Essex there are societies for almost anything you can imagine with more being created every year. From the Cheese and Wine society (I recommend it), to the Harry Potter society. There are also societies for most, if not all, departments (so of course there’s a history society, and yes, it’s amazing).

The first event that I went with a friend to- because I was a little scared of turning up on my own- was in the Top Bar. After spotting a few familiar faces across the room my friend walks over and asks if this is the history society social, and it turns out there was nothing to worry about! Instantly the history society members shuffle up and make room for us, make introductions and ask us about our courses. They were all warm and welcoming, and a good laugh as well. By the end of the night there I was agreeing to walking around Wivenhoe in fancy dress for a 1920’s themed pub crawl!  But it wasn’t just the friendliness and fun of the night that surprised me, it was also how much I could learn from these people. Throughout the night people talked about their subjects, their dissertations, and what they’re doing with their time at Uni, and I realised I was picking up a lot of useful information as well as enjoying great conversation with interesting people. And it turns out not all of the socials include pubs… We were also invited to the upcoming trip to the National Archives and the society, plus they do workshops for students to give them guidance on their modules. So there is much more to be gained from joining a society than the socials- although they’re definitely a factor!

There’s so much you can gain from joining a society, and there are plenty to choose from.

Have a look for yourself on the University of Essex Student Union page  where you can also join the different societies.

 

Go Green Week!

So thglobal-303172is week is Go Green Week! We’ve already had everything from a Post-code coffee morning, Make a green Chinese New Year’s resolution, the Big bike sale and Dr. Bike to Green Games and an SU Swap Shop. So far this week has been pretty amazing!

The History Department is even getting involved in Go Green Week! We’re hosting a Stationary Amnesty where all of the staff have to return the stationary they’ve borrowed to stop the department from getting more which they don’t need. We’re also getting some thermometers for their offices to ensure that we’re keeping the radiators down.

Still to come this week is a Transport Stall, Waste Electrical items Amnestry, Lunch time bike ride, Film showing of Cowspiracy, Meat-free Friday, and Prizes for cyclists!

You can find out more about Green Week here

Tweet the History Department about what you’ve been getting up to in Go Green Week, even if it’s something as simple as putting your recycling out for collection or walking to campus!

Love Rosie x