Student perspectives - Chloe and Donna
Donna and Chloe
Second year Geography
Chloe: I'm Chloe. I am a second year Geographer. I do BA Geography at the University of Sussex.
Donna: I'm Donna Cox and I'm at the University of Sussex, studying BSc Geography.
What do you enjoy about studying Geography at Sussex?
Donna: The things that you read in the newspapers you can relate it to geography and quite a lot of stuff that happens, you think to yourself, I have just been studying that, so it is really relevant and you understand why you're doing it; it actually has a cause rather than just learning it for the sake of it.
Chloe: It is also good, we have got quite a few choices we can make regarding our course, so in the first year we have core subjects that we have to take, whereas in the second year you have a couple of core courses and then you're given options and you can choose which ones you take and then in the third year I think it is pretty much all options, you choose what you do; so as you go through the years you get to tailor the course to what you want to study. So I like the fact that, if I realised in my first year there was something I didn't particularly like, I didn't have to keep studying it, in my second year I could change.
How do you prepare for you lectures and seminars?
Chloe: In terms of seminars, for my course anyway, I am given key readings each week that I have to have read in order to be able to contribute to the seminar but it also helps, if you have got time, to then maybe look at your reading list and pick out another few readings or to just find your own readings for it, just so that when you are in a seminar you have got something new to contribute and a new discussion point.
Donna: Also, for the lectures it is quite useful if you print off the lecture slides and take them with you because then you can annotate them and have a read through them before you go, then you can get the most out of the lecture, rather than looking at them for the first time, you can look at them again with more depth.
What are the field trips like on your course?
Donna: Well, over Easter I went to the Seychelles for a geography fieldtrip which was really helpful because I got to know people on my course better, as well and also the lecturers because it was in a not very strict environment and the work that we did there, I think it will help with my dissertation because it's using different methods of research so you can apply them to something else. And I've done a couple of other fieldtrips as well, we've gone to Kent to have a look at cliffs and I've gone to Ashdown Forest to do mapping so it gives you a lot of skills so you have a lot of options to use, so you don't have to just think of one thing.
Chloe: It's good, it puts what you're learning in the seminar room or in the lecture hall into practice instead of just reading something and not being able to necessarily see how it fits into real life, as such; it was quite good, so when I went to LA, I'd previously done a course on Social Geography so then to be able to go there and look at different things such as race and ethnicity and being able to put it into a real life context as opposed to just looking at it on a page, it's quite useful for that.
Donna: And they're fun as well because it's something different than just sitting in a lecture theatre or being talked to, you can go out and do something for yourself.
How do you learn about statistics in Geography?
Donna: The courses in the first year, they like you to all be up to the same standard so we'll do a basic lot of courses, so for something like statistics, where people maybe aren't too sharp on, they had a Methods and Statistics course where you could try out different things like GIS mapping, using different methods, which is quite helpful, it wasn't very exciting because it's learning about numbers but it was really helpful because now I've got a lot of options of how I can analyse data for projects I'm doing now or for my dissertation next year. So it helps you and it makes you not as scared of maths as well because I don't really like maths, I get a bit worried about it, so it makes you a lot more confident and makes you think you can actually do it.
Chloe: Some of these courses you didn't really expect to have, especially because I do BA Geography, so it's the human side of things which isn't science based but it prepares you because even in your readings someone will have put statistics in there to explain their research and it's just little things that help you to actually understand what they mean, so to have a course on it just to get the basics was definitely worthwhile doing it.
Donna: Yes, it was really helpful.
Do you have any tips for effective reading strategies?
Chloe: I'm a slow reader anyway, so I'll make sure I have to read everything and I'll highlight bits and make notes in the margins if it's printed out on paper (not if it's in a library book!) just so I know that I have read stuff and then if I've written notes on paper, I'll write the reference down as well, so that way I'm not last minute thinking, "What was that author?" "Where was that quote from?"
How do you make time for proofreading?
Donna: It's quite good to try and set yourself almost a fake deadline so that you get the work done a week or so before it's meant to be handed in and then leave it a couple of days and go back to it, because if you're trying to proofread an hour after you've written it you've still got the ideas in your head and you don't read it properly, so it's good to leave a bit of time before you proofread it, so you can pick up all the faults.
How do you get feedback on you work?
Donna: Usually we'll get our essays back, a marked copy, so we can read through what the lecturer has written and how they've gone through it and we'll also get feedback online so you can look at both of them. It's up to you what option you look at.
Chloe: The feedback online, I'm not sure if they do it before the end of the year, I know definitely at the end of the year they'll put a graph up from your courses and the graph will show you the average grade, the highest grade, the lowest grade and your grade and only you can access it, no one else can see your grade but it means you can chart your progress and work out if you're at the standard you want to be at.
Donna: You can see what subjects can be pulling you down as well, so you can tell exactly what you need to improve on.
What does critical thinking mean to you?
Chloe: Critical thinking is quite important when you're at university, it means instead of just taking an article and reading it and then maybe referencing it and saying "This person said this" or "This person said that", it means you can read what they've said, you can pick out their argument and the evidence they've used to back it up and, not necessarily criticise their evidence, but maybe work out its weaknesses or if it's biased in some way, like they're only using certain statistics that back up their argument when really there are other statistics that they could have used but they're just using them in a certain way. So it means that you can then put your own opinion on their work into your essay or into a discussion in a seminar and it just shows you are engaged with what you're reading and not just reading it and accepting it.
Have you got any advice for revising for exams?
Chloe: If revision classes are running and you think they will help, to make sure you go to them. A lot of the time, on your Sussex account, they'll have past papers up as well so if you look through those just so you get an idea of what the layout is and what to expect and what questions there've been in the past, that sort of thing, that's quite useful.
Donna: The university also runs courses: tips for exams, essay writing tips, so they've usually got a couple of courses going on during the term so it's useful to go to them just to get the generic feeling of what you should be doing.
What does being a Geography Ambassador involve?
Donna: One of the staff of the university got contacted by the Royal Geographical Society about Geography Ambassadors; that's when students who are at university go to schools and give them presentations and talk about what life is like at uni and what geography is like. So that's what both me and Chloe do, we'll go to a school together and give a presentation and talk to the students about what it's actually like living at uni and what geography is like and what the good things and bad things are.
Chloe: It's a good opportunity that we've got through doing geography but it also helps put into perspective why we're doing the course because you do have to think "Well, why did I choose geography? Why do I like geography?" It's just a little reminder, it's quite good, we do little presentations and slide shows.
Donna: It's nice seeing how the children, as well, get so excited about it and how they really take it in and find it interesting.
Are there any resources you wish you had used more in your first year?
Donna: I think last year it might have been a bit more helpful if we'd used the Geography Resource Centre a bit more, the GRC, because when we were on campus we'd almost come to lectures and then go straight back home because it was there but now, we live off campus, you don't really have much of an option of going home that much during the day so we come to the GRC and sit here and do work and it's really helpful because you have people who know what they're talking about and books.
Chloe: It's a room that only geography students use, so all the books on the shelves are geography related.
Donna: The only people who are in here do geography, so you're ‘all in the same boat'.
Chloe: So there are people off your course which means if you are stuck you can check with someone else or you can go to Evelyn and she'll point you in the right direction.
Donna: The lecturers will walk in and out every now and then as well, so you can grab them and ask them, if you've got a question.