My name's Kalim and I'm studying English Literature and I'm in year three, my final year.
I suppose there are a number of reasons I chose to study at Sussex. I grew up in London and I wanted to be quite close to home still. When I first chose to study English here the department was fourth or third in the country, also my parents both came here so it felt like it was already familiar and also fourth reason, my grandparents used to live in Brighton, so I knew Brighton really well and really liked Brighton.
I find it a lot more interesting than it ever was at college because it's more self directed. When you're at GCSE and A level there's still a sense that you're leading up to the most interesting, the hardest bits of your subjects but then when you get to uni the things you're reading are it. You're not just reading the book that's easiest to read or easiest to study you're reading one of the books because it's interesting or considered one of the best.
One way that I find that I learn a lot and enjoy my course is by talking to other students about it. I think that happens in all subjects but especially with English Literature because people want to talk about books when they've read books or when you've read anything. That also plays quite an important role in thought processes especially when you're all writing essays together and it's like moral support and you all group together and you're probably writing different essays but just grinding out ideas with each other. It's good practice for actually putting your ideas out on paper.
Make notes, make notes! I'm not really a person who is naturally inclined to make notes. In English there's loads of people that have different coloured felt-tip pens and make these beautiful pages of notes and I'm the opposite of that as I often just don't make notes. But it's good to just start making notes in a lecture because once you've got into the habit, say if you've missed the first 20 minutes and you haven't made any notes you feel less and less inclined unless something is really important or interesting to put it down. But making notes engages you with what's going on, it's like an activity to do that keeps you awake, keeps your mind active and things are often useful that you don't think are useful at the time when you go back to write an essay. I realise this actually in the third year looking back on my first and second years because by second year I wasn't really making that many notes and often there'd be an infuriating moment when I was writing an essay thinking, ‘What was it that person said in that lecture?' and I just couldn't remember. In fact, one of my friends records all the lectures he goes to so that was a god send, so that's another good thing to do.
The way I organise my time and try and get things done, well the way I've developed over uni because I've discovered through a process of trial and error, through a period of not getting anything done and of being really disorganised but since third year started I've been a bit more organised and one of the main things that's helped me is setting myself little targets. I've also started writing ‘to do' lists which is more of a general thing like phone the bank or read that book or something like that and they help. I've started using the diary in my phone which helps me. But I'd say the main thing is, not coming from a person who's super organised, but the main thing that helps me is targets, little bite size targets, working out what you've got to do before you get there and especially with essays, thinking what would be a comfortable amount of words to write every day and then how many days/weeks do I need to leave myself to do that. And in fact, one last thing that I'm going to start doing this year is planning, trying to pretend in my head that the essay deadlines are a week before when they actually are so that my plan doesn't go right up to the last ten minutes of the deadline which has happened sometimes and it's so stressful and it's frustrating because you don't get the best out of yourself.
So reading is obviously a very important thing on my course, as it is on most courses. The way I've got better at reading is just to keep on doing it, to keep on forcing myself, little sections during the day. Instead of saying I'm going to read for five hours, thinking ‘Right, I've got an hour now, I'm going to read and then I'll do something else and then I'll read for another hour'. And also to realise when I'm not paying attention and that there is no point going on, if I really can't pay attention now then I'm better off doing something else and coming back to it later on. Again, making notes is a good way to keep yourself active. It does take longer to read a book if you're making notes with it but at the same time it probably balances out because you're concentrating more on the book so you're probably going to spend a lot less time day-dreaming, like I do. That would probably be my reading tips.
The amount of resources that being a student at Sussex gives you access to is really good. I mean, it's probably the same at other universities as well but things like JSTOR and there's a thing called LION (literature online) which is really good as well, it's got lots of poetry and some short stories on. They're really good and I think there are good relevant ones for each subject. Those two are probably the most relevant to English Literature. But they're really good resources - especially for essays, I didn't use them at all in my first year for essays but they came in really handy in second year. Although having said that, I still found the library even more useful.
So I think one thing that's important throughout all courses is critical thinking and analysing arguments. It's not an entirely new thing coming to uni but it's definitely something that I found I needed to improve and use a lot more at uni. I found that A level was a bit like GCSE in a sense, in that you had to jump through hoops and you had clear like learning objectives. Whereas at university that's not so obvious - it's not like you just have to do these things, you have to write an essay that does this and does that. There's more freedom in what you can choose to do and it's all judged by a similar kind of method of how strong your argument is, how sound your logic is or your reasoning and also how well you've evidenced things and researched things. I think since I've been at university I've learnt to make less generalisations in essays and also not just that, but to learn that things I didn't think were generalisations, are actually generalisations and you can be a lot more specific about things and it should be. And it's hard, it's really hard that's why essays take me so long to write because I love to speak about things in seminars and think about things but it's really hard constructing a really well argued, robust argument and really well expressed. It's a really hard thing to do and I think you've got to accept that and give yourself enough time to be able to do it. I'd like to say it gets easier as you go along, it doesn't necessarily get easier, I think you get better at it but it still is hard.
Yeah, proofing - I always try and proofread a number of times if possible. There are still always things that you will miss and proofreading is really boring because you know you've read it before but you're just looking for little mistakes but you have to do it slowly otherwise there's no point doing it. That's really important, really important! You've got to proofread. In fact, what I want to do this year as well, is finish my essays with time to spare so as well as proofreading them I can try and forget about them a little bit and get out of the essay mind set or that essay mind set and then come back to it a few days later and read it with a fresh perspective because often you find things in essays that you've written in the past and you think I was too embedded in thinking about everything that I missed an obvious point or I missed that link or that was a silly point or something. But I think it's also good to read your essay with a very critical eye because often the tendency is to read your own essay and think ‘Oh yeah, that kind of makes sense because of that' and you're on your own side but I think it'd be great to read your own essay pretending that it's written by someone you don't like and you're trying to find gaps in their argument and then often you do find things and you think actually that's not really a very strong link and then if you've got time you can fix them.
I think the important thing to remember with presentations is that everyone gets nervous about them and it's sometimes easy to become nervous about the fact that you're going to be nervous and then it's just a vicious cycle of nervousness. I think it doesn't matter if you're nervous as long as you have prepared well and you get across your points, and it's interesting and you've done your best. That's all that matters and I think that realisation for me helped me to just relax more during presentations and just accept that everyone gets a little bit shaky and sweaty palms but it just happens and no-one's judging you for it - the important thing is that you just get your points across and then it's fine.
I think I need to start trying to use the feedback resources that are there more and I don't think hardly anyone I know does use them enough. But the chance to go and speak to your tutor or speak to your Academic Advisor is a really good one and it's a crime that I haven't been hardly at all in two years. That would be really good to speak to your tutor about an essay or just about writing styles. Generally, I just read my feedback that I get on essays or online and that's about it because often once you've written an essay you don't want to think about it ever again and then you get the grade and you just read the feedback and it's either good or bad or medium. What I plan to start doing is actually reading through the essay again to get it fresh in my mind because normally you get an essay back a month or a few weeks afterwards and you've forgotten about it, so read it through again and then read the comments or read the comments and then read it through again to see what they're actually talking about and then I think it will settle more deeply - what they're saying about your essay.