Top tips for new students

Welcome to the Department of History at Essex! We hope you enjoy welcome week, and that you’re excited about joining the vibrant community here. We know from personal experience that it can be daunting embarking on a new stage in life, so here are our top tips for new undergraduates to help you settle in and make the most of your time here right from the start.

  1. Don’t worry if everything seems confusing at first

It’s widely acknowledged that moving is one of the most stressful events in life. Even if you haven’t moved house, you’re still moving from one way of life to another – from college, school, or a previous career to university. There’s a lot of practical things to do, from getting a library card to finding your way to lecture theatres, and it’s not surprising if you feel overwhelmed at first. You will survive! In only a few weeks’ time, the building blocks of your new life will be in place. There will be new challenges in the years ahead – after all, that is the point of university – but the bewilderment of your first few days will soon be gone.

  1. Get organised straight away

Even if you have never owned one before, buy an academic diary. Write in the times, topics and locations of your lectures and seminars, as well as any welcome events, and when you receive your essay deadlines, put those in too. It’s much better to do this in a physical diary than on a calendar on your phone. As the semester goes on, you will quickly realise that it really helps when you can see at a glance what’s happening over the week ahead. Writing in this information also has a great psychological benefit in making you feel organised – which is half of the battle.

  1. Be prepared for new learning experiences

Most academic modules are taught through a combination of lectures and seminars. Different tutors approach lectures and seminars differently, but most often lectures provide a broad overview of a topic, while seminars provide an opportunity to discuss a particular topic in more depth. Both formats are typically more open-ended than the kind of teaching you were accustomed to at college or school. It might take some time to get used to this style of teaching, and to ensure that you are preparing and taking notes in the most effective way. There are lots of study guides that can help, and it is definitely worth reading at least one.

  1. Be open-minded

By the time most students arrive at university, they have usually spent at least seven years formally studying History. Although this is a long time, History is an enormous topic – it covers the entire human past, from the dawn of time to the present, in every region of the globe. No matter how much you learn, you will never get to grips with all of it – but what a great challenge it is to try! When selecting modules, it can be tempting to fall back on the topics that you have studied before and that you know will interest you. There is a place in any History degree for deepening your knowledge, but you should also try to extend it – take a risk on topics and modules that you have not encountered before, and that you might not have another chance to study.

  1. Ask questions, lots and often

Historians, whether undergraduates or professors, need to ask questions all the time – who, what, when, where, and, perhaps most importantly, why? Of course, part of what we do as historians is try to find answers to those questions – but most often, those attempts at answers just generate more questions. Don’t be afraid to keep asking questions, and don’t be afraid to admit when you don’t have all the answers. The really good historical work, whether that’s a 2,000 word essay or a 600-page scholarly monograph, won’t have all the answers, but it will ask the right questions. If your History degree at Essex teaches you anything, it should be that curiosity is one of the best attributes you can take through life, because it will always reward you – often in quite unexpected ways.

 

Dr Tracey Loughran is a historian of twentieth-century Britain. She is the editor of A Practical Guide to Studying History: Skills and Approaches (Bloomsbury, 2017), a book aimed at helping students make the transition to degree-level study. You can read an extract from it here.

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You asked, we answered

If you didn’t manage to make it to our Open Day on Saturday, never fear! Our academics have put together a list of some of the most frequently asked questions by students, along with the answers.

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How do joint programmes work in practice?

Our joint programmes are very popular because they offer students a chance to study two different subjects in-depth. Two Departments coordinate with each other to put together a programme tailored for students with particular interests in their areas of study. In practice, this means that students spend about half their time in one department and half in another.

How does Study Abroad work in practice? (How do you choose the institution, do the marks count toward degree, fees, etc).

All our undergraduate students have a fantastic opportunity to study abroad, for either a term or a year. We have exchanges with about 150 institutions all over the world from Canada and the United States to East Asia, Europe to Australia and New Zealand. For students beginning their studies in 2018/19, fees for the year abroad are 15 % of the standard tuition fees. These students take a four-year degree with their third year spent at a university in another country. They go through an application process in their second year with help from the Study Abroad Office.

How many contact hours will I get with lecturers?

Most of our students spend about 8-10 hours a week in the classroom, but they also spend much of their week reading and preparing for classes. This can be on their own or in groups – perhaps in one of the many informal learning spaces we have at the University or off campus. Students are also encouraged to see their tutors on a regular basis in their Academic Support Hours, two hour-long slots are held every week when students can seek guidance and feedback on work and any other matters they want to discuss.

How much teaching is by GTAs?

Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTAs) teach some seminars, mainly at First Year level. The vast majority of our teaching, however, is done by full-time academic staff. All of our staff – from lecturers to professors – are engaged in lecture and seminar teaching at all levels, from first to final year.

What are the most common graduate job destinations?

Essex History graduates go into a wide variety of different careers in the public and private sectors. These include careers in the Civil Service, in museums and archives, in journalism and human resources management. Of course, some of graduates also go into teaching and some continue with their studies, going on to do graduate work in a variety of fields. Further information about what some of our graduates have gone on to do can be found here.

If there’s another question not listed which you’d like answering, feel free to email us at history@essex.ac.uk and we will get back to you as soon as possible.

You can also check when our next Open Day is on our website.

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History Department Tips

History, Blackboard, Chalk, Chalkboard, Teacher, School

Our history department has a few hidden gems that can help make your life a lot easier, and your time at Essex even better.  So instead of letting you slowly discover them over a few years (it took me two to find the department library) here they are:

  1. The History Department library

I know it looks small but don’t judge a book by its cover, this place is a Tardis of useful materials for your modules. The chances are that for any reading you have to do, for any history course, there will be a copy of it filed under the course title. You don’t even have to spend ages sorting through material, our wonderful volunteer librarians will help you find what you’re looking for.

  1. The History common room

If you’ve been to the History Department you may have noticed the first room on your left as you walk in, with a coffee machine and some chairs and tables, that’s it! And if you’re new and a little shy there’s no need to avoid it if there’s people already there, they’re actually very friendly. It’s a good place to go if you’d like to do some work, either alone or with some friends, or to just hang around for a bit.

  1. Department Office

I’m about to save you some time, check the opening hours before you walk all the way to campus to hand something in, only to realise its closed (While we’re on topic the same goes for the campus post office and post room). But the office is only closed for an hour for lunch (between 1-2pm) and anyone there will be more than happy to help you with any problems or questions you may have about your course.