Four students explain what it's like to study an arts and humanities course at university
Starting university can seem daunting when you don't know what to expect. What’s your course going to be like? What will you be doing every day?
We asked four students, who all study a subject in the arts and humanities, to tell us about a typical day in their life.
Here's what they had to say about the workload, the schedules, the lecturers and everything else in between!
9:30am. Today is Thursday. I usually have two three-hour long seminars with one hour for lunch in between. But since it’s the end of the semester, things are a bit different.
10am. Today’s module studies the literary and medical writings of mental illnesses from the 18th century to nowadays. Authors studied included Swift, Austen, Freud, Perkins Gilman, Woolf… It’s been so interesting and my seminar leader is so helpful too!
1pm. Seminar over, three hours go surprisingly quickly and I wouldn’t mind staying longer. It is time for lunch on campus!
2pm. No second seminar today. I am going to see my seminar leader during her office hour for feedback on one part of my essay – which is finished but needs a lot of editing!
3pm. Off to the Arts Hub to do some reading for my other essay, Cultures of Suburbia.
4pm. Time for the group tutorial with another awesome lecturer! I have adored this module. There’s no seminar this week because we’re working on some lengthy projects. Last week, we all did presentations about our essay ideas and put them into thematic groups: mine is about the American Dream and the tension between authenticity and artificiality. We needed to prepare a summary of our argument and find a piece of secondary criticism we want to use. The one I picked was very difficult, on authenticity in Heidegger’s philosophy. I’ll probably need to read it again once or twice or more to really understand it.
5pm. Time to head back home! I’ll do some more reading before finally relaxing and sleeping – tomorrow is going to be another busy day!
If I had one tip for freshers, it’d definitely to stay on top of your work! Don’t let it accumulate, especially when it gets towards essay time.
A typical day at university is a bit different for me, given that I’m a part time officer for UEA’s student union. This means that I share the time of a typical student experience with a variety of rewarding duties, such as helping to support a specific liberation group of students (in my case, those who are LGBT+). Basically, as an LGBT+ Officer, I am in the SU office more often than the average student, and have my face on a wall.
A day without SU involvement starts with screaming at the world. No, that’s a lie. I don’t have the energy to scream in the morning. Some tea and toast sets me up for the lectures and seminars ahead, both of which I enjoy as this year I got to tailor my course through choosing my own modules! It’s great that UEA allows this; it adds variety to what I learn while also ensuring that I’m enthusiastic about my course.
Lectures only take an hour, which is great if you’re in a comfortable lecture theatre. After two weeks of a new semester, you’ll quickly learn which rooms have the least leg room! Seminars can be anywhere between one to three (groan) hours long. Usually the lengthy ones are because you don’t have a seminar for that module, or there’s a film screening (makes sense, I’m a Film and English Studies student!) I’m always sure to bring snacks for the breaks in the middle.
Though I’m a Film and English Studies student, I started university as a foundation year student because of time away from education. I was given the opportunity to take a media module, and it reignited my passion for all things film. Now the majority of my module choices are media orientated, and I couldn’t be happier!
One thing to always remember is that university is about choice, and if you’re ever unhappy or unsure about things you should ask for change.
As a history student, I have 10 contact hours a week this year - although this doesn’t seem much, my time quickly fills up!
The earliest lectures I have this term are 10am, so I need to leave my house around 9.30 to walk in. If I’m feeling organised, I might pack a lunch to take with me, but on Tuesdays and Thursdays there’s a bakery in Union House, so it’s much more tempting to grab something from there! On Tuesdays, I have a lecture and seminar in the morning and – if I’m lucky – the lecturer will have done a handout… but most days I just take my own notes.
Straight after my lecture I’m off to my seminar, which is a class of about ten people. The seminars are well-structured, with a few primary sources to discuss and set-reading each week uploaded online. In my first year, I was really bad at doing the reading in advance each week, but this year I’ve been more organised, which makes seminars a lot easier!
After the seminar, I head to Union House to have lunch. There’s usually at least one person I know in there working or having coffee, so I can usually find someone to have lunch with. If I have a lot of work to do I might head to the library after lunch before going home. There’s a lot of deadlines in second year, so I’m normally working on something - often a presentation or essay.
The work is stressful, but if it’s a module I really enjoy it makes it a lot easier because I’m reading for something that interests me. This year I’m trying to do work at uni, so once I leave campus in the afternoon I’m free to relax or go out in the evening.
Early classes are not a very regular thing for a humanities student thankfully, however, I do try and get up and dressed by 10 everyday so that I can spend a decent amount of time in the library. I get a bus to campus from my house in town, which takes about twenty minutes, and if I haven’t got a class I’ll take a quick trip to the union café.
I have opted to do my dissertation this semester so time in the library is particularly important. Finding motivation to do my work varies daily, but I generally find that a silent room tucked away in the library is where I get the most done. My favourite spot is a little-known room on the first floor which looks out over UEA’s lake and ziggurat buildings – having a picturesque view of a sunset across the Norfolk Broads makes being in the library all the more bearable.
If I have a class then I try (not always successfully) to arrive ten minutes early. Lectures get smaller as you take increasingly specialist classes, so sneaking in late gets a lot harder. How much you enjoy seminars really depends on who else is in your group and who’s leading it; the ideal group contains a diverse range of views plus someone who regularly brings in home-baked cakes.
What I love most about my course is that sitting in a café all afternoon reading a book counts as work. I’ve also loved gradually becoming a part of the department, from helping with Open Days to attending Research Seminars given by visiting academics whose work you admire.
If you are passionate about your subject, then university is definitely an experience worth having!
Want to find out more? You can read more about students' experiences of university on the UEA student blog pages.
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