Is Bristol really that bad?Watch
So is Bristol really that bad for History? Would it be a better idea to go to York or Exeter?
I am currently studying History at the University of Bristol. When I was applying to study History at university, I knew that the quality of teaching would be important to me. Bristol is a very well respected university and, like you, I had thought that I would find the course stimulating.
I love the city, and I love my friends here, but my time studying History at Bristol has been frustrating and very disappointing.
There have been issues with the quality of the teaching since I arrived in Bristol. I will say here that I have had some teachers at Bristol who have been dedicated and truly inspiring. However, this has not been typical of my experience. Some of my tutors have been completely disengaged, some have been chronically underprepared to teach us, some have offered our classes no direction at all. With so few contact hours, you expect a lot from them, and this can be extremely demoralising.
This year, I've had six or seven hours of teaching a week. Having few contact hours is not unusual when studying a humanities degree. However, when you have so few hours it is all the more important that you find them worthwhile. If you have two seminars in one day at the beginning of the week and they don't engage you, that is all your interactive teaching done for the next seven days.
The way seminars are run is a significant problem. The lectures I've had at Bristol have actually been quite good, and sometimes excellent. However, the way seminars are taught at Bristol is a problem for the tutors and the students. We're typically given two or three papers to read, sometimes as many as five, before a seminar. How good that seminar is depends on how well read the class is, and how hard the tutor will drive the class. I accept that it's our responsibility as students to prepare for our classes, but I've had several teachers who turn up expecting the students to be neither willing nor able to contribute. Students and teachers don't feel comfortable enough with the content to critically engage with it (I have been in seminars where the tutor has not read some of the material we have been asked to read), and the conversation stalls at the level of recounting what was said in each paper. This is a waste of time for the students and the teachers. A seminar has the potential to be a very engaging mode of learning, and I'm sure there are teachers at Bristol who deliver excellent seminars - this has sometimes been my experience - but there is certainly a problem with the teaching style at Bristol.
You can float through your seminars for 11 weeks without being challenged by your tutors. If you do this, you'll find revising for the exams very difficult. But it is still possible to do, which says something about how engaging the teaching is in those seminars. You won't write many essays. This year, excluding exams, I've written three. It's very hard to improve with so little practice. At the end of the day, it's my responsibility decide how much work I need to do. I certainly believe that you get out of a project as much work as you put into it, and I am a hard-working student. But I would caution you to question why such a well regarded, 'prestigious' university asks so much less of its students than others considered to be in the same 'category'.
I feel that Bristol's being 'well regarded' has made the department very complacent. The History course takes in bright students who will get good grades. They will continue to take us, we will continue to pass. If you come here you can be assured of an employable 2:1 when you leave. But I don't believe that you'll receive the education you expect. I really hope that I don't seem conceited. I felt compelled to write this because I know that I wish I had known how I would feel at this point when I chose to accept my offer. If I had, I wouldn't have come.